The Great Slug Debacle
Those of you who follow me on social media will know that I have been experimenting with non-toxic ways to protect my flowers and allotment seedlings from slugs and snails. It has become something of an obsession which now finds me prowling the garden each night with a torch.
My reasons for wanting to avoid slug pellets are simple. Metaldehyde, a chemical used in the manufacture of a lot of our slug pellets, is now being found in drinking water supplies and there is currently no effective method of removing it which means that we end up drinking it. In addition, a lot of the natural predators to slugs and snails are in decline, including hedgehogs and frogs. This is for a number of reasons which include habitat loss but they may also be being affected by the chemicals used to make slug pellets.
Where are all the slug and snail defenders?
Before I ditched the slug pellets for good I asked friends and family what they do. This led to a huge array of answers, some of which were totally unexpected. There were the vegetarians who collect slugs at night and either chop them in half or drown them in salty water; the upstanding pillars of our community who chuck them into their neighbours gardens; a friend who has plans to create a ‘taser’ for slugs; and those who have given up completely and just accept that the slugs will eat what they want. The most striking thing of all was that there wasn’t one person who defended the poor old slug or snail.
After dabbling in the ‘kill them all’ approach I decided it wasn’t for me so I have gone for the use of barriers, beer traps and collecting them at night and relocating them to a hedge. This seems to be working for me although I have to admit to causing the odd slug death when I find them on my favourite flower and the red mist descends. I have lost a few seedlings and some of the leaves in the garden exhibit nibble marks but on the whole it seems to be working.
The following is a list of all the things I have researched, some of which I have tried and some I haven’t.
Non Chemical Methods to Control Slugs and Snails
1. Encourage natural predators – hedgehogs, frogs and birds eat slugs and snails so encourage them into your garden.
2. Lay some beer traps – this is a method which I regularly use and it is simple to do. Get a container, such as an empty can, bury it in the soil so that it is level with the surface and fill it part way with cheap bitter. The slugs and snails are attracted by the smell and will fall into it. Make sure you remove the dead slugs and snails regularly and I find that it is most effective with fresh beer.
3. Coffee grinds – this is another of my favourites as a local coffee shop leaves its grinds out for people to use as a compost. I am not sure if it is the smell or the caffeine which deters slugs and snails but it seems to be quite effective. I just pour a circle of grinds a few centimetres wide around the plant I am trying to protect.
4. Slug and snail barriers – all of the following work by encircling the plant or border you are trying to protect.
a. Cat litter tray granules and wool pellets which work by absorbing moisture making it difficult for slugs and snails to pass.
b. Gel barriers – the slugs and snails cannot pass over the gel
c. Cut up brambles or broken (cooked) egg shell – slugs and snails don’t like going over it
d. Copper tape – when placed around pots or containers it acts as a barrier to slugs and snails but it needs to be of sufficient width to stop larger snails
5. Nematodes – these work by entering the slug’s body and infecting them with bacteria which ultimately kills them.
6. Organic slug pellets – I was put off trying these after a friend said that he used them and saw the birds eating them.
7. Collecting slugs and snails at night – go out at night with a torch and collect and slugs and snails you find in a container. You can then either kill them in boiling or salty water, or relocate them (preferably not to a neighbours garden unless they have wronged you in some way).
What works for me
I have had quite a lot of success with beer traps, coffee grinds and also encircling the plant in chopped brambles. I think the most reliable method I use though is simply to go out after dark each night and collect any slugs or snails into a container. It only takes ten minutes and it is actually quite fun once you get into it – yes I know I am strange…
Slug and Snail Facts
Whilst researching this blog post I have become increasingly fascinated with slugs and snails; you have to respect how successful they are as a species when so many people make it their life’s aim to destroy them. So, here are some facts about our gastropod friends.
• Snails hibernate during the colder months whilst slugs remain active as long as temperatures are above 5C. That is how they suddenly appear in the spring.
• Slugs and snails lay eggs on the soil (brownish grey slimy bundles) which become covered by organic matter.
• Both garden snails and slugs are hermaphroditic which means they have both male and female reproductive organs.
• Snails have four ‘antennas’ on their heads. The two smaller ones are used to feel and smell whilst the larger ones are their eye stalks.
• Snails are born with their shell and as they grow they produce new shell material that expands the existing shell and then hardens.
• There are 44 species of slug in the UK, some of which only feed on dead plant material.