Slugs may not be either the most attractive or the most popular of wildlife to visit our gardens but come they will with the average garden being home to 20,000 of them. Just because you can’t see the slugs doesn’t mean they are not there – only 5% are on the surface at any one time, the rest are sliming their way through the soil and munching on the roots of your plants.
Slugs are what’s known as “decomposers” which means they eat waste and debris and so form a useful natural tidying-up service. Unfortunately they don’t stick to debris and do of course also tidy-up those healthy young plants, crops and flowers that we have been carefully tending. Slugs have teeth, lots of teeth. In fact whereas a great white shark has 300 teeth a slug has 27,000 and OK so they may be small but that’s still a lot of teeth with which to decimate a vegetable patch.
In the words of Paul Simon’s song there are 50 Ways to Leave your Lover and according to a published book there are also 50 ways to kill a slug. The mere fact that we’ve come up with so many methods would indicate perhaps that none of them are very effective and certainly some are pretty gruesome. A better approach may be to concentrate on deterring slugs and so reducing the need to kill. Our gardens need to be 1 star slug hotels rather than 5 star and then hopefully they’ll go elsewhere.
Whether you garden organically or not will make a big difference to your approach to slug eradication. Some people are happy scattering bright blue slug pellets amongst their flowers and veg whereas others prefer to roam the garden at night removing by hand those slugs that they spot with the help of a headtorch. Those slugs that are removed can be despatched quickly in a bucket of boiling water (apparently the fastest and kindest method) or, if you are lucky enough to have ducks or chickens then they will certainly enjoy them as a meal.
Speaking of birds, there’s a whole host of helpers out there if you just welcome and encourage them to your garden. Thrushes, starlings and blackbirds enjoy eating slugs as do foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, shrews, slow worms, beetles, toads and frogs. So, by encouraging wildlife to the garden not only will you have the pleasure of watching their antics you will also have allies in your battle against your slug population. Moles also eat slugs but encouraging them may be a step too far!
Slug deterrents include putting copper bands or tape around pots, using old plastic bottles as barriers, laying human hair, sharp grit or holly leaves around tender plants, sinking beer traps in the soil, introducing nematodes, etc., etc. But of course these all need to be maintained and replaced as necessary.
The war on slugs can seem never-ending so one easy option is to concentrate on growing a range of plants that they just don’t like to eat. Slugs most enjoy plants that are lush and succulent and are not so keen on those with tough, hairy and/or aromatic leaves. This includes evergreens, most herbs and also the following:
- Alchemilla mollis
- Digitalis (Foxglove)
- Hardy geraniums
- Japanese anemones
This list is not exhaustive, there will be other plants that slugs aren’t quite so ready to eat. So the good news is that it really is possible to have a really attractive garden despite slugs. And of course once these not-so-slug-friendly plants have established you can also try sneaking some more succulent ones in between and hope the slugs don’t notice.