What are garden slugs?
Slugs or gastropod mollusks always seems to litter lawns here in Maine after a nighttime rain storm. They are an extremely common garden pest and at some time every gardener will have to battle these slimy creatures. Slugs are very hard to exterminate for many reasons. One is that they can squeeze and stretch their bodies into crevices to obtain shelter and food. Another reason is that they are hermaphroditic –contain both male and female sex organs.
When a slug travels at night it leaves a mucus trail. This trail can be followed the next night by the slug back to the garden. Other slugs can also pickup the trail and create a vast slug communication highway with all roads leading to your produce. This makes slugs extremely skilled at garden destruction as they never lose their way.
What kind of damage can be expected from garden slugs?
Slugs will make anything in your garden a food source. Their favorite seem to be Chinese cabbage or ripened strawberries. Their least favorite appear to be red cabbages, however, a lack of other food source will cause them to eat red cabbage. They will eat stalks, plants, and fruit leaving your garden a former shell of its bountiful self. There are several vegetables, however, that are known slug repellents as well. Try growing onions, garlic, fennel, sages, and other herbs among your vegetables to reduce slug attacks.
How can a slug infestation be eradicated?
This question was posed by a very naïve gardener (me) once upon a time. Since then, I have learned that garden slugs cannot be destroyed and that there will be a constant battle between slugs and gardener for as long as there are gardeners and slugs. There are, however, several ways to organically manage them.
As with most garden pests, a small container full of soapy water will work just fine. Grab your favorite pair of gardening gloves, and pick the slugs off the lawn, out of the garden, or out of any shady, damp home they have found. Drop them in the water and presto-changeo no more pest. This method can be enhance by making bait homes containing bait food sources for the slugs. My preferred method is to use the rind of half a watermelon as a home and some Chinese cabbage from the garden as bait food. I place the Chinese cabbage under the watermelon rind and clean out the slug motel every morning.
Another approach, if you live in a rural area (like most of Maine), is to let loose the chickens and ducks to hunt the slugs for you. Frogs and other birds are also natural hunters of slugs so make sure to leave plenty of spaces in your garden for these creatures to find a tasty snack.
There is another organic method which works quite well called a beer trap. Slugs are attracted to the sugar and yeast in beer. If you set out a small container – a foil pie crust plate works best – full of beer then the slugs will fall in and drown.
Good luck with your battle against these slimy garden pests. These methods combined should allow you to make a pest management plan for slugs. Organic gardening can be tough at times but remember to refrain from slug and snail poison as it can be harmful to the ecosystem and kill amphibians like frogs which are natural predators of slugs.