Slugs: Slime, Sex, Slugfeast

Slug slithering over edge of brick

Slime trails sparkling in the morning sun. Holes in veggies, fruits, and flowers. Yes, slugs dine overnight in our gardens.

In veggie gardens, slugs sometimes chow down on such favorites as asparagus spears, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. A herd of hungry slugs can mow down a row of lettuce, spinach, beet, and chard seedlings.

In flower gardens, slugs relish hostas and roses, chewing round holes in leaves, at least those deer haven’t eaten.

How can you protect your plants from these pests?

Hand pick them

Hand pick them—with your hands, not mine—and drop them into a bag with salt at the bottom. Slugs are mostly water, and the salt kills them by osmosis.

Surround plants with strips of copper or abrasive barriers of diatomaceous earth, coarse sand, oyster or crab shells.

Fill a shallow bowl with beer and invite slugs to a drink-and-drown party, though tipsy slugs can be annoying at two in the morning when they start belting out, “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall…”

Call in birds, frogs, toads, box turtles, rats, beetles, and snakes—many of which eat slugs. Whoa, you say, forget the rats and snakes. Put up a fence and buy a chicken or duck—champion slug eaters.

Put on your old dancing shoes and dance on their heads when slugs come out of hiding after a warm spring shower.

If such suggestions don’t fit your gardening style or time you can devote to such slug killing, do the two things that I do.

First, I minimize slug habitat in or near our gardens—moist places where they hide from the sun. That includes piles of leaves and flat things like boards, large pieces of bark, bricks, and rocks.

Iron phosphate slug bait

Second, buy a box or bottle of slug bait. My newest purchase is a plastic jug of iron phosphate bait called “Slug Magic.” Other brands include “Sluggo” and “Escar-Go!” I used to use bait based on metaldehyde but switched to iron phosphate because it is less toxic to the environment, though it may be a little less effective in killing slugs.

Whichever bait or brand you buy, read the directions carefully before using it. The label on “Slug Magic” proclaims: “Makes Slugs Disappear. Can Be Used Around Pets and Wildlife. For use around vegetables, fruit trees, citrus, berries, ornamentals, shrubs, flowers, trees, lawns, gardens and in greenhouses.”

The plot: Sprinkle bait around plants or slug hideouts. Slugs find it when they come out for breakfast in the evening. They chow down on the bait, stop eating the plants, and begin dying in three to six days. During the warm season, I often find slime trails in our backyard between blue-star junipers and a nearby flowerbed. I assume slugs are spending the day in the dense shade under the junipers, so I sprinkle bait into the junipers and around nearby daylilies.

Note: The newer iron phosphate baits can be used around pets. Metaldehyde can be hazardous to dogs, for example, and carries warnings to apply it in ways that do not come into contact with edible parts of plants. The “Precautionary Statement” attached to the back of the “Slug Magic” bottle warns that the bait can cause “moderate eye irritation” and recommends a good washing of hands and clothing that may have come into contact with the pesticide.

Now that we’ve discussed slugs and how to control them, what about the sex and the slugfeast?

For those subjects, at the end of this posting please link to Patterson Clark’s “Urban Jungle” column, “The surprising sex life of leopard slugs,” in the Washington Post. You will find slug sex life, well, just short of unbelievable.

And as for slugfeast, I’m not convinced that I will ever eat a slug. Wikipedia notes that a cure in ancient times in southern Italy for gastritis and ulcers was to swallow a live slug. To my way of thinking, that probably was the origin of the saying, “The cure is worse than the disease.” The “Urban Jungle” column lists three factors that “may give pause to the potential slug chef” and ends, “Bon appétit!”

I’ll end with two words too: “Yuck! Yuck!”

To read “The surprising sex life of leopard slugs,” CLICK HERE.

If you have a serious slug problem in your garden, I encourage you to read the University of Maryland Extension’s Fact Sheet 822, “Managing Slugs in the Garden and Beyond.” CLICK HERE.

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