6 Step Plan to Control Slugs

How to Get Rid of Slugs or Snails in Your Garden: the 6 Step Plan

By following the steps below you can eliminate most slug or snail damage and grow a great garden. Slug control is a matter of changing a few habits, timing our attacks and using a few common tools.

1. Clean up. Slugs love cool, dark and moist spots under boards, piles of leaves, old nursery pots, weedy areas and low hanging leaves at the base of plants. Eliminate as many hiding places as possible throughout your garden. Trim off any leaves that touch the ground. Use footers to raise your containers several inches off the ground to keep things dry. Break up large dirt clods. Finally, move the compost pile away from the garden. Compost is great stuff but it can be a slug haven, especially before it breaks down.

2. Go on Slug Patrol. Getting out in the garden and actually removing the guilty culprits can be a very effective tactic. Early morning, late evening or any rainy day makes for good hunting. During dry weather watering a few hours before will help bring them out of their hiding spots. Ideally, handpicking should be done daily at first. Once the population is under control a weekly mission should be enough. To make collection easier you can attract them to a few spots by setting out their favorite foods. Slugs and snails go crazy for citrus or melon rinds, small piles of oatmeal or bran, moistened dry dog food and of course shallow pans of beer. Any of these under a board will really provide a slug gathering spot.

Boards can also be placed around the garden with one edge elevated by a stone or clod. Any offenders hiding beneath can be collected or squished. Wear gloves while searching and plop all finds in a bucket of soapy water. We consider this the most humane disposal method but slugs can also be sliced, crushed or sprayed with diluted ammonia. Just don’t spray that ammonia directly on any plants. Remember that for every slug eliminated you have not only stopped tonight’s damage but have also stopped the damage of all future generations.

3. Irrigate in the morning. Irrigating in the morning allows plants and soil to dry out before slugs come out at night. Studies show that the simple act of watering in the morning instead of the evening can reduce slug damage by 80%.

4. Use slug & snail bait. The new generation of slug baits is effective, tasty to slugs and best of all not toxic to children, pets and wildlife. Old style baits, which are still commonly available, are based on a chemical called metaldehyde. This chemical woks well enough if you carefully follow directions but it can be very dangerous to children, wildlife and pets. Dogs are especially attracted to the pellets and will seek them out even if scattered around the garden. Please help avoid tragedy and use only pet-safe baits.

Baits developed in the last few years are based on iron phosphate, a compound not really toxic to anything except slugs and snails. Once they eat this bait slugs will stop feeding and then crawl away to die a few days later. Iron phosphate baits are available under several trade names including Sluggo and Escar-Go!

Iron phosphate baits will stay intact for a week or two before they break down. If you protect the bait from rain and irrigation with a board or overturned margarine container it will last even longer.

Irrigate before applying bait to bring slugs and snails out of hiding. Then scatter bait near walls, fences, decks and any moist, protected area. Sprinkle bait between that patch of tall weeds and your newly planted beans then apply a bit around any young or especially tender plants.

Timing is key to achieving the most effective control. Apply baits in the spring and early summer when slugs and snails are most active. Then apply again when egg-laying starts with the autumn rains.

5. Use barriers around tender plants. Use diatomaceous earth,  lava rock, ashes, copper wire, hair clippings or anything rough or abrasive to slow them down. It’s surprising what slugs are able to crawl over but at least barriers will encourage the little munchers to go elsewhere – like the slug collection stations you have set up.

6. Encourage predators. Garter snakes, frogs, toads, rove beetles, firefly larva, shrews, birds, racoons, skunks and hedgehogs (if you live in Europe) will all eat their share of slugs and snails. Ducks are champion slug eaters but they will also eat tender seedlings so they are best kept out of the garden during the spring. Encourage these predators by minimizing the use of pesticides and providing rock piles for snakes or damp shady spots for toads and frogs.

Rove beetles, often found in compost piles, are great for devouring smaller slugs as well as their eggs. You can encourage them by adding plenty of compost and mulch to your soil.

Remember, there is no magic bullet to eliminate all slugs from your garden but by following the steps above you can significantly reduce their damage. In the case of ornamental plants there are plenty of options that slugs and snails won’t touch with a ten-foot pole. We love marigolds too but a nice Rudbecia (Black-eyed Susan) is just as lovely and much less attractive to our slimy friends. Check out this list of slug and snail resistant plants.