Slugs & Snails on Potatoes

Potatoes are a crop that is usually started quite early in the spring. Those warm, wet days we gardeners look froward to all winter long. The days when plants really start to grow and the promise of a great garden is in the air. But what else becomes active in the spring? That’s right, our slimey little friends the slugs and snails. They have spent the winter as eggs or as adults burrowed down  in the soil or deep under fallen leaves. Now they are out and hungry.

Because they have many sprouts spread over a wide area potatoes are a a bit difficult to surround with barriers. However slug traps and removal by hand work quite well,  as does bait. We highly recommend iron phosphate based baits instead of the older types as they are much safer for children, pets and wildlife. Spring and autumn are the most effective times to apply slug and snail bait.

Potatoes are a great crop and can yield more food per square foot than any other plant. Once the weather turns warm and dry the slug activity should really drop off. All you have to do now is harvest those delicious spuds, right?  Not quite, the little pests have one more trick!

If you live in an area with mild winters it’s possible to leave your potatoes in the ground and only dig them out as needed. Possible but maybe not a good idea. One of the great secrets of slugs is how much time they spend underground. They are capable working their way down into the soil, following the tunnels made by plant stems, cracks in the soil or even worm tunnels. Once underground they can dine on the potato tubers you have worked so hard to grow.

The potatoes in the photos below were dug in December and already the slugs have burrowed in and ruined half the crop. Imagine our friends disappointment when she cut open her beautiful “taters”only to find a chomped-on mess!

Fortunately this is an easy problem to solve. Just harvest your crop after the vines die down and store in a dark, dry place. According to the University of Idaho (and who should know better?) “The best place to store potatoes is in a ventilated, cool, dark and humid environment.”

That will stop the little stinkers!