How to stop slugs eating your garden

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

There are few things more irritating for the gardener than to wander out in the morning to pick a fresh strawberry or tend to young seedlings only to find them gone, with the tell-tale trail of slime left behind that indicates a slug raid. Here are our favourite methods for dealing with them

Gastropods feature high on gardeners hate list and some will go to great lengths to eradicate them from their plot. Among the options employed by the most desperate and savage of gardeners is one of any number of poisons, designed to be sprinkled around potential targets and deliver a deadly outcome to the inquisitive creatures. But we would prefer not to resort to such methods.

Besides the fact that it involves dabbling with nasty chemicals, slugs and snails do have their purpose—they’re a great foodstuff for other living creatures, such as hedgehogs and blackbirds—and not only are you depriving them of their food you’re also risking passing on the poison to those innocent garden helpers. Here are some better ideas…

 

Manual removal

Slugs and snails are most active at night, especially during wet spells, so before heading off to bed take a torch-lit stroll into the garden and find as many of your enemies as possible and deal with them yourself.

You could try throwing them over the fence as far away as your biceps can propel them, but they’re reported to have a good homing instinct so may well come back if their return journey is short.

If you’ve got the stomach for slaughtering slugs then leave the remains in the garden so those other creatures can gobble them up.

Daytime slug and snail hunters will need to find their sleeping places in order to dispatch them: look at dark crevices between walls, under pots and stones or lurking in forgotten corners of sheds. They often group together for their naps so if you do find a home you’ll be able to make multiple ejections at once.

 

Death by beer

If you insist on killing your slimy prey, but don’t want to witness the suffering, then beer traps are a good option.

Simply fill some small pots with beer, sink them into various locations around the garden, and a few slugs will likely stop by for a drink.

Their desperation for the booze will see them tumble into the beer and be unable to escape, leaving you with beer-soaked bodies to dispose of in the morning.

 

Plant protection

Rather than have sleepless nights over the slug carnage you’ve caused, you can spare them from execution by opting to protect your plants from the greedy gastropods instead.

If you’re growing anything you suspect might fall to the munch of slug teeth (it’s usually younger more tender growth they’re interested in) then surround the plants with something they dare not cross. As they rely on their slime to shuffle around, substances that might dry them out or irritate their pudgy bellies work best. Such items include broken up egg shells, thorny holly leaves, coffee grounds and even the lint from your tumble drier.

Other gardeners swear by copper—the metal reacts with the slime to give them a small electric shock—and there are any number of ingenious copper rings and tapes available to buy. But remember that, whatever you use, slugs can climb – so it’s no use simply encircling your plants with protection if there are stems reaching over from other plants that can be used as a bridge.

 

Toleration

The final option is to simply tolerate their existence and do all you can to encourage their natural predators into your garden.

Hang out a few extra bird feeders and provide access, shelter and food for our prickly hedgehog friends. Get some chickens or ducks. Start a pond and allow slug-eating frogs and toads to take residence.

Also try sowing more than you need—there are occasions when snails have done a great job of thinning out rows of veggie seedlings for us. And finally, if you do find a half-eaten strawberry on your patch, don’t pick and bin it in disgust: the chances are something will be back to finish the job meaning they might just leave the next ripe strawberry for you.

If you are looking to hire a gardener read these top tips for avoiding cowboy gardeners.