Game plan to end slug fest in garden

This cool, wet spring has been perfect for slugs. I saw my first baby ones in early March under some old wood. It didn’t take them long to find my hostas and ligularias. Delphiniums, lettuce, tomatoes and strawberries weren’t far behind.

Slugs are active from early spring until the fall frosts. In our climate, they can grow to be 5 inches long and can live for five or more years. They can be gray, black, yellow or brown in color.

Slugs locate their food by smell and then glide to it by secreting mucus from their “foot,” leaving behind the familiar shiny ribbon of slime. They can move at about 37 feet per hour. Their 27,000 little rasping teeth can shred a plant or a whole row of seedlings in one night’s feeding as they eat twice their weight a single night.

The slime trail also serves as a scent trail to a mate. About 30 eggs are laid at each mating in a hole under a log or plant debris. Most eggs are laid in the spring when it is still damp.

Slugs are actually an important part of garden ecology. They help break down organic matter and are in turn food for ground beetles, birds, ducks and other foraging animals. Unfortunately, their food sources include our prized garden plants. So what’s a gardener to do?

First, remove places and things they can use to hide in or under and cultivate the soil around favored plants to disturb eggs. Trim up low hanging branches and leaves to increase air circulation and allow drying sunlight to reach the ground. Stake up vegetable plants to keep fruit up off the ground.

Catch them by putting out flat pieces of wood or rocks, melon and grapefruit rinds to crawl under after a night of feeding. In the morning, pick them off the bottom of the material. Hunt them at night with a flashlight and a pair of chopsticks for picking.

Use a slug’s sense of smell to your advantage. Put beer, potato slices, lettuce leaves or yeast in a cottage cheese carton half buried in the ground. Cut slots in the rim to ground level cover it to keep other animals out of it. Empty the trap daily and change the beer every few days.

Jolt them with electricity by laying strips of copper around plants. The copper reacts with the mucus and gives the animal a small jolt when they come into contact with it. Copper is expensive though.

As a last resort, use iron phosphate-based commercial baits. This is a naturally occurring compound and is not harmful to other animals. Some of the trade names include Sluggo, Escar-Go and Schultz Slug and Snail Bait.

Skip the table salt folk remedy. The salt will do the job but can be quite detrimental to plants and the soil.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@ inlandnwgardening.com.

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