Growing your own fruit and veg is a rewarding job in so many ways, and it doesn’t take much to get started. Buy your seeds from a reputable supplier such as Seed Parade, wait until the threat of frost has passed and sow straight into your raised beds, following the instructions on the packet. What could possibly go wrong?
Enter the bane of every allotment gardener’s life. Without warning, slugs and snails will appear out of nowhere, moving at lightning speed to demolish your tender green seedlings with a voracious appetite, leaving nothing but bare stalks. It’s like a plague of locusts, except it happens overnight and in slow motion.
As you contemplate the devastation in the morning, a clear mission starts forming in your head: something must be done. Luckily, you are not the first veg gardener whose endeavours have been temporarily thwarted in this way.Take heart, read on, and use the following slug control tips to your advantage.
- Go on a snail hunt
If you want to find snails and slugs in your garden, all you have to know is where to look. Check under leaves, in upturned flower pots, behind bricks, in crevices and under garden furniture. Let the plant damage and snail trails guide you. Make a point of removing as many potential slug shelters as you can so the ravenous molluscs have nowhere to hide, exposing them to their natural predators.
Make it a regular task to go snail hunting after it’s been raining and the ground is wet – it’s when they love to come out.Many gardeners swear by snail hunting at night when snails and slugs are at their most active. Take a torch and catch them red handed, so to speak.
- Attract slug eating wildlife
Enlist the support of creatures further up the food chain such as hedgehogs, newts, toads, ducks, slow worms, ground beetles, carob beetles, centipedes and song thrushes – all of whom love to eat slugs and snails.
Attract slug eating wildlife with a pond or boggy area in your garden (ideally site your veg beds between the duck house and the pond!) or a pile of logs or stones for beetles to hide.
- Put up slug and snail barriers
Many gardeners successfully keep slugs and snails at bay by putting a barrier around the plants to be protected. You can try sharp grit or gravel, crushed seashells or eggshells, pine needles or thorny cuttings, but don’t expect them to be 100% effective – some slugs don’t seem at all bothered.
A better solution is to place a copper ring or band around the plant you wish to protect – slugs hate crawling over copper. Their slime reacts with the metal, giving the slugs a small electric shock – who knew?!
However, to work properly, the copper must be in contact with the ground, with no leaves touching neighbouring plants that could act as a bridge. For plant pots, wrap a copper tape around the outside to the pot.
- Slug and snail traps
An easy way to assemble a large amount of slugs and snails in your garden is to lure them with empty grapefruit halves (face down), flower pots, cardboard, dry catfood, lettuce leaves – anything that will attract them. Then check at night and dispense with them en masse.
For more direct action, you can set up a pesticide free trap that will help them meet their maker. Fill a container with beer (any) and bury it up to the neck in soil at the edge of the veg bed. The slugs will be enticed by the fermentation gases of the beer, fall in and drown. Job done.
For an effective type of biological pest control, try nematodes. These are micro organisms that will seek out slugs in the soil. They won’t destroy fully grown slugs but will kill young, small slugs in the soil – estimated to be 90% of the population. For best results, use a nematode treatment in spring and autumn when larvae or grubs are present.
You can buy nematodes in packets (keep refrigerated once opened), mix them with water and apply to the soil with a watering can. Keep the soil moist and warm for 7-10 days at least to ensure the nematodes stay active and see results (or rather don’t see!) in 2-4 weeks.
- Slug pellets
Chemical slug pellets are widely available as a sure-fire way to kill slugs and snails, and they are very popular among gardeners. Effective though they may be, it is important to point out that they also poison beneficial wildlife. If you must use slug pellets, do make sure you remove any dead slugs left behind before they are eaten by birds or hedgehogs.
While pellets are an easy solution to your snail problems, they have their disadvantages. Be careful not to use them around pets and small children, and use sparingly.