They come at night. Waves of them. Well, maybe not waves, but that’s how I envision them…crawling out from beneath their rocks and leaves and massing together to plan their attack. All you’ll see of them in the morning is their wake – bean and lettuce leaves with holes in them, and perfectly ripened strawberries pocked with deep tunnels and slick with slime.

If I’ve learned anything from garden pests, it’s that the first step in controlling them is to know thy enemy. Learn their biology and their behavior and you can usually outwit them. And if you think winning a match of wits against a slug is nothing to boast about, clearly you don’t have any. (Wits or slugs.)

First, Biology: Slugs and snails are part of the mollusk family, and the only real difference between the two is that snails have shells and slugs don’t. And if you have one of the two species, you usually have the other, since they both enjoy the same environments. Their bodies are soft, moist and covered with slime to protect them from drying out and dying. This will be an important fact to remember for your counterattack. Slugs and snails are also hermaphrodites, and lay their eggs in the soil in both spring and fall – which is the best time to try some population control since they’re out trying to find a mate. Their eggs can survive for years before hatching, so it’s pretty unlikely that you can ever truly eradicate them. But that’s okay. Like all animals, even slugs have their place. In the wild they help compost soil. You just don’t need that many of them “helping” you in your garden.

Second, Behavior: Slugs come out in the evening and party until the sun comes up. Like delicate vampires, they must hide during the bright sun of the day, and will take shelter under leaves, rocks and woodpiles. Don’t let their ubiquity fool you. They’re actually not very hardy, and are relatively wimpy garden pests. They don’t like their delicate skin irritated or dry. Their strength is merely in their numbers and appetite.

So, knowing all this, how do we control them?

Well, first and foremost, keep your garden clean. Fallen leaves and other loose organic matter are slug condos. One of the big advantages of our raised bed garden is that in order to attack our veggies, they need cross pathways of irritating crushed pebbles and climb 2 feet of wood. They’re generally not that tenacious – unless we don’t clear away spent plants that drop leaves and droop over to the ground. This detritus is safe shady harbor for them, and the drooping stems are a thoroughfare up to the beds. However, our strawberry beds, which are at ground level, are the easiest things in our garden for them to attack. Plus, slugs love strawberries. It’s a deadly combination.

There are basically three ways of controlling slugs and snails: kill ’em, annoy ’em, or lure ’em to their deaths. We find that a combination of all three works best, and here’s how we do it:

1. Kill them. The most effective way to kill slugs is to pick them off of leaves and drop them into a pail of salty water. They’ll drown. Use chopsticks (if you’re dextrous enough) so that your fingers don’t get slimy. Some people add dish soap to the water to keep the slugs from climbing back out of the pail, but since we immediately dump the full pail in the chicken coop (chickens LOVE slugs) we don’t add the soap.

If you can’t stomach the thought of hand picking slugs, ammonia sprayed directly on the slugs also works very well, plus has the added benefit of being a bit of a fertilizer to plant leaves. Simply dilute household ammonia with non-chlorinated water – usually about 1 part ammonia: 7-10 parts water. (If the ammonia concentration is too strong, it can burn tender leaves.) Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and attack. This spraying must be done in early morning or evening when the slugs are actually visible. The ammonia mixture causes the slugs to dissolve. For the particularly vengeful, this is a pleasant way to spend a morning.

There are also natural slug “poisons,” the most well-known of which is a brand named “Sluggo.” Sluggo consists primarily of iron phosphate, which occurs naturally in soil. Sluggo mixes the tiny iron phosphate pellets with an irresistible bait causing the snails to ingest the iron phosphate. This makes them stop eating, and eventually die. Some strict organic gardeners do not like to use Sluggo because although it isn’t a synthetic chemical substance, it unnaturally amends the soil. We wind up using it only during very wet seasons when the slug population explodes.

One inviolate garden rule: if you see a slug, pick it off and stomp on it. This is the most foolproof method.

2. Annoy them. Slugs don’t like to be dry or have their skin irritated. Diatomaceous earth or wood ashes sprinkled as a barrier around your beds will persuade slugs to turn around rather than crawl across these scratchy substances. The one drawback to this defense is that it will need to be reapplied after rains that dilute and spread the offending particles.

Another old-fashioned, but trusty method is to lay copper tape or mesh around your beds or plants. Slug and snail slime reacts with copper to transmit a small electric shock to the slug. It’s like a tiny electric fence. Which is a really satisfying thought.

3. Lure them. This is probably the most widely-known method for controlling slugs. Slugs like yeast. A lot. So setting out lures with beer tends to coax them to belly up to the bar in vast numbers. Lures are easy to make from common household objects. Simply sink saucers, tin pie plates, plastic cups, or empty tuna fish cans into the soil so that at least one side of the rims are level with the ground. Then pour in a little beer (the cheapest brand is fine) and leave out overnight. By morning the containers will be full of slugs. Many of them will not have drowned, however, so the containers must be either capped and thrown away daily, or, as we do, fed to chickens. Don’t just empty them into the trash, or the slugs will simply crawl out and resume their destruction the following evening. Repeat every evening until you find the lures empty in the morning. This is not as onerous as it sounds as long as you bring an extra can of beer along into the garden for yourself.

Only use cans from Dolphin-Safe tuna, of course.

Other favorite natural lures are inverted citrus rinds and cabbage leaves. Snails flock to them just like the beer saucers. But you’ll have to be extra vigilant about removing the slug-covered rinds and leaves each morning since all this method really does is draw them into one spot away from other plants. Where can you get enough of these food wastes to scatter through your garden?  Well, Farmer John’s sister owns a restaurant, and she makes a killer cole slaw from scratch. She saves the outer, unusable cabbage leaves for us. Perhaps you have a nearby restaurant who would do the same. Or check your local grocery store or restaurant that squeezes their own fresh orange juice. You can probably get bags of squeezed orange rinds from them.

Scatter cabbage leaves amongst your strawberries or other vulnerable plants in the evening…
…And you’ll wake up to a slug/snail orgy. This leaf will go right into the chicken coop for their breakfast.

Got any additional snail and slug tips? List them below…

 

by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Reader Comments

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Kris

How about coffee grounds? I’ve heard that works for slugs so along with egg shells I am trying coffee grounds as well. So far so good!!

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doug.cotterill

going out with a torch after dark with a squasher, trowel or other eliminater gets lots of slugs,
but needs regular visits to get the numbers down,since ther are hundreds of them at least

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PJ

When I lived in Virginia, I had raised beds but still had slugs and snails. The beer in the lid lid/tuna can worked great. Now I live in Washington state and the slugs here are gi-normous! I’m talking 6 inches and more.
The first time I opened the front door and had one of those across the stoop, I screamed like a 4-yr old and slammed the door.
I’m gonna drink my beer and try to forget the sight of these blighters.

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Christina

I live in Florida where the summer is rain is almost every day. I am an amateur gardener and am having my flowers and tomato plants eaten by snails. Is there any suggestions on excessive rain on a product or method that would work. I use Seven dust in spring time but with daily rain it gets washed away. Help!

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Shannon

I've been struggling with slugs and just wrote a blog post about the problems I've been having! (http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/all-creatures-small-and-not-so-great/) Thanks for the tips. I went slug-hunting the other day and dumped 6 or 7 of them in water, left them overnight until they drowned, and then dumped them into our spinning composter. They kept climbing out though, so next time I'll definitely add salt and a teeny bit of natural soap. The idea of egg-shells is brilliant as well, as we eat a lot of eggs, they're good for the garden, and I put them in the composter anyway.

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Raechelle

Fabulous tips; need to hurry up and get the chicken coop up and running-love the idea of feeding them to the chooks. Cheers!

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Deb

Find children with the ok of their parents, and organize evening bug hunts. They love to get the flash light and go hunting. They are so zealous, you will not have many bugs left.

You will be very popular with the children and they enjoy it and parents enjoy it as well.

This is what I did. Dramatic diffence in a short period of time.

Full moon bug hunts, half moom bugs hunts, new moom bug hunts, you can do it all and have fun.

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Deb

Find children with the ok of their parents, and organize evening bug hunts. They love to get the flash light and go hunting. They are so zealous, you will not have many bugs left.

You will be very popular with the children and they enjoy it and parents enjoy it as well.

This is what I did. Dramatic diffence in a short period of time.

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barbara

I have Indian Runner ducks and Guinea Hens, they are great in the gardens eating all kinds of pesks, unlike the chickens they won't kill the plants. The Guinea Hens will drive you mad though!

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Ursula

If you do handpick the slugs and want to eliminate them asap, sprinkle salt over them..after it rains, i go out in my yard with a salt shaker and sprinkle some salt over them—it dehydrates and eliminates them without having to touch them—but they do leave a globby mess behind!!!

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candisrrt

Thanks so much! I see the holes in my leaves of my new garden but didn't know what it was. Off to grab some cans and beer!

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centralia heart

I havehad awful slug problems, maybe because i live at the waterfront. i found a product called Slug Magic from Gardener Supply in Vermont. It is an employee owned company and everyone is knowledgeble and helpful. Slug Magic is good because it is not toxic to cats or other critters and i care for 4 feral cats in addition to my "indoor girls". it really works! Centralia

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Cheryl Dwyer

I swear by Killians for the slugs, on pie tins. The chickens think they're getting a wonderful treat. Our problem this year has been aphids… and we use yellow, yes, yellow, bowls with soapy water. Aphids are attracted to yellow and they can't swim…works like a charm…

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Monica Hommerding

Thank you for the tips! My yard is a slug haven. They love to feast on my flower beds. I tried crushed eggshells this year and it has helped. Beer traps work great, but if I forget them the dog ends up tipsy!

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Debbie

**If this went through, sorry for the repost. Connection went funky.**

I've been spreading crushed eggshells around the borders of my raised beds and so far it's been working. I rinse them out, nuke them for 30 seconds to clean and cook any leftover protein, crush them into small bits and spread around the beds. As was stated in Josh's post, the slugs don't like the sharp edges.

They last a couple months or so until they naturally decompose. I'll be having more eggs this week so will do this again.

Hmmm, I wonder if oyster shells would work too? Those edges can be sharp and they'd make a nice border.

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Rose Marie Halbersta

Ditto for the Muskovy duck cure. They love slugs, and if you take a few minutes a day to turn over a rock with slugs beneath and call a muskovy, they'll follow you around like a puppy wanting you to hunt slugs with them (personal experience). Also, muskovy ducks don't quack like the noisy white Pekin ducks. They're much quieter and make a hissing sound instead (like that dog in the cartoons). Also, muskovy ducks don't really need a pond–they're not as waterproof as the other breeds. Very good eating, too, if you can roast the meat without drying it out. Very good mothers, but eggs need about 35 days to hatch. I highly recommend them!

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Robin

I have The Slug Patrol – nine ducks, runners except one. They are slug, snail and grasshopper eating machines. They can't be in all of the one-acre garden but in the areas they're allowed, these three pests are no longer a problem.

Placing boards in paths is helpful. The slugs and snails will go under the boards and can be cleaned up in the morning. I feed them to the chickens and turkeys.

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Sarah

I've heard that Muscovy ducks and/or Guinea hens (very noisy & not noted for their intelligence)are both good for slug/snail control. Am hoping to try the ducks at some point. Since you have a pond perhaps that might do as well?

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Debbie

I've been using crushed eggshells. I rinse them out thoroughly, nuke them for 30 seconds or so to make sure all protein is either gone or cooked through, crush them into small bits and spread around the borders. So far this has worked great. Not only has it kept the slugs away but will also help compost the soil.

What I put out a couple months ago have now completely dissolved, the eggs I eat this week will be used to re-border.

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uel Duke

Turtles! I have box turtles and slugs are one of their favorite snacks. If you use NO chemicals the turtles will be fine. They may eat the occasional strawberry but they really prefer slugs, snails, worms and all srts of insects.

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Amy

Thanks for the tip with Cabbage! Awsome! I will try that in my Perennial flower beds. Gret Pics of what your talking about by the way.

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Cathy

Slugs are nasty. I've never seen so many as there are on that cabbage leaf! Usually I just use beer to get rid of them, but you can also place a wood board on the ground. The slugs will gather under the board overnight. Then you can pick them off in the morning and go feed them to the chickens. Ewe – makes me cringe just thinking about it.

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Michele

You can bury bowl and put beer in the bowls. The slugs and snails go in for a drink and drown. Then you can spoon on the snails in the morning. I have been using DE earth but with the rainy spring I would have to invest in the company to keep applying it!

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April

If you have trouble with small furry pests, a botanist friend swears by bags of used cat litter to keep them away. Sounds gross, but so far, it seems to be working.

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tracey helton

i go out and handpick the snails. i put them in a large ziploc bag then eiother let the sun liquify them on a hot day or crush them quickly and use them as fertilzer. i hate killing them but they are tearing my garden apart.

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joey

there are a species of snails that are cannibals. Their only job in life is to eat bad snails and slugs. I bought them @ my local farmers market from a vendor there. I'd bet you could order them. Can't recall their real name but just google them, I haven't had a problem in my garden since I put them in.

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Charity

Do you also deposit the snails into the chicken coop? Would love to eliminate my snails by donating them as treats to my neighbor's chics. Anything to be cautious of in regards to their shells?

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Patti Linder

My favorite way to deal with slugs is with eggshells. Although I usually crush the eggshells (rinsed) into my compost bucket, each spring I set them aside, crush them, and sprinkle around the plants. The shells are great for the soil, and the sharp edges slice up the bodies of the slugs when they head for the vegetation.

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Melissa Greenwood

Ducks! My 6 ducks LOVE to eat the garden slugs and unlike my chickens, do not mess w/ the strawberries. They just wander through and feast on the slugs. And all other bugs. And weeds. (and the occasional Petunia or Nasturtium!)

Thanks for the tips, you guys rock! And I did not know that slugs react to copper- how cool is that?! (imagining slugs as mini slug frankensteins)

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Nancy McGee

The slug have no chance at the strawberries around here. The squirrels and the birds are my newest enemy. Even the electric fence doesn't seem to keep the strawberries safe. I broke down and made a chicken wire cage to set over the strawberries. Hopefully that'll do the job.

The snails and slugs around here are crazy. I'm hoping our two chickens will curb the population here in Freeport, NY.

I'll have to try the slug bars. I don't have a problem in the garden because like you guys, I have raised beds. But my mother's flower garden is constantly overrun with the buggers.

Hoping things have worked out to keep you on the farm by now!

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Molly

Make rings of crushed up eggshells around plants. Their tender bellies get sliced up if they try to crawl across them.

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