Ok so I know we want to attract more wildlife to our gardens – but let’s be honest, slugs are not our friends. They chomp their way through our beautifully tended foliage, leaving their slimy horrible trails. Occasionally someone accidentally stomps on one that has happened to slink across the path way, leaving a gory mess that has to be navigated for days.

You can, of course, purchase slug repellent from most hardware stores and garden centres, but for those of you that are interested in a non-chemical approach, there are alternatives (some really messy ones though!).

Barriers

Physical barriers can be useful when a plant is still young and relatively vulnerable. An easy approach is to use a cut up plastic soda bottle – cut off the top and bottom to form a cylinder that is placed around the plant. If there are many plants grouped together, place clear plastic edging around them, with at least 20 cm above ground and 10 cm below. This won’t of course halt all slugs but it will form a formidable barrier, just make sure that there are no slugs in the earth that you are cordoning off.

It’s also possible to spread material that makes it difficult for slugs to move – things like sand, ashes, broken eggshells and soot are great for drying up the mucous glands that ease their movement. These materials need replacing frequently though as they tend to blow away in the wind or become water-logged, which of course defeats the purpose.

Beer or milk traps

This is a great method for a smallish garden, it would take a lot of work in a large area. Dig a hole for a smooth glass bottle, make sure that the neck protrudes by 1 or 2 cm from the ground, and pour in some beer or milk. Then sit back and wait. The liquid has to be replenished every few days, and it’s really important to make sure that the bottle protrudes, otherwise you’ll inadvertently drown some really lovely ground beetles that do a lot of hard work in pest control in your garden. Perhaps this is a more useful method of protecting vulnerable plants by placing the bottle right next to the plant.

Night time by torch light

Eeeeuw this is the yucky one, not for the faint hearted and you’ve really got to love your plants. Take your torch and go a-hunting at night for slugs that have come out to play. You’ll need a needle or hat pin (told you this is going to be yucky, if you’re squeamish STOP reading now!) and use it to spear the slugs, then dispose of them as you will. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that death is quick, that they didn’t feel a thing and that it’s preferable to a slow drowning or poisoning. (I know, that doesn’t help me either yuck yuck yuck)

Soil conditioning

This is a great method for a larger plot – turn over the soil using a rotovator and this will reduce the slug population by about 75%. It should only be done in early spring though and the earth needs to be dry. Not only does rotovation kill slugs it also exposes their eggs to the environment. Using a spade can also be of benefit but obviously not to the same scale as a rotovator.

Get rid of weeds that they like too, like dandelions.

Controlled refuges

Encourage the population growth of ground-living insect predators with artificial refuges like old wooden boards, small bits of carpets, big stones and so on. Bugs love to hide under these and then come out at night looking for a bit of dinner.

While none of these methods are failsafe, they will at least assist in keeping down the slug numbers without the use of chemicals.

Happy hunting (yuck!)

PS with grateful acknowledgement to Professor William O C Symondson at the Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, thanks for a great read.

http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/biosi/staffinfo/wocs2.html