Ask a local master gardener about slugs.

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For the Gazette
Published: 7/5/2019 3:01:36 PM
Modified: 7/5/2019 3:01:22 PM

Q:  Slugs are invading my vegetable garden — ugh!  What is a good way to control them aside from flicking them off the plants?  —E. R., Westhampton

A: Ah, slugs. A bane to gardeners everywhere. They come out at night and on cloudy days. We often don’t see their damage until morning when irregular shaped holes and telltale silvery slime trails appear on our lettuce leaves where there were none when we went to sleep. Ugh, indeed!

What to do? Slugs are among the most challenging pests to control. One management approach is to incorporate a combination of methods that makes the environment inhospitable to them.

Part of that combination is using barriers that take advantage of their physiology. Slugs belong to the invertebrate class Gastropoda which literally means “stomach foot.” Their “foot” is the soft fleshy part that slides along the ground secreting that slimy slug mucus we all know — but don’t love. Its stomach resides directly above its foot, hence the name.

Ringing your plants with sand can help deter the slugs with their uncomfortable edges. You could also use natural crushed large shells such as clamshells, nutshells, or eggshells.

Slugs particularly like strawberries and tomatoes. The soft fruit is close to the ground where they can easily reach it. Play close attention to those plants if you have them.

Pair the sharp object deterrence with removing places where they can hide during the day. Boards, stones, debris, and leafy branches close to the ground are all places where they like to hide. Clearing them means they need to seek shelter elsewhere.

If you end up hand picking them or scraping them off a board, dispose of them far away — a good 60 feet or so — to discourage their finding your garden again.

Other natural methods to add to these deterrents include creating a habitat that encourages traditional slug predators such as frogs, toads, and birds. Providing water in a ground level bird bath bowl helps draw them in to your garden as they all need water. Slugs are food for them, adding to the appeal.

To further round out an anti-slug habitat, incorporate companion plants such as marigolds, thyme, and chervil into your garden. Their presence can help coax the slugs away from your veggies.

There are a few ideas, E.R. Hope that helps. Thanks for asking a (local) Master Gardener.

Have a gardening dilemma? Please send questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at AskAMasterGardener@wmmga.org. One question will be answered per week. wmmga.org




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