What Are Slugs?
Slugs are not part of the insect family, they are actually molluscs, and although they may seem just like snails without the shells, they are more similar to clams or other sea wildlife. They happen to live on the land instead.
Due to how common these land molluscs are, most of us are well aware of what a slug looks like and how to identify one by the time we reach mid-childhood. Slugs are fat worm-like creatures with eye stalks very similar to snails. Also, they have two small tentacles that are used to feel their way around, these feelers also act as taste buds for the slugs, and it is how they can tell they have found something tasty to eat.
Most slugs you will find in the UK vary from a couple of centimetres in length right up to a few inches. The majority of them are grey in colour, but this can vary from a darker grey to a brown colour. One thing that all garden variety slugs have in common is that everywhere they go they secrete mucus which leaves sticky trails of silvery substance everywhere they have been. If you happen to touch a slug, you will also find its entire body is covered in this sticky mucus which really isn’t pleasant!
Slugs absolutely love anywhere that can provide them with moisture, a little darkness and easy access to food, This is what makes you garden the perfect place for them. There are plenty of damp spots to hide away in and plenty of access to food, namely your plants!
The Problems with Slugs
Most slugs are not particularly harmful in the general sense. Although we wouldn’t recommend eating one they aren’t generally poisonous, they don’t tend to bite or sting or cause a problem. They can induce vomiting due to the sticky mucus, which is quite bitter.
One problem they do have is that they carry parasites that could be harmful to both you and your pets. One of these is the parasitic lungworm, which is just as nasty as it sounds. You only need to worry about this if your pet has a habit of eating slugs often, but if they do have a taste for slugs, you can take them to the vet and ask whether they are suitable for vaccination against this.
The biggest problem with slugs is the damage they do to your garden. If you have a slug problem in your garden, they can wreak havoc among your leafy plants. If you have ever tried to grow lettuce, you may have already had this problem as these are a particular favourite of most slugs and snails.
But, the damage doesn’t stop there. A slug problem can mean they munch their way through your seedlings, flowers and even your bulbs! The main problem with this is that they don’t just eat a little bit, they eat a lot and can soon strip a plant of much of its leaves. This can end up leaving the plant weakened, leading to the plant suffering from disease or simply not having enough nutrition to stay alive.
Do You Have a Slug Problem?
The first sign you have a problem is most likely when you wake up in the morning and find the results of the slugs having a nighttime feast in your garden. Unfortunately, this destruction is the first thing you notice, and then once the slugs are there, they can keep coming back, again and again, eating through your new plants and shoots.
Watch out for nights and dull, damp days. These are the times that slugs feed so pop outside on a drizzly day and see if you can spot any slugs in your flower beds. You may be able to catch the problem before it takes hold.
However, for most, the problem won’t be noticed until it is already an issue and your plants have been eaten.
It can be important to be sure that it is slugs causing the damage, and for this, you need to take a look at the type of damage it is. If it is slug damage, then the holes in your leaves will be ragged and relatively large where the slug has ripped through the leaf. You may also find that young plants have had almost all of their leaves eaten by the morning.
Another sign that it is a slug problem rather than a different type of garden pest is the long silvery trails that slugs leave behind everywhere.
You can see these over patios, deckings, doors, walls and even if you check your leaves you can see these trails there too. This mucus doesn’t cause any harm itself, but if you find that you have a lot of these, then this points to you having a large slug infestation rather than the odd one or two.
How to Get Rid Of Slugs
Luckily for you, there are plenty of solutions when it comes to slug management to help you get rid of a slug problem. As with many garden pests, prevention is far easier than trying to cure an existing problem. So, it may be worth proactively doing some of these before slugs destroy your plants.
Encourage Natural Predators
Slugs have a lot of predators that can help keep your slug problem in check. The most obvious and the most pleasant for many gardens are birds. If you can encourage a healthy variety of birds into your garden, then they should help keep your slug problem at bay.
Birds are not the only predator, and if you are lucky enough to have a variety of wildlife in your garden, you can create yourself a lovely wildlife haven and ensure your slug population is low. Encourage hedgehogs, toads, frogs and even beetles. All of these will happily tuck into a slug meal, and they all provide various benefits to your garden.
Make Beer Traps
Slugs are partial to a drop of beer – no, really!
You can fill a container with a little beer and pop it into your garden. The slugs will find their way in and then get intoxicated and be unable to get back out again. One of the best ways of doing so is to cut the bottom off an old, empty bottle and bury it into the soil close to your plants before filling it with beer.
This method is an old favourite dating back years, but it isn’t the most humane way to rid yourself of slugs so there may be better methods to use.
Slugs move by slithering very slowly across surfaces, they have no legs and have a body made almost entirely of muscle which means they always have a lot of their body making contact with the ground. This can make it very difficult for them to move around if the ground is sharp and painful.
You can add sharp gravel over beds, but a natural version that works very well is broken eggshells. These can be crushed and spread over your beds and areas where slugs seem to travel and deter them from nibbling on plants in the area. In addition to eggshells, you can use nutshells, pine needles or any thorny foliage you have in the garden.
Use Nematodes in Your Soil
Nematodes are a natural method for getting rid of slug that is environmentally friendly and should be safe for you and your family.
These are tiny worms that can’t be seen, and you mix them into your soil. The slug then ingests these, and they multiply inside the slug and eventually kill off the problem. As long as you buy these from a reputable source, they shouldn’t cause a problem in your garden and are safe for your pets too.
Add Salt to Your Garden
Salt is deadly to slugs, and a little sprinkle of salt over areas of high slug traffic will kill them and help with the problem. This is a solution to be wary of because although it does get rid of slugs salt, it can also be detrimental to your plants and your soil.
This can have a long term effect on the general health of your garden.
This method is perfect if you have a slug problem in outbuildings or patios where you don’t need to worry about your plants. Sprinkle some over the patio and paths where slugs seem to travel, and they will pick up the salt as they pass by. The salt dries them out, and the slug becomes dehydrated.
Plant Slug Repellent Plants
One of the more humane methods for preventing slugs is to discourage them from being in your garden. If there is no tasty food for them to eat, they will move on elsewhere.
This does mean planting the majority of your plants as types that slugs won’t eat.
Astrantia is a plant that actually repels slugs because it gives off an odour the slugs dislike intensely! This is a pretty plant that won’t look out of place in your garden. Slugs also tend to avoid highly aromatic plants, so add some herbs to your borders, which can help with the problem.
Use Slug Pellets
If none of the homemade options are working, then you can invest in some slug pellets. These are available from your garden centre or to buy online.
They work when you sprinkle them over your soil, and most shouldn’t harm your garden. They are poisonous to slugs and will get rid of the problem.
However, you do need to be careful when putting any toxins into your garden. They could also kill other insects and wildlife. If you can invest in some non-toxic slug pellets as these should be less harmful to other animals and wildlife.
So, How Do You Get Rid of Slugs?
In conclusion, slugs are pesky creatures that offer very little value to your garden wildlife.
They harm your plants and can even kill off your crops in large numbers.
Luckily, there are plenty of options for getting rid of or even preventing slugs from getting a hold in your garden at all. Where possible, try natural methods first before moving on to slug pellets or slug poison if the problem has grown too big to handle.