It’s a slug fest out there: dealing with slugs in Western New York

water in garden and closeup of slug
Wet weather helps slugs thrive, and they can chomp on your plants. Photos by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Everybody got some rain this past week, and some folks got a lot!

Kathy Shadrack lives with her husband Mike on a hilly property in Hamburg. She edits the newsletters of the Western New Hosta Society and the Buffalo Area Daylily Society and included this in a recent hosta message: “We had a waterfall down our terraces and we have new mini-streams etched under our deck. Furthermore, our road was flooded—wait for it— at the TOP of the hill.  Amazing.”

She noted that while the rain can bring rainbows, it also brings slugs, “the bane of the hosta world. It is an almighty slug fest out there.”

Slugs love hostas, but they chew on many kinds of plants, and lots of gardeners have noticed an increase in the number of slugs. How can you deal with slugs?

In a previous article, a number of methods for dealing with slugs were outlined by John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County.

Bait is one of the more reliable methods, Farfaglia said. There are two kinds of slug bait. The conventional bait is a typical pesticide and probably should not be used near pets and children. The iron-containing bait or iron phosphate bait is safer to use around pets and children.

But Kathy Shadrack noticed last week it wasn’t working.

“I have been spreading slug pellets like mad, but just educated myself that the reason they are not working is because it’s TOO WET,” she wrote. “Slug pellets work by dehydrating the slug and when it’s this wet, the creature can recover. Curses!”

Until conditions dry out, “you can play out High Noon in your garden with a mixture of ammonia and water (1 part ammonia to 4 parts water) in a spray bottle,” she said. “Spray this on any slug you see— and I’m seeing plenty—and watch them melt like the Wicked Witch of the West before your very eyes. Not efficient, but morbidly satisfying when you found your precious plants eaten.”

When I see a slug, I just kill it with whatever sharp gardening tool I happen to have in my hand. It seems quick and merciful.

There are many methods of dealing with slugs, such as setting out shallow dishes of beer.

“But nothing is 100 percent effective,” Farfaglia noted. You can probably reduce the numbers of slugs, but not get rid of them completely.

It’s clear that there’s no consensus on which of these alternate methods work the best or work at all. This weekend I was with several gardening experts preparing for the annual conference and expo to be held in Buffalo in August by GWA: The Association of Garden Communicators. (Their Meet the Authors event is open to the public from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4.)

As we were chatting, the topic turned to slugs, and I got more advice.

Anything that is sharp on a slug’s belly, such as lava rocks and gravel, will keep slugs away from your plants, said David Clark, who teaches the horticultural classes at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. However, egg shells don’t work because slugs are attracted to the remnants of the inner membrane of the shell. They don’t care how scratchy the egg shells are. There have been experiments where they will crawl right over the shells to get to some lettuce. See a video of slugs crawling across eggshells here.

Mike Shadrack, who is president of the Western New York Hosta Society, vehemently argued against the deterrence approach.

“You don’t deter slugs, you kill them,” he said. The creatures are hermaphrodites, having both female and male reproductive organs, so any two slugs can get together and both can lay eggs.

Mike said you should start putting out slug pellets as soon as the snow is gone. The first year, you won’t see much of a difference because the eggs are already in the ground, but keep using the slug pellet and in year two and year three, you will see a difference.

What works best for you when it comes to slugs? Please leave a comment below.

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26 Comments on “It’s a slug fest out there: dealing with slugs in Western New York

  1. Here is a ‘deterrence’ method which has worked for me and my hostas (until the deer ate them, lol). Sprinkle diatomaceous earth lightly on the ground around plants. It is microscopically sharp and slugs avoid it. One of my garden pals tells me it does injure the slugs.

    I learned this method at a Cornell Cooperative Extension lecture many years ago and have used it successfully ever since.

    Diatomaceous Earth is benign, mined from the sea bottom and used in pool filters. You can buy a generously sized bag at a Pool Supply store.

  2. I fill 1/4 of a small jar with salt and make sure it has a lid. Then I go slug hunting at dawn and dusk. Put slug into jar and shake a bit. Put lid on and continue every day. I have a jar almost filled with slug soup.

  3. I sprinkle salt on any slug I see and it kills them!! I do this in the morning and at night. I have a special salt shaker I use for them.

  4. Jill, you have to be careful with salt because it can be bad for your garden. See Ruth Ann’s comment– she puts the slugs in the salt instead of putting the salt on the slugs.

  5. It is important to purchase diatomaceous earth that is intended for gardens NOT diatomaceous earth from a pool supply store! The kind intended for garden use is also called “food grade.” It has sharper edges and thus is harmful to slugs.

    Pool filter diatomaceous earth is processed differently. It is chemically treated and partially melted making it less effective for killing slugs but more irritating to human lungs.

    You should always avoid inhaling any product you apply to your garden!

  6. Slugs really go for beer poured into a foil pie plate, and they cannot survive their ‘drunkenness’!! Judy W. in South Wales

  7. The salt and beer both work. I never heard of putting the slugs in a jar, but probably a good idea. I move the slugs to bare ground and just sprinkle the slug. Really gross! The beer has to be changed frequently and I read someplace that they’re attracted to the yeast – not so much the alcohol.

  8. Does anyone know if the cinders from a wood fire might work? I believe I’ve read about that option in an old Organic Gardening magazine. I have plenty of that.

  9. Slug bait is the most effective method to protect the hundreds of hosta in my garden. However, only use the recommended amount per square foot. Research has found that using more pellets will deter the slugs from injesting the lethal amount. It is also important to use the slug bait every 38 to 42 days to interrupt its life cycle. If you see an adult slug, chances are it has already laid eggs in your garden.

  10. Today I happened to meet a landscaper while shopping and we agreed the slugs are really bad this year. He mentioned sitting out a small can, like a cathode or tuna can and putting beer in it. Slugs love the beer and die happy.

  11. Today i was discussing slugs with a landscaper and he recommended beer in a small can like a tuna can or cat food can. Slugs love it and they die happy.

  12. Re: cinders. We tried that some years ago and it works as long as the cinders are dry. After a rain they don’t seem to work because it gets soft.

  13. Each spring I by a 50 lb bag of play sand for under $5 and spread it under the hostas to the point where leaves touch the ground and then forget about it. The quartz crystals are very sharp and I rarely have problems with holey hostas.

  14. I also use salt, works well, also ammonia. Tho I haven’t used ammonia

    in years I can’t remember if this product harms the flowers.

    Thank you for all the good information and suggestions.

  15. I’ve tried baits, diotomaceous earth, drowning, squashing, salt, but nothing is as effective or humane as physical removal. My guilt free method involves slug hunting in the evening searching around targeted plants and under rocks or edging blocks, and then handpicking them and throwing them out into the trash can where they can happily munch on garden clippings. Make sure the trash can has a lid!

  16. May sound crazy and yes, a bit gross. But I use beer. They love it. Get a plastic tear type shape air plant container. So the rain doesn’t dilute the beer. And, so let’s Don’t drink it. Put it in ur garden. When u get up the next day the slugs will be melted. Dump in toilet and rinse.

  17. Sue, yes beer is commonly used. I like the idea of using using the air plant container so rain doesn’t dilute the beer!

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