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.