Prevention is key to managing the toxic relationships we have with slugs and snails. These slimy pests can wreak havoc on our gardens, munching on our prized plants and leaving behind a trail of destruction. So, what actually works to manage these pests and keep their numbers under control? Here are my top 5 ways to combat slugs and snails in the garden:
- Disturb your soil:
While I typically advocate for no-till gardening, disturbing the top 3 inches of your soil can be an effective method for managing slugs. By lightly turning over the soil, you expose any buried eggs to the cold air and natural predators like birds. Keep an eye out for little white jelly-like balls, which indicate the presence of slug eggs. By bringing them to the surface, you prevent them from hatching and feasting on your plants. I recommend not going deeper than 2 or 3 inches, as wireworms, another garden pest, tend to reside at deeper depths.
I understand that disturbing the soil goes against the principles of no-till gardening, as it can cause nutrient loss. However, if you’re using 100% aged compost as your growing medium, nutrient loss is not a concern. Disturbing the soil in this case becomes a free and easy method to keep slug populations in check.
- Diatomaceous earth:
Another effective approach is to apply diatomaceous earth around your plants, focusing on the stems and exposed soil. Diatomaceous earth is made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms and contains sharp, microscopic edges that slice through the bodies of slugs and snails when they come into contact with it. Make sure to apply the diatomaceous earth when the soil is dry, and reapply after rain or irrigation. Avoid using salt as a slug deterrent, as it can harm your plants and negatively impact soil health.
For gardeners in Washington State, consider method #4 until July 5th, as diatomaceous earth needs to be reapplied if it gets wet.
- Beer traps:
Slugs and snails are attracted to beer, especially the cheap and less palatable varieties. Set up beer traps by pouring the beer into a bowl and sinking it into the soil, making sure the rim is level with the ground. Slugs and snails will be enticed by the beer, fall into the bowl, get drunk, and meet their demise. Remember to empty and refill the traps regularly.
- Scissors and quick disposal:
If you’re not squeamish, using dollar store scissors to cut slugs in half can be an effective and immediate method of control. The birds in your garden will appreciate the feast, and the evidence of slugs will be gone before the next day. Similarly, if you spot snails, don’t hesitate to give them a quick and humane death by stepping on them. It’s the circle of life, and by providing an easy meal for birds, you encourage natural pest control.
- Composting with the frenemies:
If you enjoy flinging these frenemies off your veggies, consider collecting any slugs and snails you find and depositing them into your compost bin. They will help break down the organic matter in your compost, working alongside worms and pill bugs (Roly Poly) to accelerate the decomposition process. While they may not be welcome in your vegetable garden and growing spaces, these creatures serve a purpose just outside, aiding in the creation of beautiful, nutrient-rich soil. In fact, at our own garden, we witness the transformation of compost into gorgeous soil every 4-6 weeks.
To learn more about composting techniques and the benefits it offers, I invite you to check out our in person classes www.DTECG.com/events