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Slugs & Snails

Skill Level: Beginner

Introduction

If you ask any gardener what they consider to be the worst pest in the garden, nine times out of ten it will be slugs and snails. They are No.1 on the vegetable gardeners’ hit list but they will also create havoc in the flower garden. I am especially vigilant when it comes to my dahlia seedlings as slugs and snails love these. Overnight, the slimy creatures, with their voracious appetites, can strip the leaves from a row of seedlings so well, you would be hard pressed to see where they had been planted in the first place. The average garden will house over 20,000 slugs but only about 5% will be above the ground. So, for every one you see, there will be around 19 of them underneath the surface. Combined with the fact that some can lay up to 500 eggs in a season, it’s no wonder that we gardeners can only control them rather than eradicate them

Types of Slugs and Snails

There are around thirty species of slugs in the UK but the main ones we see causing most of the damage to plants are:-
 
The Field Slug   This can be up to 4cm long, light grey or fawn in colour and feeds mainly above ground but will go down a few centimetres through the soil.
 
The Large Black Slug   Everyone will be familiar with this one as it is the one we see the most. It can reach a staggering 15cm long and is mainly dark brown or black in colour. Although it will eat seedlings in the spring it is not as destructive as the others so I tend to leave this one alone.
 
The Garden Slugs   This is a group of grey-black slugs up to 3cm long. They feed on the surface as well as underground. Not much is safe from these gluttons including turnips and potatoes.
 
The Keel Slug   A grey-olive colour and up to 6cm long. Touch it and it will curl into a sickle shape. These chaps are champion burrowers and spend most of their time underground. They are notorious for destroying potatoes and other root crops.

Controlling Slugs and Snails

Slug Pellets   Although these have had a bad press lately, if used correctly they pose little problem. The secret is to scatter them very thinly. Never make a heap of them which is why I always place them individually rather than scatter them. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely and keep pets away from the area.
 
Slug Traps   These are easily available, easy to use and will get rid of a number of slugs. The traps are partially buried below ground and the reservoir filled with beer, stout or lager. The slugs are attracted to the yeasty smell of the brew and after falling in; I suspect they die a happy death. The shells of grapefruit are also used to trap slugs. In the evening, place them on the surface of the soil, cut side down and the next morning the slugs can be removed and disposed of.
 
Copper Tape   This is wonderful for keeping pots free of slugs as they are averse to crossing copper. Adhesive tape is now available so it is simple to stick a continuous barrier of copper around the pot.
 
Nematode Biological Control   The nematode, a microscopic worm, is found naturally in the UK but not in such large numbers as to help with garden problems. They work by burrowing into the slug and releasing bacterium that eventually kills the slug. Now, because nematodes are bred commercially, they can be purchased in sufficient quantity as to make a difference in the garden. However, they are relatively expensive so they are really tailor made for the smaller plot. They are usually supplied in a moist medium which you would mix with water and apply to the soil with a watering can.
 
Various Other Methods of Control   Encourage natural slug controls including birds, frogs and hedgehogs. Make your garden a comfortable place for them to visit and they will have a major effect on the slug damage you will see. Surround your plant with sharp grit, broken eggshells or any dry, spiky material; slugs need to be kept moist so any drying method is worth trying. Cut the bottom off a plastic drinks bottle and remove the cap, to form a protective cylinder around vulnerable young plants. Hunt slugs and snails at night, picking them off your plants; you will be surprised just how many you can find.

Tools you will need:
Fito 4m Slug Stoppa Adhesive Copper Tape
Fito 4m Slug Stoppa Adhesive Copper Tape
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