Slugs – a gardener’s worst enemy. There are a number of methods out there to stop them in their tracks, be it environmentally friendly or chemical, but have you ever found one that does the trick?
Ask any gardener what their worst pest is and slugs and snails will feature high on the list. Three quarters of Which? Gardening members told us that they’re a real problem.
The tell-tale slime trails across your decimated plants, the stump-like remains of your seedlings and the gaping holes in your hosta leaves all show that slugs and snails have been busy eating your carefully tended garden. The damage is enough to make you hop round the garden in fury.
Barriers to protect your crops
In an attempt to get rid of slugs and snails gardeners use barriers, pellets and nematodes with abandon. But is it time to throw in the towel and make peace with these pests?
Our recent tests showed that environmentally friendly barrier methods are not much better than leaving your plants unprotected, especially when you factor in the faff of installing the barriers.
We tested plastic barriers with sharp teeth that were supposed to deter snail, but the pests simply hurdled the obstacle by arching their bodies. Granules that were supposed to be too sharp to crawl over became soggy and sticky when watered. Copper is another deterrent but the tape we used was breached within days.
Some barriers showed promise, such as wool pellets that created a hairy mat, or a gel that made a slug turn through 180 degrees and head off in the opposite direction, but even these failed to protect our seedlings for long.
Home-made methods, such as egg shells, beer traps or coffee granules may be cheap alternatives, but our poll told us most members have had poor results. Ducks and geese were the best performers, although these have to take their place in the food chain and are often fall prey to foxes.
Biological and chemical controls
Then there’s Nematodes which seem to work well on slugs, but not on snails. These tiny parasitic worms are watered onto the soil and work their way into slugs where they infect them with a lethal fungus. But they’re a nuisance to buy and use as they have to be ordered online and then kept in the fridge until the weather and soil temperatures are right.
The problems with pellets containing metaldehyde are well known, such as causing harm to birds and pets if eaten in large quantities. It’s also known to pollute water when used in high doses in agriculture. Some experts even predict it may be banned in the UK if the problem is not controlled.
Ferric-phosphate pellets are certified as organic, but some research suggests that it may cause problems for earthworms and alter the chemical balance of the soil.
So it looks as though we have three choices: using remedies that may be less than environmentally friendly, carrying out night-time raids with a torch and bin bag or learn to live with slugs and snails. Which method do you use? Or do you have a secret tip that we’d all love to to know?