Getting rid of slugs in the garden may seem like an impossible task, but it can be done! In this post, you’ll learn all about slugs: their life cycle, feeding habits and damage, where they come from, and more. Then I’ll give you tons of tips to help you control slugs so you can ultimately eliminate them.
Slugs are one of the most destructive and frustrating garden pests there is. They hide during the day and come out at night to feast on your garden.
So, your plants will be fine one day, then turned to swiss cheese overnight. It’s never fun to discover that while you were sleeping, these slimy pests were busy destroying your favorite plants!
Controlling garden pests can be difficult. While it is possible to get rid of slugs, you’ll need to be diligent, and find the methods that work the best for you.
Once you figure out how to control slugs organically, and you stick with it, you can eventually get rid of them completely.
What Is A Slug?
Slugs are destructive pests that thrive in damp, shady areas of the yard. They hide during the day and come out at night to feed on many different types of plants.
They leave a slime trail wherever they go. So, you may notice shiny lines on your plants or on the ground early in the morning. Those are called slug trails, and are a sure sign that slugs are present.
What Do Slugs Look Like?
Slugs are slimy, soft bodied, ugly looking things. They actually look a lot like snails without the shell on their backs.
They can be brown, black or gray in color, and different sizes depending on the species. The slugs in my garden are usually about 1″ long, but some types can get much larger than that.
Slime is their defense mechanism. So if you’re unsure that you have slugs, the best way to tell is by touching them (but be warned that it’s gross!). They will slime you if you touch them, which will give you a positive ID.
Slugs Life Cycle
Slugs overwinter as adults or eggs, and they hibernate in the soil, under plant debris or in mulch. When the conditions are just right in the spring, adults will emerge to start feeding and mating, and the dormant eggs will begin to hatch.
Though most types of slugs are hermaphroditic (i.e.: they have both female and male reproductive organs), they still need a mate in order to reproduce. But this also means that every single slug is capable of laying eggs. Yikes!
Adult slugs lay their eggs in moist areas, like in under rocks, in compost, mulch, or the soil. In ideal conditions, slug eggs take about 2 weeks to hatch. Otherwise, they will sit in dormancy until the conditions are favorable for them to hatch.
It can take several months for baby slugs to go through their juvenile stage before becoming mature adults. But they can feed on plants at any time during these three phases of their life cycle. Adults can lay eggs throughout the growing season, so multiple generations overlap.
Slugs will rest during hot and dry periods, and will stop feeding and mating until it becomes cool and damp again. But in favorable conditions, their population can explode very quickly.
Where Do Slugs Come From?
Slugs are sneaky little devils. They are nocturnal, and hide in dark areas, like under leaf debris, plants or mulch during the day. That’s why it can be difficult to get rid of slugs.
They’re excellent hiders, and it’s uncommon to see them out, or even find them during the day. Once the sun goes down, they come out in full force and begin feeding on everything in site.
Many people are confused when they see plant damage that seems to have appeared overnight. Often times, they blame other insects that they see, not realizing slugs are the culprit.
What Do Slugs Eat?
You may notice that slugs prefer certain plants in your yard. This is partly because of their location, slugs thrive in shady, damp areas of the garden.
Slugs will eat pretty much anything, but they like certain types of plants better than others. Some of their favorites in my gardens are hostas, beans, squash, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, and seedlings.
What Does Slug Damage Look Like?
Slug damage to plants looks like irregular shaped holes, or ragged edges on the leaves. At their worst, slugs can devour mature plants all the way down to nubs.
They can also eat fruits and vegetables that are still on the plants. That damage looks like perfectly rounded holes, almost like someone used a mini-melon baller on them.
As for small plants and seedlings… well, those can be eaten down to just a stem, or disappear completely overnight. Grr!
How To Get Rid Of Slugs In The Garden Naturally
Now that you know all about slugs and where they come from, you can focus your pest control efforts to eliminate them from your garden.
Luckily, you don’t need to resort to using toxic chemical pesticides (and you shouldn’t!). There are tons of safe slug control methods that you can use to rid your garden of these slimy, plant eating pests.
Natural Slug Control Methods
Below I will give you several options for controlling slugs. If you’re persistent with your fight, you can successfully get rid of slugs in your garden!
But keep in mind that it will take more than one treatment. Plus, you may need to combine several of these methods to find the perfect solution. Here are some natural and organic options for how to control slugs in the garden…
Related Post: Natural Garden Pest Control Remedies And Recipes
Hand Pick The Slugs From Your Garden
I like to call this method “slug hunting”. Hand picking slugs is easy and satisfying, as long as you get the timing right. Oh, and be sure to wear disposable gloves so your hands don’t get all slimy (slug slime is really hard to wash off!).
To go slug hunting, grab your flashlight and head out to the garden after the sun goes down. It might take some time to find the slugs. But their slime trails will shine in the light. So follow the slime, and you’re sure to find slugs.
They’re slow moving, and will curl up when you touch them, so they’re easy to grab. To kill slugs, simply drop them into a bucket of soapy water. You could just squish them instead, but I get too grossed out doing that!
I leave them in the bucket over night, then dump the contents into the compost bin in the morning – dead slugs and all. If you don’t have a compost bin, you can dispose of dead slugs in the weeds somewhere, or just toss them into the trash.
Make A Beer Trap For Slugs
You may have heard that slugs love beer. It’s true, they can’t resist it! Why do slugs like beer? They’re attracted to the yeast. Here’s how to make a slug beer trap…
Simply sink a disposable shallow container (or use a slug trap) into the ground so the rim is at soil level, then fill it with fresh beer right before sunset. The slugs will fall into the beer and drown.
To empty the trap, you can simply dump the contents into the compost bin – beer and all. Or just throw the whole trap into the trash if it’s made of a disposable material.
I’ve found that the best beer for slug traps is the cheap stuff, lucky for us! But, unfortunately they like fresh beer. So for the best results, you should empty the traps and fill them with fresh beer daily. It can get a bit spendy.
Make Your Own Slug Trap (Without Using Beer)
As I’ve mentioned several times before, slugs like damp, dark spots. So you can create DIY slug traps by making ideal hiding spots for them, and then hand pick them in the morning. Here are a few ideas for how to make a slug trap…
- Lay some wet cardboard or wood in an area that has slug problems. Then in the morning you can lift it up to find them hiding underneath.
- Get some large rocks or bricks, and place them under susceptible plants. The slugs will hide under the damp rocks. Flip the rocks over in the morning to find the hiding slugs.
- They love old or rotting fruits and veggies. So use some as bait for catching slugs, and place it under a tent made out of cardboard or other material. You’ll likely find some feeding on your slug trap bait in the morning.
Use Diatomaceous Earth For Garden Slugs
Sprinkle diatomaceous earth (DE) around the base of the plants that slugs love the best. It will cut up their soft bodies when they slink across it, killing them.
The downfall of using diatomaceous earth for slug control is that you must reapply after it rains. It’s also not the best way to get rid of slugs, since DE can kill other bugs that walk across it too.
Try Putting Salt On A Slug
Table salt may work to kill slugs by dehydrating them, and drying out their bodies. Simply sprinkle it directly on the slugs.
However, be very, very careful using salt in your garden. Too much salt can be harmful to your plants, or ruin the soil so you won’t be able to grow anything. Use this method sparingly.
Create A Copper Slug Barrier
Copper shocks slugs when they touch it, which deters them from crossing it. So you can create a barrier around your plants, pots, or raised beds to keep slugs out.
In order to protect plants from slugs, the copper needs to be thick enough so that they can’t reach over it (old pennies are too small). You can buy copper mesh that’s specifically made for this purpose, or use copper slug repellent tape.
Try Coffee Grounds For Slug Control
Do coffee grounds deter slugs? I can’t speak from experience here, because I’ve never tried this myself. But some people swear that sprinkling coffee grounds around their plants works to repel slugs.
Caffeine is said to be toxic to slugs, so that’s why they will avoid coffee grounds. So, if coffee grounds are readily available to you, try creating a barrier around your plants to see if it works to keep slugs away.
Choose Slug Resistant Plants
Though it can seem like slugs will eat anything and everything, there are actually many types of plants they don’t like. Some may even be considered slug repellent plants.
They don’t like smelly plants, so they usually avoid most types of herbs, and vegetables like garlic and onions. Many gardeners use these as companion plants that keep slugs away.
I’ve also noticed that they don’t bother a few other plants in my garden. Begonias, ferns, hydrangea, nasturtium, lantana, astilbe, phlox, and clematis, to name a few.
Apply Organic Slug Pellets
There are many different types of slug granules or pellets on the market these days. They can be very effective to get rid of slugs, but be careful because some types contain chemicals that are be toxic to pets and people!
Natural slug pellets work by attracting the slugs. They’ll eat the pellets, and then die a little while later. Simply sprinkle them over the soil around affected plants.
How To Prevent Slugs In Your Garden
Once you figure out the methods that work the best to get rid of slugs in your garden, you’ll want to keep them from coming back. Here are a few quick slug prevention tips…
- Clearing your garden of dead plant materials and debris in the fall can help to prevent slugs from overwintering there.
- If you have a compost bin, be sure to turn it often to prevent slugs from feeding, hiding, and mating in there.
- Try using a natural slug repellent made from wool. Slugs don’t like the feeling of it, so it will keep slugs off plants.
- Slugs prefer areas covered with heavy mulches. So try using a lightweight mulch in the slug-infested areas of your garden instead.
- Tilling or turning the soil in the fall will help to expose or kill slugs and their eggs.
FAQs About Controlling Slugs
In this section, I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about getting rid of slugs. If you still have a question after reading through this article, and these FAQs, then ask in the comments below. I’ll get it answered ASAP.
What attracts slugs to my garden?
Like I’ve mentioned a few times above, slugs thrive in cool, damp, shady spots. So they will be attracted to your garden if the conditions are ideal, and there’s food for them.
What eats slugs?
Lucky for us, slugs have lots of natural predators (and that’s why it’s super important to use organic slug control methods!).
Some of the most ferocious slug eaters are frogs, toads, birds, chickens, snakes, turtles, ground beetles, and firefly larvae.
Does neem oil work on slugs?
Yes, I use neem oil for slugs in early spring only in order to protect my at-risk seedlings so they won’t get destroyed before they can grow.
However, neem oil is not the best solution for getting rid of slugs. Even though it’s a naturally occurring pesticide, it still kills lots of different types of bugs. So it’s best to use it sparingly in the garden.
When do slugs come out?
Slugs usually come out at night after sunset. However, sometimes they will come out during the day in heavily shady areas.
Does cornmeal kill slugs?
That’s debatable. I’ve heard people rave about how using cornmeal worked to get rid of slugs naturally. I tried it, and it’s true that slugs really do love eating cornmeal.
But, I didn’t see any reduction in the amount of slugs after a few days, and I felt like I was just feeding the slugs. So I gave up on that method.
Do slugs drown in water?
Yes. Slugs can’t swim, and will drown in water or a beer trap. I don’t know how long that takes for them to drown in water though, so I always put liquid soap into the water to speed things up.
Getting rid of slugs may feel like an impossible task, but it is doable. It might take some trial and error to find the best slug control products or methods that work for you. But your persistence will pay off, and your slug problem will eventually go away!
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Share your tips or methods for getting rid of slugs in the comments below.