Tip of the Week: A Slugfest Smackdown!

banana_slugs*WARNING* Gross pictures of slimy slugs are included. Not recommended for the squeamish.

Just so you know, I am not a violent person. I’m all about live and let live–except when it comes to slugs.

Before I jump into my sure-fire organic controls for slugs, a quick qualifier: My gardening experience is limited mostly to the Midwest zones 4-5. Although I woke up one morning to find a banana slug the size of, well, a frickin’ banana! sliming its way up the side of my tent while camping in Northern California, my gardening experience with slugs is limited to the smaller, snot-colored varieties–like the ones that destroyed three entire plantings of marigolds in my garden patch one spring.

Slugs thrive in cool, moist environments and love feasting on stuff like lettuce, ripe strawberries and marigolds. I had actually never had a problem with slugs until that fateful spring two seasons ago.

I planted marigolds and mulched my tomatoes two weeks earlier than I normally do (mid-May, instead of waiting until after Memorial Day weekend). And I wound up paying the price in marigolds.

But I learned two valuable lessons that year, as well: (1) Wait until the soil has warmed up sufficiently before mulching and (2) don’t plant the 8-pack flats of marigolds before Memorial Day; they don’t stand a chance against those voraciously slimy eaters.

I tried the following traditional organic methods for slug abatement:


  • Beer traps. I used wide-mouthed jar lids to set the traps and was careful to make sure the lips were at least 1/3 inch above ground so that once the slimy creatures joined the  beer fest, they couldn’t get back out. I don’t drink, so I didn’t want to waste money on some fancy beer; if I remember correctly a 40 oz bottle of Old Style was the cheapest I could find without springing for an entire 6-pack. I’ve read you can also mix water, sugar and yeast for the same slug-slurping effect. Haven’t tried it, myself. The beer was good bait. The traps caught quite a few slugs–but did not prevent them from continuing to eat my poor marigolds!
  • Copper. I read in one of my organic gardening books that placing bands of copper around the base of young plants would act as a deterrent for slugs. So I went to Home Depot and found a small roll of copper something or other that was about a ½ inch wide. For the life of me I cannot remember what it’s supposed to be used for; I think I found it in the plumbing section. I diligently placed little copper collars around the young broccoli and cabbage plants–and around my second planting of marigolds. Broccoli and cabbage did fine; the marigolds continued to get devoured.

Slug Magic Did the Trick
At my wit’s end–and on my third planting of marigolds, which I plant every year as a companion to tomatoes because they repel tomato hornworms (those hard-to-spot giant green caterpillars that feast on the underside of tomato plant leaves) and aphids–on the advice of an organic gardening friend, I bought a bottle of Slug Magic pellets. Ya’ just sprinkle them around the base of the plants, the slugs ingest them, and over the course of 3-6 days puff up and die. Works like a charm. The pellets are considered organic because they are a biological control, do not harm other beneficial bugs or animals, and are biodegradable.

An Ounce of Prevention…
I still swear by waiting until the soil has warmed up before mulching and not planting too early. When I do that, I have no problem with slugs. But if you must, iron phosphate, the slug-destroying ingredient in Slug Magic, is a sure-fire winner; and it truly does work like magic! Amazon carries it if you want to order online. Otherwise, you can find it at most gardening centers that carry organic products.

NEXT WEEK: Tip of the Week
For the Love of Strawberries
Simple Solutions for Boosting Size and Yield!


4 Responses to “Tip of the Week: A Slugfest Smackdown!”

  1. 1 Plangarden January 26, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Best chemical-free approach is handpicking those buggers every day and shipping them 1. to animal rights groups, if you’re PC, or 2) to slug heaven, if you’re an insensitive fist-squashing bulldozing organic gardener. The beer approach attracted more earwigs than slugs, and BTW, you can concoct your own beer forumula. http://www.slugoff.co.uk/slug-solutions/killing-slugs/beer-trap.html

  2. 2 queensboro January 27, 2009 at 10:05 am

    This is very gross! And informative. I saw some giant slugs on my summer visit to Portland.

  3. 3 Phoebe King January 27, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Off-topic for a gardening blog, but banana slugs are revered in the Pacific Northwest. They even have banana slug festivals, like this one at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park: http://www.nwtrek.org/page.php?id=128

  4. 4 Paul Turner April 25, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Thank you for the posts and links in OG Forum. They are very helpful.

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