The Modern Victory Garden


Slug Management

Posted on May 16, 2009 at 12:56 AM

It's that time of year again; the slugs are out in force and hungry for the tender young plants that are emerging in the garden beds. Living as we do in the maritime Pacific Northwest and in a house that is in a small clearing surrounded by dense forest - means that slugs are my number one garden pests. Through years of experience I have found several tried and true methods for slug management - and proven several other often-recommended solutions as essentially worthless. I thought it might be worth while to share with you some of what I have learned on this subject.          




First off, let me just say that without a doubt the most effective method of slug management is to do an early morning garden inspection and just pluck them off and either drop them into a small bucket of soapy water OR fling them far into the dark woods.   If this is done about twice a week spring through fall - the populations are kept more manageable.  It does require getting up quite early a couple of days each week. In addition, it requires that you invest enough time to give a careful inspection of your plants - making sure you find the ones hidden inside the folds of leaves etc.    


The second most effective method is the use of copper collars. I have found they work really well overall but unfortunately they are not a complete solution. First, they are only practical to use on larger items like cucumbers, broccoli, etc.  Second, if a leaf is drooping down over the edge of the copper collar to the ground, slugs will use the leaf as a bridge and climb aboard the plant. Despite these limitations, I have had stellar success with copper collars and have accumulated quite a few of them.   What is particularly nice about this slug management tool is that they are permanent and completely reusable. They only require a clean up with either some metal polish or some steel wool to remove the build up of tarnish that a season of use puts on them. Here's a picture of my 2009 broccoli planting with the collars in place



Of course, those are not possible to use on smaller items or large block plantings like my pea patch or bean patch - so here are some other methods I employ along with the hand picking:

  • Copper tape wrapped around the perimeter of an entire raised boxed bed - sold with adhesive backing on them this works well but the tape is so thin that this only lasts for a few years before peeling away. I have this on one of my long vertical grow beds and it has made a HUGE difference. That bed has very little slug activity in it.   
  • Diamateceous Earth ("DE") sprinkled around the outer perimeter of a growing bed area. If you remove the slugs carefully prior to putting the outer band down of DE - you don't have to dust the plants themselves. I use this stuff with great caution because if you accidentally inhale some of the dust you can really damage your lungs. Works fairly well if you don't get lots of rain for a spell and if you apply it with great care.
  • I no longer use any natural mulch around plants. A thin layer of compost is okay, but I have found it is best just to wait until fall to lay down a heavy carpet of compost on the beds or just work it into planting holes when transplanting. But the reality of gardening in the rainy Pacific Northwest is that you are much better off to never layer on mulch around plants because it is a home for slugs. Deep mulching (ala lasagna gardening) is a disaster if you live in slug territory.
  • Keep walkways mowed down and weeds whacked near beds - they are a home for slugs.
  • Place a wood plank or board in the bed where it will not interfere with your plantings. In the afternoon, turn it over and remove all the slugs that have retreated to the cool damp underside for the day. Dispatch them in the same manner as you do for the hand picking "walk about".
  • I keep an old pair of salad tongs near the garden area because they are the perfect tool for grabbing and flinging slugs with! Don't worry the salad tongs stay in the garden and are not the ones we use for meal serving!  It really does work though because the longer handles give greater throwing distance when flinging them AND I don't have to touch the larger slimy ones with my bare hands. Sadly, this does not work with the baby-sized slugs and there is nothing for it but to grab them with your fingers. Ewww... not fun but necessary.

These are all methods I regularly employ and I have found them to be effective in varying degrees.  However, what I have found to be a complete waste of time was the often-recommended beer trap solution.   My experience was that it was a lot of fussing around - cleaning them out to remove the rotten slug bodies bloated in moldering old beer and buying cheap beer or mixing yeast and sugar solutions to refill the containers sunk partially into the soil - all just to capture a scant few of the varmints. I would not recommend it at all.                     


That's my experience in the land of the slug - maritime Pacific Northwest.

Categories: Pests, Tools, Organic