How to Protect Your Garden from Slugs and Snails

Slugs are one of the most troublesome pests in an English garden as they wreak havoc on delicious brassicas and beautiful ornamentals alike. Find out how to get rid of slugs and protect your plants from being eaten

Avoid slugs causing devastation in your garden by reading on for our top tips on how to get rid of slugs. After all, your precious plants are worth saving!

1. Get plants on side

A gentle method for getting rid of slugs is to use plants which deter them and act as a natural pesticide. This way, you can keep keep slugs at bay without chemicals. Astrantia gives off a scent that repels slugs. Other plants which deter slugs include wormwood, rue, fennel, anise and rosemary.

Photo: Wikimedia
Photo: Wikimedia

2. Remove, shelter & encourage beneficial wildlife

Slugs will seek out cover under bricks, garden furniture and large logs. Remove potential slug shelters to expose them to natural predators. By making your garden an unsuitable habitat for slugs to survive in, the problem will naturally decline. Encourage natural predators such as toads, newts, hedgehogs and song thrushes to take care of the problem.

3. Make a beer trap

One easy and inexpensive way to get rid of slugs is a beer trap. Create one by burying half a container near vulnerable plants and half filling it with beer. Alternatively, look out for purpose-made beer traps. The scent of the beer will lure slugs, which then fall in and get stuck. Keep the rim of the container 2-3cm above the ground to avoid catching slug-eating ground beetles.

4. Create a prickly barrier

Slugs are soft-bodied molluscs so sharp, prickly barriers are a great way to deter them from precious plants. Use crushed egg shells, pine needles or thorny cuttings to create barriers and recycle unwanted leftovers and foliage. Another great material to use is sharp sand. Just check whatever you’re using won’t alter the soil quality.

5. Create a slippery barrier

Spraying WD40 on the outside of plant pots will make the surface too slippery for the slugs to scale them, effectively protecting your container plants.

6. Lay down copper tape

Copper reacts with slug slime, giving a tiny electric shock to slugs each time they come into contact with it. Lay down self-adhesive copper tape in your garden to deter slugs from reaching your plants. Attach the tape to greenhouse staging, potted plants, raised beds – anything that needs protecting from these hungry molluscs.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

7. Place a lure 

Leave a pile of old lettuce leaves or dried cat food in a damp and shady corner to attract a large number of slugs. As they all congregate by the food source, scoop up the perpetrators and dispose of them en masse. Couple this technique with taking torchlit night walks in your garden to catch slugs on the move.

8. Apply nematodes to soil

Nematodes are soil-dwelling micro-organisms which are parasites to slugs. Simply mix them with water and apply to the soil, but make sure the soil temperature is in excess of 5C as the treatment needs this to be effective.

9. Sprinkle salt

Sprinkle salt on pesky slugs to kill them, but avoid sprinkling it too much as plants are also adversely affected by an excess of salt. It’s therefore best used when far away from valuable plants.

10. The eco-method

Being on the lower end of the food chain, the unfortunate fate of the slug is to provide nourishment for carnivorous predators. Encourage badgers, birds and hedgehogs into your garden to reduce the resident slug population.

Chickens make great pets and can provide you with daily, free-range eggs while reducing the presence of slugs. Therefore, consider adopting an ex-commercial farming hen.

Alternatively, if your garden is sealed off by fencing, drill a CD-case-sized hole in the base of your fence to allow hungry hedgehogs, and perhaps even badgers, into your garden to feast on the slugs.

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4. Use wool to control slugs

If you want to know how to get rid of slugs in the garden, you shouldn’t ignore the power of wool pellets. It’s been discovered that slugs are just as bothered by itchy, rough wool as humans are. They don’t like climbing over the coarse texture. Slug Gone pellets are made from natural wool that’s been compressed and formed into pellets. The pellets are spread around the base of susceptible plants and then watered. The pellets quickly expand, forming a thick mat of wool that slugs refuse to climb over. It lasts for a very long time and can even help suppress weeds.

Video

7. Sprinkle Sand Around Plants

If you are made uncomfortable by the feeling of sand stuck to your feet, imagine how a slug feels with those tiny shards of sand sticking into its body. Scatter it around plants in the spring; it will also help the soil retain moisture.

Controlling Slugs Using Organic Slug Bait

Commercial slug control products should be used only for major infestations. Some traditional formulas can be extremely toxic to pets (and humans). Organic products are typically safer to use.

  1. Purchase Slug Bait

    Purchase organic slug bait at your local garden center. Many products are made of iron phosphate, which is toxic to slugs but much less dangerous for humans and pets.

    Check the weather. Make sure to treat on a dry day for best results.

  2. Fill Garden Spreader With Granules and Start Treating

    Around dusk, put on your gardening gloves, and fill your garden spreader with the granules. Follow the product's instructions to determine the right amount for the area you're treating.

  3. Wait

    Wait for the slugs to feed on the product at night when they go underground. They will die upon consumption.

8. Use an organic slug bait

When figuring out how to get rid of slugs in the garden, organic slug baits are a must. However, be smart about this method because not all slug baits are the same. Many traditional slug baits used to control slugs in the garden are poisonous to pets and other wildlife in addition to slugs. Do not use slug baits that contain methiocarb or metaldehyde as their active ingredient. Metaldehyde is extremely toxic to mammals (just a teaspoon or two can kill a small dog) and methiocarb isn’t much safer.

Instead, turn to organic baits for garden slug control. Look for an active ingredient of iron phosphate. These slug control products are safe for use on even certified organic farms. Brand names include Sluggo, Slug Magic, and Garden Safe Slug and Snail Bait. Sprinkle the bait on the soil surface around affected plants. The slugs eat the bait and immediately stop feeding. They’ll die within a few days. These baits can even be used in the vegetable garden around food crops, unlike traditional slug baits.

Sprinkle iron phosphate slug baits around nibbled
Sprinkle iron phosphate slug baits around nibbled plants to keep the slug population down.

Disrupt and Displace

A good starting point for your slug and snail management program is to disrupt and remove their daytime hidey-holes, to the greatest extent that you’re able to.

Preferred hangouts can be a tall stand of weeds or the underside of just about anything on or close to the ground – particularly in moist, shady areas.

Underneath boards, garden decor, planters, ledges, decks, low-growing branches, pot rims, debris, and protective ground covers are all prime real estate for gastropods.

To disrupt their environment, undercut low branches, burn weeds with a weed torch or trim weeds close to the ground, and remove any unnecessary material they can hide under.

Obviously, some areas like rock walls, decks, meter boxes, permanent bird feeders, and so on can’t be removed – but these spots make good locations to bait and trap.

I Picked Up a Slug and Now My Fingers Are Slimy. What Do I Do?

While it may seem like a good idea to wash off slu

While it may seem like a good idea to wash off slug mucus, don’t do it! Their mucus reacts with water, causing it to spread. Instead of washing it, rub your hand and fingers together. This causes the mucus to ball up (much the same way as rubber cement would), and it is then easy to pick off your skin. Once you’re satisfied that you’ve pulled up the slime, you should then wash your hands for sanitary reasons.

Barriers

Gastropods have delicate tummy tissue, and any sharp materials will irritate and potentially cut their tender undersides.

For an extra layer of defense, build a small berm at least three inches wide with fine stone chips, crushed egg shells, diatomaceous earth (DE), or crushed oyster and clam shells.

Diatomaceous earth is derived from silicon dioxide and has sharp, abrasive edges. But it must remain dry to deter gliding gastropods.

Use food grade DE, not the material used in aquariums (which has smoother edges), and follow instructions when applying.

11. Use Companion Plants

Strategically placing complimentary plants together is one of the best things ever; Mother Nature is a genius, so why not let her help? You can place sacrificial companion plants that slugs love near your precious plants to lure them away from the plants you want to save for yourself.

How Can I Keep Slugs From My Pets Food?

Slugs will invade food bowls left outside overnight. Your best bet is to simply remove the bowl after your pet has finished eating and clean up the debris. Slugs have a great sense of smell, and kibble appears to be one of those food items they will seek out.

Further, removing outdoor food bowls is a good idea for more than just preventing a slug problem. By leaving a food bowl out, you may attract even worse pests than slugs to your home!

Controlling Slugs Using Salt

Home gardeners try all sorts of unusual remedies to rid their gardens of slugs. But this salt method often works the best.

  1. Mix the Solution

    Mix a strong solution of salt and water in a spray bottle. You don't have to be precise about measuring the salt, as long as it's still discernible in the water.

  2. Spray the Solution

    Put on your gardening gloves and spray the slugs at nightfall. The salt solution will dehydrate the slugs within hours.

  3. Wash Away the Residual Salt Spray

    Come morning, wash any residual salt spray from your plants to prevent damage.

The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

What kind of damage do slugs do?

Slugs will eat any kind of foliage, but you’ll often find them doing the most damage to the tender leaves and stems of seedlings. Slugs will also take bites out of vegetables and fruits (particularly soft fruits like strawberries), causing unsightly crops.

3. Build a Sharp Barrier

A slug’s Achilles ankle is its soft body, easily irritated by sharp or dry materials. Use this to your advantage by sprinkling wood ashes, diatomaceous earth, gravel, or lava rock in a wide band around individual plants—or the entire garden—to discourage slugs, as they won’t want to crawl across the bumpy barrier. Wood ashes have the bonus benefit of adding potassium to your soil and raising the pH, so consider choosing that method as your first line of defense.

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What repels slugs in the garden?

We believe that whenever you’re dealing with a pest, repelling them should be your first line of defense. After all, pests are only pests because they are eating your garden plants! When they aren’t eating your strawberries, slugs are an important part of the ecosystem—so let’s try to keep them that way.

There are multiple different ways of repelling slugs, so you’ll have lots of options to try to figure out what works best for your garden!

3 Ways to Naturally Repel Slugs (Preventative Meas

3 Ways to Naturally Repel Slugs (Preventative Measures)

Create a Barrier: Slugs crawl everywhere, and their soft, sensitive bodies do not like to crawl over anything that irritates their skin. Use this to your advantage by circling your plants with a barrier that causes the slugs to turn around and head in the other direction. Coffee grounds, wood ashes, sand, crushed eggshells, and diatomaceous earth (DE) all do this when sprinkled around plants—with DE being the most deadly. Another barrier option is copper tape or copper wire. You place the tape or wire around your plants or garden beds, and when the slug crawls across it, it is given a small electrical shock that is very uncomfortable.


Remove Garden Debris: If you have consistent problems with slugs, after the soil has thawed in the spring, you want to begin to remove garden debris like leaf litter or mulch. Slugs not only like to live in the garden debris, but they also lay their eggs in it.

Increase Populations of Natural Predators with Companion Plants: Slugs are a favorite food of snakes, toads, frogs, beetles, and other beneficial insects. Ground beetles are a common predator of garden slugs, and planting white clover in your garden can help increase ground beetle populations.

5. Gather a Search Party

If you’re feeling particularly vengeful, gather your salt shaker and a flashlight, and venture out at night for some real slug hunting. Sprinkle a little salt on every slug you see; it will draw the water out of it’s watery body, causing the creature to dry up. It seems gruesome, but this solution is very effective. Just be cautious when dispensing salt, as an abundance of the seasoning can harm your plants and soil.

For the most part, slugs thrive in highly moist environments. One of the best preventative measures you can take is to make sure your garden does not stay overly wet. Keep plants spaced apart so that air can circulate between them, and water early in the day so extra moisture has time to evaporate before nightfall when the slugs come out to feast.

For another creative way to get rid of slugs, try using Coca-Cola! Watch our video below to learn more.

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