Slugs and snails are the bane of many a gardener's existence. They turn hosta leaves into Swiss cheese, mow down rows of lettuce and chomp huge holes in basil leaves. Many slug and snail baits are made with the chemical metaldehyde, which is toxic to pets and wildlife. Luckily, gardeners do not need to turn to chemicals when dealing with slugs because there are several safe, effective organic options.
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The least toxic way to deal with slugs is to handpick them. This is a slimy job, but it can reduce the number of slugs in your garden and their damage. In the early morning, fill a jar with water and add a few drop of biodegradable dish soap. Patrol your yard for slugs; they like to hide out in cool, damp spots like the edge of stepping-stones and at the base of plants. Drop the slugs in the soapy water. Once they've expired, dump them into your trash. If you can't stand this job, pay a neighborhood kid a nickel a slug to do it for you.
Beer traps are another great option, especially for smaller spaces. Simply gather up a few shallow, clean plastic containers such as sour cream or yogurt cups. Dig a hole in your garden near plants that are susceptible to slug damage. Bury the container so that its lip is about an inch above the surface of the soil (this prevents beneficial ground beetles from falling in). Fill the container with beer. Slugs are drawn like frat boys to the yeasty smell of the beer. Empty the container every few days and refill.
If you have a large area that needs slug control, consider buying a non-toxic, organic slug bait such as Sluggo or Escar-Go. These baits contain iron phosphate which occurs naturally in soils. These baits do not actually kill the slugs. Rather, when slugs ingest the bait they lose their appetite and die of starvation. It can take up to a week for the slugs to die, so you may want to combine this method with beer traps and handpicking in the interim.
Diatomaceous earth is an abrasive powder made from a soft, sedimentary rock. Spread 3-inch wide rings of diatomaceous earth around vulnerable plants to prevent slug damage. When slugs crawl over diatomaceous earth it causes their slimy exterior to dehydrate. This product works well, but it must be reapplied after rain, which can add up to a lot of work since slugs tend to be a problem in rainy climates.
Thin strips of copper tape and bands of copper mesh are also used to deter slugs because when slugs come in contact with the copper they get an electric shock. Prevent slugs from crawling into raised beds by attaching a 2- to 3-inch wide band of copper tape about two inches down from the rim of the beds (use small nails to tack it in place). You can also wrap a ring of copper mesh barrier around the base of individual plants that are susceptible to slug damage. Just be sure to leave a few inches between the mesh and the base of the plant.
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