Conditions are right for a slug fest in the garden


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Warm temperatures and lots of rain mean a garden filled with slimy slugs. They look like snails without shells and can decimate plants, especially seedlings, and small transplants.

Gardeners are often perplexed at the damage, as slugs are most active at night. There is one clue left behind though, the silvery trail slugs leave on foliage. Go out to the garden early in the morning, and the tan pests can usually be found feasting on their favorite foods. They usually hide under mulch and other cool places during the day.

One way to control the pests is by using a slug bait. Most chemical controls use metaldehyde as an active ingredient. Be careful using it; cats, dogs and woodland creatures can be attracted to the poison. A compound called Bitrex is also included in the pellets. It's bitter and included to discourage the wrong things from eating the pellets.

Organic gardeners can reach for Sluggo or Escar-Go, made of iron phosphate. Although it's touted as being harmless, there are questions about the effects on mammals and birds when ingesting the bait.

When using poisoned bait around pets, it's good idea to put it in a sealed container with holes drilled in the sides. Only the slugs can get in.

Beer has been used for centuries as a bait for slugs. A trap can be made by using a grapefruit rind or a bowl placed in an excavated hole at soil level. Fill the trap with stale beer. The slugs are attracted to the yeast in the beer, will then crawl in and drown at the bottom of the trap. It's a disgusting chore to clean out the dead slugs each morning, but it does make quite a dent in the population.

Hand picking works, too. Use rubber gloves as it's difficult to remove the slime from your hands.

A few other old-school remedies:

• Slugs won't cross a copper barrier due to a natural electric charge in the metal. Copper wire placed strategically around hostas (the favorite food of slugs) will reduce damage.

• Diatomaceous earth is sharp-edged on the microscopic level. Slugs are injured and die after crawling over it.

• Some people use crushed eggshells or sharp construction sand around their plants as slugs don't like to crawl across it either.

garden

Doug Oster: doster@post-gazette.com or 412-779-5861. Visit his garden blog at www.post-gazette.com/gardeningwithdoug. Twitter: @dougoster1.


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