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Slugging it Out in the Garden

From a distance, gardens look peaceful and serene, but under those petals and leaves a war is being waged. Every year there is one pestilence or another that plagues me and my flowers. Some years it is Japanese beetles. Other years it has been critters like rabbits, moles and groundhogs. One year it was even a fungus called shot hole disease. (Yes, that’s a real thing and yes, it really looks like someone shot holes through the leaves of the shrub.) This year, thanks to an exceptionally rainy June, my adversaries were slugs.

These muculent mollusks have the body of a snail without the charm of a shell.  I know these gooey creatures are lurking in the mulch, slowly gliding along their slime towards their next victims; my plants. They leave trails that glisten in the early morning summer sunshine like neon arrows directing me to the plants they’ve been feasting on. In the past, the slugs have always stayed horizontal, oozing their way over the ground to attack the hostas. This year’s crop of slugs was exceptionally athletic. They scaled up the sides of my flower pots and molested those plants.

slime trails glistening in the early morning summer sun

slime trails glistening in the early morning summer sun

In the past, I’ve tried different methods to rid my garden of this slimy nuisance. First, I used crushed eggshells to make a moat around vulnerable plants. The slugs won’t cross over that line in the dirt. I’m not sure why that is, but I like to imagine the crushed eggshells feel like broken glass under the slug. This method worked, but I have a very large garden. In order to mount an effective defense, I had to eat a lot of eggs. In the end, I couldn’t risk the increase in my cholesterol levels caused by eating enough eggs to keep a constant supply of shells in the garden.

After my failed attempt with the eggshells, I did some research and discovered that slugs have a drinking problem. I placed saucers of beer around the garden. The slimy lushes were lured over and drank themselves to death.  While this was a very effective method of killing the slugs, the carcass removal process left a lot to be desired. There was a seemingly unending supply of alcoholic slugs and every morning I would find their bloated bodies floating in stale beer. My beautiful garden smelled like a frat house. I’ve since learned that caffeine will also kill slugs. Maybe after a night of drinking from the beer traps, they are hung-over and overdose on caffeine.

I began to investigate more hands-off ways to kills slugs. One website suggested getting a duck that could waddle through the garden happily consuming this gelatinous delicacy. While I certainly had plenty of slugs to keep a duck well fed, this solution seemed fraught with potential problems. For instance, what do I do with the duck in the winter? I assume our cats wouldn’t enjoy having the duck as a roommate. With only one bathtub in the house, fights over who would get to swim and who would get to shower would be unavoidable. Renting a duck for the summer seemed like a reasonable alternative, but duck rental companies are hard to come by.

This year was different though. The slug population had exploded and they were feasting on anything with leaves. As tempting and cute as the duck option was, it was time to get serious about the slug problem. I was furious at the destruction left in their slimy wake. The plants looked terrible and they were slowly dying. I had to ramp up my slug killing efforts. The gardening gloves were off.

Salt works exceptionally well and, I know this sounds mean, but it is a satisfying way to kill the slugs. The problem is that this method is labor intensive. Each morning I had to go on a slug hunt. Bent in half, I wandered through the garden looking for them then salted their bodies like they were fries at Burger King. They began to dissolve immediately and I couldn’t help but smile at the poetic justice knowing that their melting bodies would provide nutrients to the soil for the very plants they were trying to destroy.

This slug didn't live long after this photo was taken.

This slug didn’t live long after this photo was taken.

I have since learned that while salting the slugs may meet my need for vengeance, it isn’t good for the soil. The proper technique to dispose of slugs is to pick them up with chopsticks and drop them into a bucket of salt water. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to pick up slippery slugs with chopsticks. Maybe I’ll spend some time during the winter ordering Chinese take-out to perfect my chopstick technique so that I am ready for next summer. If that doesn’t work, I can always grab a fondue fork.

With a regular morning routine of slug maintenance and a whole lot of salt, I managed to keep them out of my potted plants. Unfortunately, I lost the battle over the hostas which ended the summer looking like Swiss cheese. On a late summer afternoon I was sitting in our garden lamenting the state of my hostas when I got an e-mail from Oregano that helped me put things back into perspective.

The e-mail he sent had a link to a story about a big snail problem in south Florida. I wasn’t sure if the problem was big or the snails were big. Apparently, it is both. Portions of the state have been invaded by giant African land snails. These snails can grow to be 8 inches long and 4 inches in diameter. If you’re not a numbers person, make a fist. That’s about the size of these snails when they are full grown.

Despite how slowly snails move, they reproduce quickly. A single snail can lay 1200 eggs a year. That’s a lot of slime! An army of giant snails is very destructive. They eat 500 different types of plants and host a parasite that is harmful to humans, but that’s not the most disturbing fact; these snails eat the stucco walls of homes to fortify their enormous shells.

Using chopsticks to pluck these supersized snails from the garden isn’t an option, so whatever government department is in charge of removing home-wrecking mollusks, has enlisted the help of snail sniffing dogs. These dogs wander through prime snail real estate and point them out to their human counterparts. With the dogs’ help, south Florida is making a dent in the snails’ slow slide towards dominance.

Yuck! That is one really big snail! (photo from Brisbane Times)

Mom always said if everyone put all their problems in the middle of the room, you’d gladly take yours back. She was right. My little slugs don’t seem nearly as bad when compared to a 2 pound snail that literally eats me out of house and home.  I’ll just get myself a bigger salt shaker next summer.

About Paprika Furstenburg

I was born with an overly developed sense of humor and poor coordination. The combination of these two character traits has taught me humility and given me the perspective to find the funny in everyday experiences. Good Humored is my first blog.

62 responses »

  1. Paprika, my daughter is in the hospital, so I thought while she is sleeping, it’s the perfect time to go back and read some of your blogs, since I’ve just discovered your writing and enjoy your sense of humor! I loved this piece and can completely relate to your war against garden pests. I, too, have been driven over the edge, by a different kind of beast, back when I lived in Michigan — cute little (seemingly innocuous) Bambi! Read my piece at http://royalthighness.com/mommy-deerest-bambi-drove-nervous-breakdown/

    You and I have so much in common, its uncanny! Thanks for the smiles during a difficult time.

    Reply
    • I’m so sorry to hear that your daughter is in the hospital. I’m glad my writing can offer you a humorous distraction. That is an incredible compliment to receive. Thank you!

      One more thing we have in common, I, too, have battled with the neighborhood deer. If you still need some smiles, you can read this post.

      http://goodhumored.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/the-dinner-party/

      They say laughter is the best medicine. I certainly hope that is true in your case. I wish your daughter a speedy recovery. Hang in there :)

      Reply
  2. Snails – yuck. The wild duck seem to have no interest in our yard – and the hawks are skipping the appetizers.
    Can’t imagine struggling with those big ones…they thought they spotted one of those last summer here….but it “wandered off” into the bushes before the experts arrived…how fast do snails go? Turbo charged at that size? Hope the snail battle is going well with cooler weather

    Reply
  3. In Miami these huge non native snails have taken over habitat thus eliminating many species, humans included !

    Reply
  4. most would call me an animal-lover, and i don’t like the idea of any living creature being mistreated or suffering in their demise, but i have no patience for slugs either. they are a real nuisance. but why chopsticks? that seems so odd.
     
    anyhow, i read or heard somewhere about putting out grapefruit halves – after eating them. apparently slugs not only drink beer, they are attracted to grapefruit juice, too. but only in the suggestion and not so much in real life. not a very successful way to be rid of them, as it turned out.
     
    anyhow, all the best for next year.
     
    those African land snails sound awful!

    Reply
    • In all my research I haven’t come across anything about slugs and grapefruits. Thanks for letting me know that if I do come across it, it doesn’t work.

      I’m not sure why those articles suggested chopsticks. I guess picking them up with gloved hands is difficult and bare-handed is gross. I think small salad tongs might work better than chopsticks. I’ll have to do a side by side comparison next summer. There’s something to look forward to… :)

      Reply
  5. Reading about your slug problem takes me back to my yard in LA when I was a kid. We had tons of slugs that climbed the walls and my brother used to take aim and pee them off. I’m guessing you don’t want to use that strategy . . .

    Reply
  6. You already got the suggestion I was going to give you (Diatomaceous Earth), which worked well for several friends up in Seattle who were invaded by Leopard Slugs.

    This was terrible and funny all at once. Chopsticks? Why? Couldn’t you just pick them up with a nice slotted spoon?

    Reply
    • Leopard slugs, that name makes them sound more threatening. I’m definitely going to try the diatomaceaious Earth next summer.

      The chopsticks did seem like an odd suggestion. It definitely made me conjure quite a mental image. The slotted spoon method might present a problem when the slugs fall through the slot. Maybe barbecue tongs would be a better option.

      Let’s hope the Diatomaceious Earth works so I don’t have to try these other methods.

      Reply
  7. When we lived in Liverpool, New York, we also had a slug problem. Like you, we found beer was an effective deterrent … until, one morning, we looked out and saw a slug staggering thru the garden. We could hear him/her faintly singing: “Toga. Toga. Toga.” :-)

    Love your persistence, Paprika. Good luck on keeping your garden pestilence free. Gardens are a lot of work, but they’re so worth it when the flowers and veggies are in bloom.

    Reply
    • Not many people could tie a comment on a post about slugs with an Animal House reference. Kudos to you!

      Sadly, gardening season is all but over for me for the year. It is a lot of work, but I so enjoy relaxing out there among the flowers.

      Reply
  8. I love to garden and luckily I work at White Flower Farm. I don’t mind getting dirty but I am so grossed out by touching a slug. Luckily, I don’t have too many. Maybe the turkeys eat them. i have plenty of those.

    Reply
    • I’m with you. I don’t mind getting dirty. I even pick up worms and relocate them if I disturb them while I’m working, but slugs are just disgusting little creatures.

      The article I read about slug removal suggested a chicken or a duck, so maybe your turkeys are doing you a favor.

      Reply
  9. Were you researching this on the China Cooperative Extension site? What gives with this chopstick business? I can’t pick up rice with chopsticks.

    Reply
    • I know. I can barely pick up rice either and that doesn’t even move on its own like a slug will. I can only imagine how ridiculous I would look trying to pick up a slug with chopsticks. At least it would be entertainment for the neighbors.

      Reply
  10. Always a pleasure to read your blogs! This one really hit home. Although we don’t have those snails here in North Florida (yet), we are constantly plagued with very unusual insects. One of my neighbors has been fighting something for the last month. For some strange reason, they are infesting her driveway, her lawn, her porch BUT the rest of us are only finding them on the sidewalks in front of our houses.

    Good luck. Keep slugging (ha).

    Paula

    Reply
    • I’ve seen some of the insects in Florida. Blick!

      The only thing I like about winter is the fact that there are no bugs. I may have to put on 5 layers of clothes, but at least I get a break from wearing insect repellent.

      Reply
  11. Finally, the REAL reason why Jimmy Buffett was looking for his “lost shaker of salt.” Thank you so much for clearing that up for me.

    Reply
  12. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    If you think you’re mean, how about this? Throughout your entire post, all I could think about was garlic butter-laden Escargot and Duck à l’Orange…
    And “Why not?” I ask! You wouldn’t even need to “de-shell” those slugs and you know what they’ve been fed… (“Waste not, want not!”; )

    Reply
  13. We have also had a very wet summer but we didn’t have slugs. We had some funky fungus in our grass that made my husband nuts. He couldn’t fix it with either beer or the chopsticks! Of course he put the beer in himself and not on the grass!

    Reply
  14. One year I was using big garden shears (the type that requires two hands) when a slug got in the way. I will admit only that a few more were encountered. I figured that it was quick and as humane as other treatments.

    Reply
  15. Oh my those pics were graphic! This was just a topic on parks and recreation and I think they used coffee grounds

    Reply
    • The pics of the slug were mine. I certainly had plenty of candidates willing to pose for the camera. Thankfully, I’ve not had any run ins with those giant snails. I know they can’t chase me, but I’d still run the other way if I saw one.

      The coffee grounds was new information I learned when I was doing my research this summer. Too bad Oregano and I don’t drink coffee.

      Reply
      • Deb Weyrich-Cody

        Just go to your local Café and ask if you can have some of their used grounds… (It makes an EXCELLENT high nitrogen mulch: )

      • I just learned about the caffeine/coffee grounds trick a week or two ago. It’s too late to do anything now, but I may hit the neighborhood Starbucks next year and try it out.

  16. Dear Paprika, if I were you I’d give up gardening and take up stamp collecting. Much less worrisome :-)

    Reply
  17. It is like the recent news reports about the two inch long (or larger) hornets that are killing people in China. OMG! They are horrible looking!

    Reply
  18. So sorry you are battling those slimy creatures!! But they have no idea who they are messing with!! Paprika will prevail!!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your confidence in my slug killing skills. I was seriously outnumbered this season. Even Oregano got into the mix when he found a few on the front walk. If I don’t win the war, at least the winter weather will take care of the situation.

      Reply
  19. Oh my! I think your mom is right, the slugs do seem better than the giant snails; however, not sure it would make me feel better if I was the one fighting snails! Mom and dad had slugs for the longest time – and then they started feeding the dogs inside and amazingly the slug population dropped!
    Good luck!

    Reply
    • The slugs are disgusting, but giant snails definitely beat them hands down (even though they don’t have hands). I’m glad your parents solved their slug problem. Winter’s coming so I’m sure the slugs will leave town, shrivel up or hibernate – whatever it is they do when the weather is cold.

      Reply
  20. When I saw the title of this post, I was all ready to tell you about beer-swilling slimers. But you knew it already. So I just got to bask indirectly in the frat-house smell of your garden.

    We do not have slugs eating our plants. We have herds of deer, who wander in peacefully and decimate the shrubs. I wonder if they like beer.

    Reply
  21. You could always gather a bunch and serve up a dish of snails in garlic sauce! French restaurants charge a fortune for that delicacy!

    Reply
  22. OMG! That snail situation sounds like a (very slow moving) horror film!

    Slugs are nasty – my heart goes out to you and the battle you have been waging. I fought this battle in one of my college apartments – I kept seeing the slime trail but never the culprit! When finally we met, I, too, felt satisfaction (and a whole lot of disgust) when I did the salt trick. Come to think of it, the beer would have been a viable option back in those drinking days (daze)…

    Great post!! I cracked up about 14 times and it’s not even 7 am, so thank you :)

    Reply
    • You’re right. The giant snail problem does sound like a slow moving horror film. At least it’s an easy getaway for the humans, the plants aren’t so lucky.

      I’m glad I could start your day off with a giggle :)

      Reply
  23. OMG, I have missed your crackling style of humour, Paprika! I am in stitches here!

    Eggshells and cholesterol, chopsticks and Chinese take-out, duck rentals, beer, caffeine and salt – AND SLUGS – all in the same blogpost!! Priceless!

    P.S. I think there *is* a man here in Pinelands who does rent out his ducks (yes, seriously) – I’ve always wanted to give that a try, as we have a similar problem with both slugs and snails. But, like you, we have a cat… To be honest, though, I’m more concerned about the ducks ganging up on the cat, than the other way around…

    Reply
    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Reggie. I wasn’t sure if readers would be entertained or thoroughly disgusted by it. Now that you pointed it out, I did have quite a range of topics in that one post. Who knew I could find a way to tie all those things together?

      The duck rental does sound tempting, but even if it lived out in the garden for the summer, I have a feeling it would create more problems than it would solve. I’m not sure what else it would eat besides the slugs and I can only imagine how much duck poop there would be and THAT I am not picking up with chopsticks.

      Reply

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