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.
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.
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.
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.