Derry Gardeners’ Corner: Taking care of pest slugs

The turn of the season brings new growth and the return of the pests.

By Daire Ní Chanáin
Thursday, 14th April 2022, 3:49 pm

Slugs are a gardener’s worst nightmare and are often hard to manage. There are plenty of theories on how best to control them but Cyril Quinn, owner of Springrowth Garden Centre in Springtown is on hand to explain how best to save your precious plants.

Cyril said: “One of the most common garden pests we have to deal with are slugs. They can go to town overnight and devour unguarded young vegetable plants and bedding plants, stripping them of the leaves they need to survive.

“Slugs are omnivorous, which means they will eat absolutely anything, including dead plant material, dead animals, animal droppings, even other slugs. They do, however, have a fondness for fresh young leaves on plants such as marigolds, lobelia and petunias. They also have a taste for tomato, cucumber and lettuce plants.

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“So, an overnight raid by slugs can be an expensive one to deal with. Never mind undoing all your hard work, you now have to replace these plants and start over and, depending on the time of year, they may not be available until the following year or you could have missed the window for sowing.

“So what do we do to keep them at bay? Although slugs are preyed on by ducks, hens, frogs, hedgehogs and beetles, most of these aren’t practical in a small garden or greenhouse setting. So, for years many of us have turned to slug pellets as a quick and effective solution. A few days ago one of my co-workers told me that slug pellets have been banned and that we can’t sell them anymore. It happened to be April 1 so I automatically thought this was an April Fool’s Joke. But no, I googled it and it was announced that day that they had been banned because of an ingredient called metaldehyde which posed an ‘unnecessary risk’ to wildlife such as birds, dogs, hedgehogs and other mammals. Also, when you think about it, you don’t want to be putting this poison anywhere near your own fruit and vegetables.

“So, what are the alternatives? Organic slug pellets are still available and these don’t contain metaldehyde. Instead, their active ingredient is Iron Phosphate, a non-toxic compound. But, as with most products these days, put ‘organic’ in the description and it usually means it’s more expensive.

“Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best and one of the easiest methods of slug control is a beer trap. Leave a takeaway tray, yoghurt pot or bowl and pour some beer into it. Overnight when the slugs come out of their cool, shady hiding places they will make a beeline for the smell of the hops and yeast in the beer and climb in and drown.

“I have also seen gardeners use crushed up eggshell around their plants, the idea being that the sharp edges of the shells will be nasty to crawl across.

“Other methods include nematodes, compressed wool pellets and copper tape strips with a 9 volt battery. The last one sounds a bit elaborate but if it keeps slugs off your prized hostas then it would be worth trying!”

green leaves in garden eaten by slugs.