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Controlling Fall Slugs

Among the many possible fall projects, perhaps one of the most important is slug control. With the cooler weather that usually arrives in late September and October, slugs become quite active. Steps should be taken to control them before they devour the foliage of your favorite flowers, vegetables, and shrubs.

Slug having dinnerWhen tender new growth disappears overnight, slugs are usually responsible. Another telltale sign of their presence is the trail of slime they leave behind. They don't have a natural enemy; and as far as I have been able to discover, they do not have one beneficial characteristic. Snakes, ducks, geese, toads, and some birds do eat them, but that does not help most of us very much. They are truly pests and should be eliminated before they raise havoc in the garden.

Fall is a particularly important time of the year to control slugs because it is one of their major egg-laying times. It is said that they are bisexual and can lay an average of twenty to fifty eggs in each cluster. The clusters look somewhat like little BB-size balls of colorless jelly. Destroy them wherever you find them. Depending on the temperature and humidity, they hatch in ten days to three weeks from the time they are laid, and the slugs can mature to adulthood in as little as six weeks, although generally this takes three to twelve months.

When you are working in your garden during the fall, look for slugs in several different locations. Most often they are found along the edge of the lawn and flower bed area where it is cool and moist, but you will also find them under boards, rocks, and at the bases of low-growing plants.

The true garden slug, the spotted garden slug, and the tawny garden slug are the most common species in this region. Although they extend up to 4 inches or more when they are on the move, their average size is about 2 to 3 inches in length. These slugs range in shades of orange, brown, and tan, while some are black, spotted, or two-toned.

During the winter, slugs hibernate and seldom put in an appearance. During this time, they burrow several inches into the soil or disappear under rocks, large clumps of grass, or boards.

People have tried all kinds of different ways to control slugs in their gardens. It seems as if every time I mention this subject at least half a dozen readers write in to suggest methods they use. One such method is a neighborhood competition to see who can collect the most slugs at night. To use this method, all you need is a flashlight, a stick, and a bucket to collect them. The next morning you can compare notes with the neighbors over the back fence.

Another popular method is to go after the slugs with a salt shaker. In recent years it has also been very popular to trap the slugs with beer. This is done by filling a small bowl with stale beer and putting it in the areas where the slugs are active. Stale beer attracts the slugs and they drown.

A new product called SlugDefence, developed in Washington State, does an excellent job of keeping slugs out of areas where the fence is installed. Still, probably the most popular method of controlling slugs today is by using commercial slug bait products. Available in meal, pellets, powder, liquid, granules, and gels, their effectiveness depends primarily on the frequency of application and the way in which they are applied. It is important that all types of slug baits be applied only as directed on the label. Special attention should be given to any cautions on the label, especially where they pertain to children and pets.

Weather is also a factor in the effectiveness of baits. If the bait can be covered and protected from sprinklers or rainwater, it will last much longer. You can cover the bait with a shingle or a piece of wood to keep it dry.

Whatever method you use, fall is the time to begin a regular slug control program, before they ruin your plants.

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