Nigel's Gardening Hints and Tips

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A country lane in Texas.

Watch Out, There's a Slug About!

Slugs and snails are the worst pest for gardeners in Britain according to a survey conducted by the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) in 2007.
Those slimy, squashy, slippery creatures are one of the worst enemies of the gardener and we detest them, eating our valuable vegetables and plants.

The survey is carried out every year by the entomologists of the RHS and it goes by the number of enquiries they received during that year.
This year in Britain it has been very cloudy, damp and wet at times, the perfect weather slugs and snails most enjoy, resulting in excess damage to our gardens.

Slugs and snails go for a range of plants and vegetables, especially newly planted seedlings, but mainly anything which has lush, green, soft growth.
Slugs do not usually survive the icy conditions that we have here, in summer if it is very warm and sunny, they burrow deep into the ground for moisture, some survive, and some shrivel up and die, unless of course it is an area which you keep watered, then they will come out of the soil at night for food, usually your juicy plants.

Snails however, hibernate though the winter in their shells, usually huddled together in a dry place like under empty flower pots or in the centre of bricks.
They can survive in dry conditions, unlike slugs which do not have a shell to hibernate or hide under.

Surprisingly however, there are roughly 30 species of slug in the country, and not all of them are damaging to our plants. To enable you to treat them, it is always worth finding out about the worst species which will be described below:

The worst ones that do the most damage are as follows:

The Common Garden Slug (Arion hortensis Agg.)

These are most commonly black-coloured and can grow up to a maximum of 3 cm. They can have a brownish-coloured stripe on the top and their sole is either yellow or orange. They have quite a rounded body and feed under the ground as well as on top.

However, they mainly feed at ground level, eating young, green growth such as seedlings and young plants.
They have been known to burrow deep into the soil, especially during dry spells, and attack the tubers of your potatoes or any rooted vegetable such as carrots, parsnip or turnips.

It has been known that it is this type of slug who attack potato tubers under the ground and burrow, and destroy up to a yard full of your precious crops.

The Field Slug (Derocereas reticulatum)

This is another type of slug which grows up to 4-5 cm, it is grey in colour with darker parts on its body. Its sole is a whitish colour, again having darker areas along its underside. As you look at its body, you will notice it gets thinner towards the tail end.

This type very rarely burrows under ground and if it does, will not do as much damage as other types such as the common slug as described above.
It eats anything on the surface it can find, commonly lettuce and green vegetables, it can even eat cacti and orchids. It can do a lot of surface damage to vegetables and plants and us gardeners hate them.

The Keel Slug (Tandonia budapestensis)

This is one of the larger breeds of slug and can grow 6-7 cm in length. It is usually an olive colour with a dark colour of orange or even dark yellow along its ridge.

It spends most of its time underground and is commonly found destroying potato tubers and any root vegetables.
As it lives mainly under ground, it will be very difficult to control.

The Black Slug (Arion ater)

This particular type of slug can grow very long, a length of 20-25 cm has been seen. It tricks you with its body colour as they can be red, orange, grey and even black, but this colour is rarer. The sole is a pale colour, and the slug can be distinguished by its rocking body when touched.

Although a big slug, it does little damage to the garden as it feeds on rotting vegetation and manure. The most damage it can cause is seriously hurting yourself if stepping on them, as they are very slippery.

The Common Garden Snail (Helix aspersa)

This the the common snail which you are likely to see in your garden. It has a rounded shell and spends almost all of its time on the surface. Unlike the slug which has not got a protective shell, the snail does not have to burrow under ground for cover.

The Banded Snail (Cupaea Species)

This type of snail is not so common, but is sometimes seen in the garden. It is smaller than the common garden snail and its shell can be yellow, or white and brown in colour. They are less damaging to plants than the common snail.

Controlling the little Culprits

Now that you know about the worst types of slug and snail in the garden, you are saying 'but how do I control them?'. Well, here goes:

Obviously the most common method is by using slug pellets, but these must be scattered thinly over the surface of the soil around your most vulnerable plants.
Slug pellets are not as good as described on the packet. There are a lot of reports each year where a pet or wildlife has eaten them, making them very ill or even die. Some slugs and snails do not even eat them.
The best way to eradicate them is without chemicals.

Here are a few tips to eradicate them without using chemicals:

  • Place sand, ashes or broken eggshells around your plants, which will make it difficult for slugs to get across because of being sharp and uncomfortable.
  • Use slug nematodes where the insect will actually go around the garden eating the slugs, these have been proved very successful and are becoming more popular.
  • Use copper tape around flower pots and some borders. They will not cross the copper because it creates a sort of electric shock for the creatures.
  • Glass or plastic containers which are sunk into the ground filled with either beer or milk make ideal slug and snail traps.
  • Go out at night-time when the predators are at work and catch them eating your valuable plants. Killing them, I shall leave to you!!.
  • Grit is another material which slugs and snails find uncomfortable to climb over.
  • Pick plants and vegetables with higher levels of resistance to slugs and snails.

Nigel's Gardening Hints and Tips


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