Slug Wars

Several weeks ago I planted a brand new edible lettuce plot in my front yard, created by meticulously hacking out dead vegetation formerly occupying the bed, and thoroughly amending the soil with organic compost to supply my seedlings with a rich foundation for growth.

As a new organic gardener, armed with just enough information to instill confidence, I was feeling pretty good about myself.

I installed a soaker hose and waited–rushing out each day to peer at the ground looking for signs of life. Ten days later I was rewarded when the first sprouts of my heirloom lettuces poked through the surface, reaching for the sun like little green gems all in a row. I was ecstatic! I was an organic gardener.

Each morning I reveled in their progress, satisfied that all I had to do was watch them grow into salad-worthy maturity. Then a few days later I noticed my lovely greens looked a bit sparser than they had days earlier. By the next morning, half my lettuces were gone–vanished–without so much as a trace.

I searched the bed in vain for some clue as to the culprit, but found nothing.

Suspecting the thief was operating under cover of darkness, I waited for nightfall to do a surprise inspection. Armed with a flashlight, I scoured the darkened earth. At first glance I saw nothing, until the light caught the shimmer of small, silvery trails crisscrossing the bed like a patchwork quilt. Slugs!! Small, fat specimens–no doubt having just feasted on my heirloom seedlings. I removed 42 in all during that raid.

Clearly this was war. They started it, but I would finish it. Being a reformed gardener now in the organic fold, I consulted my organic gardening guide for suggestions to deal with these unwanted pests. The first recommendation: copper tape–a non-chemical pest control option guaranteed to deliver a contact electrical shock to the offending invaders.

I marched right down to the local hardware store and purchased two rolls of Corry’s Slug & Snail Copper Tape Barrier. Twenty bucks later I was on my way home, feeling a smug sense of satisfaction that I had the problem firmly in hand.

I prepped the cement border surrounding the plot, carefully sticking the copper tape around the perimeter until it was sealed off completely. I stood up and surveyed my work. My lettuce bed looked like a giant shiny runway, protecting the greens within. “Now let those suckers come,” I thought, certain I had outsmarted my slimy intruders.

As if on cue, a slug appeared from the adjacent lawn, making his way slowly toward my plot–no doubt returning for seconds. “This should be good,” I gloated as I kneeled down at eye-level with the approaching pest, waiting expectantly for his little slug body to touch the copper and recoil in horror.

Little did I know my yard harbors super-mutant-ninja slugs apparently impervious to the effects of  copper tape. Not only did he stroll up on the shiny new barrier, he proceeded to crawl right over it into my lettuce bed! I swear he looked up at me as he went, one eye stalk retracted; the universal slug sign for flipping the bird.

Slugs: 1-Gardener: 0.

Incredulous, I consulted various sources for other natural remedies. One suggested putting a shallow dish of beer in the bed, since slugs apparently find brew irresistible. But the thought of coming out each day to an aftermath of floating bodies, face down in the drink like an all-night frat rave gone bad, made me blanch.

Another suggested sprinkling diatomaceous earth, made up of needle-sharp fossil fragments, on the ground around the plants. This option pierces the slime barrier of snails and slugs as they crawl across it, causing them to dehydrate and die within 48 hours. It is available for purchase at garden supply stores and is considered safe to use around humans and animals. A cost-effective alternative is spreading crushed eggshells around your plants, which achieves the same result.

Still others tout more labor intensive “night patrols” armed with flashlights and spray bottles of vinegar, ammonia, or buckets of boiling water--an up-close and personal mode of attack that requires commitment and consistency.

In the end, I opted for “Sluggo“–iron phosphate pellets sprinkled around the plants that cause snails and slugs to stop feeding and eventually die. Safe for organic gardens, it’s available at your local garden store. It did the trick for me and is considered safe to use around pets, humans, and wildlife.

With periodic re-application, my lettuces are thriving, safe for now from the onslaught of evening marauders. Just one more hurdle overcome on the road to creating my edible yard. Gardener: 1–Slugs: 0.

Categories: Organic GardeningTags: , , , ,


  1. Interesting. Great Tip and Story Karen. Thanks.

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