Here’s how to keep slugs from ruining plants

Q: Something is eating the leaves on my pepper plants. Could you tell me what it might be and what I can do to stop it?

A: I’ve been hearing a lot of this complaint this spring. Those holes in the leaves of your young plants are more than likely being done by slugs. This spring has been a perfect breeding ground for these pests. Following is some information about slugs and some suggestions on what to do about these slimy invaders without using toxic chemicals (although we would like to do just that at times).

* “The slug is a hermaphrodite, which means they have both male and female reproductive systems and can mate with themselves. Each slug can produce up to 36 eggs, several times a year. They reach adulthood in about six weeks and some species have a life span of 2-6 years. To top it off slugs keep growing. There are some that reach 10 inches. Imagine meeting one of those on a summer’s eve. They have an insatiable appetite and feed mainly at night and can eat double its body weight in a day.” (Quote is from Organic Authority web site)

* They lay their eggs in continually wet soil and under the leaves of the plants they plan to use for food, and then crawl up on the plant at night and in the morning you find your plants have been attacked.

* Most pests will go for sick, weak plants so if you are purchasing transplants it is very important to make sure they are strong healthy plants.

* Pepper plants aren’t necessarily their only favorites – although almost anything will do if the soil is continually moist or wet (as it has been lately), and some gardeners claim they will avoid spicy, strong smelling plants such as: mint, chives, garlic, onions, fennel and marigolds.

* One way to deter them is to always water in the morning, never evening. This allows the water to evaporate on the soil surface during the day and dry soil will discourage the slug.

* Scatter diatomaceous earth or anything gritty and rough under and around your plants.

* Do not use salt as some will suggest. Rain and watering will cause this to dissolve and it will kill your plants and cause the soil to be worthless.

* Purchase Garden Safe, non-toxic “Slug and Snail Bait,” which will not harm humans or animals. Follow directions on the package.

* Sink plastic cups, the opening almost level with the soil and fill with beer or a yeast mixture. They are partial to beer and will fall in and drown.

* As I said earlier, water in the morning and at the same time, cultivate the soil around and directly under your plants. This will bring the slug pups up to the soil surface and the sun during the day will dry them out and kill some of them off.

* Keep the leaves of plants pruned off close to the soil line. Don’t make it easy for them to find a moist shady place to reproduce.

* Keep weeds pulled and surrounding plants pruned up as well.

* Use mulch, preferably something dry such as straw or very dry chopped up oak leaves or pine needles. Although you want the roots of your plants to receive and retain moisture, you do not want to provide the perfect place such as a constantly wet environment for slugs or pests of any kind to move in and raise their young. <br>

<i> Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to </i>