Horticulture Magazine

How To Get Rid Of Slugs In Your Garden Naturally

Close up of a Portuguese slug on a green plant

Slugs truly can be the bane of a gardener’s existence.

These infuriating creatures can wreak havoc on your garden, ruining everything in their path and leaving behind their tell-tale trails of revolting slime.

There are few things more upsetting to a gardener than finding their fruits, vegetables and other prized plants have been chewed beyond recognition. It feels like the slugs are making a declaration of war; and if that’s the case, we say bring it on.

Yes, you could opt for shop-bought slug baits and killers, but these can be packed full of very nasty chemicals which can cause harm to pets and humans alike. For this reason, many gardeners are now opting for a more natural approach to reclaim their garden from these savage slugs.

Know your enemy

It is worth mentioning that most species of slugs are actually decomposers, and feed solely on animal waste and decaying plants. Unfortunately though, there are a few other species that ruin the reputation of all slugs. These kinds of slugs are the ones that love to dine on living plants, and they’re the real enemies.

Brown arion rufus slug attacks the leaves of flowers
Slugs are thugs

Slugs are shell-less, terrestrial, gastropod molluscs. They are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female reproductive cells; however, they do need a mate to reproduce. They then find damp little crevices and lay batches of gelatinous eggs. The weather will then determine how quickly these eggs develop and hatch: the warmer the temperature, the sooner the slugs arrive.

Slugs take about one year to reach adulthood and usually live for around two years, but during that time they can do an impressive amount of damage to your garden. With their tiny, grater-like teeth, slugs make short shrift of shredding leaves entirely and completely decimating seedlings.

Why are slugs so hard to control?

Slugs tend to operate at night, spending the daytime hidden away under rocks and in damp little secret spaces. Come morning gardeners will see the damage but, with no slug in sight, it can be hard to tell which creature is to blame.

For this reason, many gardeners will suspect the culprit is some sort of insect and will treat their plants with a general insecticide which will sadly not affect the slugs.

If you have managed to catch the slugs in the act and know that they are the real criminals, then you still have to work out what to do about them. Picking them out of your garden by hand is both revolting and relatively ineffective.

What does slug damage look like?

Knowing how to identify slug damage is the first step to fully confirming the presence of these malevolent molluscs. Here are some fool-proof ways of identifying these garden slug thugs:

  • Trails of slime are the primary indicator of slug activity, keep an eye out for it on plants, paths, rocks and mulch.
  • Leaves with jagged holes in the centre as well as around the edges.
  • Slugs adore soft fruit and veg, look out for perfectly round holes in your tomatoes, strawberries and other similar plants.
  • Slugs can completely kill seedlings, so if you’re seeing them entirely gone, or with just tiny parts remaining, then slugs are almost certainly to blame.
Green leaves in garden eaten by slugs
Look out for the tell-tale jagged holes in your plant leaves.

How to get rid of slugs in your garden naturally

Once you have identified that your garden is suffering from a slug infestation, it’s time to do something about it. There will always be slugs in gardens so a small amount of plant damage can be tolerated, but if you are finding that these little monsters are getting out of hand, then we have put together a list of the best, natural ways to prevent and remove them from your garden.

1. A pinch of salt

This is arguably one of the most well-known natural ways to eliminate slugs. It’s effective, albeit not terribly humane. Although salt does essentially dissolve the slugs, it takes a long time to do so and they suffer a lot.

If you do opt for this method, take care not to put too much salt on the soil around your plants as, while salt is bad for slugs, it really isn’t great for plants either.

2. Plant power

One of the first things you can do to combat these crafty critters is to use the power of plants. There are plenty of plants that slugs not only dislike, but which actively deter them from your garden.

Plants like garlic, rosemary, lavender and basil (along with many others) produce scents that slugs simply cannot abide. Planting them close to plants that slugs do enjoy will help keep them at bay.

3. Water strategically

Since slugs are active usually at night, then we highly recommend watering first thing in the morning. This gives your garden a chance to dry over the course of the day so come nightfall it isn’t so welcoming to them.

It is also wise not to use loose mulches as these can be very attractive to slugs. Avoid woodchippings and hay or straw and instead opt for compost or leaf mould.

4. Invite some hungry guests

Make sure you remove anything that slugs can hide under during the day such as old logs and bricks. With nowhere to hide, they will be fully exposed to hungry predators who will happily help you clear the slugs away.

European hedgehog on green moss
Hungry hedgehogs will happily tackle your slug problem.

Birds, toads, hedgehogs and newts are all partial to slugs, so do your best to welcome them into your garden. By giving them a safe habitat to reside in, your slug problem will quickly be resolved.

5. Put up the barricades

These mean molluscs have soft little bodies, and so a barricade of sharp, scratchy stuff you will have a really good shot at protecting your plants. Eggshells, sand and pine needles are all perfect materials to ward off those vile visitors.

Slugs also struggle to climb up slippery surfaces. By spraying WD40 or something similar on plant pots and containers, you can prevent these unwanted guests from reaching your plants.

Copper tape also makes a most excellent barricade. The copper reacts with slugs slime and gives it a little electric shock. By laying down self-adhesive copper tape barricades, you stand a much better chance of defending your precious plants.

6. Bottoms up with a beer trap

Slugs love the smell of beer, so beer traps are usually remarkably successful at luring slugs to their death. Simply bury a container in the ground, fill it half full with beer, and the slugs will investigate, fall in, and drown.

Take care not to completely submerge the container, instead leave two or three centimetres above ground to prevent helpful, slug-eating ground beetles from also falling to their death.

7. Lure them in

If you don’t want to waste precious beer, there are other ways to lure slugs in and make disposing of them for efficient. By using cat food, a bunch of old lettuce leaves or something similar, you can draw them all to one spot and then dispose of them altogether.

It’s worth taking a torch and having a nighttime garden stroll to catch them when they are most active, allowing you to remove as many as possible in one go.

8. Don’t be chicken – get some chickens!

Not only do chickens make wonderful pets that provide you with fresh eggs every morning, they also have an insatiable appetite for slugs.

Small, free range flock of hens
Forget the hounds – release the hens!

If you are fortunate enough to have the space, we highly recommend adopting some ex-battery hens. Not only will you be giving them a second chance at life, but they will reward you by removing every slug in sight.

Banish those slugs

Hopefully, this article has given you all the information you need to naturally and organically rid your garden of all those slimy slugs.

Remember that while it’s nearly impossible to banish every single slug from your garden, the methods detailed in this article should help you to make a serious impact on their numbers. They’ll also give you a much better chance of protecting your plants properly.

For the best results, we recommend using a couple of methods together and, once you’re winning against your slug infestation, take care to make your garden as inhospitable as possible to future slugs looking for a new home. We wish you luck with cleansing your garden of mischievous molluscs.

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