You’ve probably encountered slugs in your garden, and even if you haven’t, they might have left traces of their existence. Often this looks like shiny mucus trails and damage to plants. If the slug infestation is big enough, you might one day wake up to a decimated vegetable garden that wastes most of your hard work over several weeks or months. The slimy boneless creatures are a menace to gardeners, and if you suspect they’re invading your yard, garden, or home, it may be time to take action. That said, “how to get rid of slugs” remains a mystery for most people, especially since it’s rare to see them dragging their bodies around your garden. However, if they’re causing you problems, this guide should help you eliminate the slimy creatures for good.
Slugs belong to a group of animals called mollusks which are soft-bodied and include other animals like oysters, clams, squid, and snails. According to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, slugs evolved from snails more than a dozen times to achieve their current bodies. This has resulted in them reducing the size of the snail shell and ultimately internalizing it.
Consequently, while it may seem like slugs don’t have shells on their backs like snails, they do have shells under their moist skin. There’s even an intermediate species between snails and slugs called semi-slugs. Semi-slugs are characterized by tiny shells on their backs that, unlike a snail’s, are too small to fit the creature’s body.
Interestingly, semi-slugs have evolved from snails almost twice as many times as normal slugs. As such, they’re rarer than normal slugs.
Before you can learn how to get rid of slugs permanently, you must understand why you should be getting rid of them in the first place. First, they’ve evolved to eat just about anything, something they share with their distant cousins, the snails. They’re considered carnivores, herbivores, detritivores, and even omnivores.
Consequently, it’s not surprising to find them having eaten holes into the leaves of your plants. Nevertheless, even if you uproot them, they can’t serve as a source of nutrients for new plants since, as detritivores, the slugs even eat decaying waste from both plants and animals. Other examples of detritivores include common earthworms, termites, and Fiddler crabs.
Other items in a slug’s diet, depending on whether it’s a specialist or generalist species, include animal waste, fungus, worms, and other slugs.
Also, while they can’t physically harm human beings, they may carry some parasites that can. According to the National Library of Medicine, these include lungworms which cause human angiostrongyliasis and human eosinophilic meningoencephalitis.
Lastly, the mucus slime they leave on your property contains nematodes, and consequently, touching it puts you at risk of contracting a disease.
Like any other pest you encounter in your garden or yard, there are signs that you’re dealing with slugs and not something else. These include:
While slugs can eat almost any plant, they’re more likely to target tender new growth. Often the damage they leave behind looks like large, irregularly shaped holes on the leaves. Given that leaves produce food for the plant via photosynthesis, enough damage from the slugs could lead to plant death.
If you’ve noticed uprooted plants in addition to the holes on the leaves, you’re likely dealing with slugs and some other kind of pest like gophers. Fortunately, we’ve outlined how to get rid of gophers in case you also have a gopher problem.
However, if it’s just holes in the leaves of plants on the porch, the information on how to get rid of slugs in potted plants below should come in handy.
A slug foot refers to the muscle on the underside of the slug’s body that these creatures use to move. Inside the foot, slugs have glands that secrete mucus with glue and lubricant properties. This makes it easier for the slug to glide forward on the foot. Furthermore, the chemicals in the mucus also help in communication between slugs.
Additionally, slugs can use the trails they leave behind to find their way back to the tunnels after they’ve had their fill of your plants. If you have a slug problem, these trails will be more visible in and around your yard in the morning.
There are a few different ways that you can get rid of slugs, and the best method will likely depend on the severity of your infestation. Here’s what you can do:
With most pests you can find in your yard or vegetable garden, some plants act like natural pesticides. The most common option for slugs is Astrantia, with the smell repelling the slimy creatures. Other options include wormwood, anise, rosemary, fennel, and rue. Some plants are even resistant to slugs due to thick or prickly leaves.
Slugs typically avoid the sun during the day as they are extremely susceptible to dehydration and can die from exposure. They will hide under bricks, large logs, and other yard installations that provide shade. Removing any snail shelters you can find makes your garden or yard naturally unsuitable for the slimy critters.
You can also lay out the welcome mat for natural snail predators like toads and newts. These creatures are mostly carnivores, so they won’t do much damage to your plants. Hedgehogs also enjoy eating the occasional slug or two, but they’re omnivores meaning once they’ve whittled down the slug population, they’ll turn on your plants. Try to make your yard as welcoming to these predators as possible.
There are several types of barriers that you can use against slugs depending on the landscape in your yard. Prickly barriers work well when you’re covering a large area, and since the slugs are soft-bodied, going over the barrier will be a tall order. Crushed egg shells and pine needles work well. On the other hand, while diatomaceous earth works well against most insect infestations, it won’t work against slugs.
Another type of barrier is copper tape. Once a slug tries to go over the self-adhesive tape, the reaction between the copper and slug slime will zap the creature, forcing it to beat a hasty retreat. You can attach it to raised seed beds to keep the mollusks out.
Lastly, you can use a slippery barrier that involves spraying WD40 on plant pots. While slugs normally scale the pots with ease, the WD40 will make them too slippery, and eventually, the slugs will give up.
The scent of beer attracts slugs, which can be used against them. If you bury half a container near the plants being attacked and half fill it with beer, the creatures will investigate and end up trapped. That said, you should keep the rim above ground level to avoid bugs falling in. As for slugs, they can easily scale the sides of the container. Beer traps need to be replaced regularly as well.
You can also lure the creatures into one place before manually scooping and getting rid of them. Piles of old lettuce leaves, dried cat food, and even citrus halves work well. Put them where slugs are likely to be, e.g., shady corners. Check these areas frequently during the day and even in the early morning hours before dawn. Get rid of the slugs you find.
Once a slug has eaten slug bait, it will typically die soon after since it acts as a poison. According to most reviews, one of the market’s most effective slug bait products is Monterey Sluggo Plus Snail & Slug Killer. It has Spinosad and iron phosphate as the two active ingredients and should last up to 4 weeks. Users also recommend the Hi-Yield Improved Slug & Snail Bait, which paralyzes slimy creatures until they’re dehydrated in the sun.
If you encounter slugs in the early morning hours, sprinkling salt on them is an easy and cheap way to kill them by dehydration. That said, it’s best used away from plants as it can also dehydrate them if used in excess.
A spray solution of one part vinegar and two parts water should prove as effective as salt in killing slugs. You just have to find and spray them. Use sparingly, so you don’t damage the plant life. As for how to get rid of slugs and snails with coffee, a solution with 1-2% will kill them within days. Lower concentrations of the same will also work as deterrents.
This may seem counterintuitive for those looking to get rid of slugs around the house. However, instead of taking out your flashlight to look for the slugs at night, it may be easier to provide the critters with shelter. That way, the slugs come to you, and you can decide how best to get rid of them. Weak ammonia solutions, soapy water, and even the vinegar solution mentioned above all work well.
Lastly, slugs like moisture and humidity and limiting access to these two prevents them from moving into your yard. As such, overhead sprinklers may not be a good idea. Instead, you should opt for drip irrigation until you’re done with your slug problem.
With that, you now know how to get rid of slugs around your yard or house. You shouldn’t just use one or two methods for the best results. Using a few countermeasures simultaneously is more prudent, as this gives you the best chance of getting rid of them quickly. As a side note, wear gloves if you’re handling slugs. They might not bite like other pests, but they carry harmful parasites they might transfer onto you if you’re not careful.