The extra rain this summer is good for plants and it’s good for pests.
If you have lots of lush foliage, watered by all the rain we’ve had lately, chances are you’ve got slugs.
“I always say the best gardeners have the worst slug problems because in a great garden, the slugs have lots of leaves to hide under. If this rain we’ve been having keeps up, people will have even more problems,” warned Jim Hole of Hole’s Greenhouses and Gardens.
Slimy, gelatinous-looking slugs are not insects, but instead are in the same biological family as snails. Touch a slug and it will feel nightmarishly sticky, cold and wet.
There’s an element of gruesomeness to slug killing. People seem to really take their hate out on the things.
One slug-killing favourite remedy involves sharing a beer with them before you kill them. First bury a plastic dish so the top is flush with the ground. Then crack a beer and pour half of it in the dish. Folklore says the slugs will crawl in, get drunk, and drown.
I tried this myself last week and watched half a dozen slugs crawl into the tub and then crawl out again. Maybe my problem was that it was a light beer. The whole mess was upsetting to look at because the slugs that didn’t leave the party turned upside down in the beer and looked ghastly. Meanwhile their cousins chowed down on all my strawberries.
“Beer will work until it loses its muskiness,” said Hole, who said one desperate customer told him he put down a sheet of plywood, and let the slugs crawl under it overnight. Then the man stomped on the board.
“I think he tossed some lettuce leaves in for them first,” said Hole.
Slugs don’t like copper, and copper wire or copper strips are available. You could also put down copper pot scrubbies but this method could prove more expensive than the cost of the slug’s favourites, the hostas and strawberries.
“Copper strips work well for pots as long as there is no vegetation hanging down,” said Hole.
One lady told me her aunt puts all the slugs from her garden in a special blender that she keeps outside for the purpose. She grinds them up and pours the mixture on the garden for fertilizer.
Take that, slugs!
Hole turned a little green at the thought of blendered slugs. Instead, he suggests using slug baits such as Slug B Gon made from iron phosphate.
“It’s not a poison. You cannot get the old metaldehyde poisons anymore. Slug baits now are made from iron phosphate which actually nourishes plants,” he said.
The bait is only effective if the slugs eat it.
“You just sprinkle it around, and if you sprinkle it near your strawberries, you should still be able to eat the fruit. The trick is, the slugs have to decide if they have a preference for strawberries or slug bait. If they eat the slug bait, it will kill them,” he said.
Short of stopping the rain, the best slug control method involves changing the vegetation. If the lettuce is getting old, pull it out. If slugs have invaded your strawberry patch, try to get the fruit up and off the ground.
“That’s why straw is good around strawberries. You seldom have slugs in a hot sunny strawberry field. Slugs like cool and shade. It’s difficult for slugs to crawl through straw and it’s scratchy,” said Tam Andersen, owner of Prairie Gardens & Greenhouses.
A slug-deterrent called Diatomaceous Earth is another product that cuts the creatures bellies and makes life difficult for slugs.
“It looks like talcum powder and it’s very sharp to the slugs. It cuts them open,” said Jerry Close, manager of Apache Seeds, who cautioned against using old poisons that may be still in your garden shed.
“Poisons with metaldehyde are still around. They are lethal for slugs, but also for birds or anything that picks the pellets up and eats them,” Close said.
Ants go marching
Everyone has ant problems. Just go to your next cocktail party and start talking about ants and you’ll hear the stories of ants in the lawn, ants in the garden, ants in the kitchen. Ants, ants, ants. Everyone hates them. You can try to kill them with poisons and they just move their nest over and start all over again.
“You think you’ve killed the colony, but if you didn’t get the queen, they’ll just move. There are several products that poison them such as Ambush or Dr. Doom,” said Close.
Sprinkle borax near an anthill and the ants will track it inside their nest on their own little feet. The borax will kill them.
Last year I tried a different home-remedy that was messy, but it did work on one hill of ants. I made a kind of liquid stew of chopped rhubarb leaves and boiling water. I left the stew for a few days and poured it on the anthill.
The only problem was the chopped up slimy leaves looked somewhat unsightly in the middle of the lawn. Ants, on the other hand, aren’t that hard to look at.
“Unless they are a problem and going in your house, ants don’t really bother you. Ants farm aphids and they eat other insects and generally don’t damage plant material. For the most part, you can learn to live with them,” said Close.
This year is a potato beetle year and though no one really knows why that is so, the best remedy is to hand-pick the larva off the leaves.
Potato plants may also be sprayed with a poison called Wilson Sevin. Because the potatoes are in the ground, the vegetables will be OK to eat in a few days.
“Always read the instructions on the labels. If it says “Don’t eat the lettuce, then don’t eat the lettuce. Most products give a time frame of when it is safe to eat the vegetables or fruit,” said Hole.