Gardening Matters

Slugs. You either hate them or you really, really hate them. Unlike equally destructive rabbits, Walt Disney has never made a movie that transformed these slimy things into cutesy garden characters like he did for rabbits. They remain loathsome things in every gardener’s mind.

For years I have managed to get through my garden seasons without much damage from these wee beasties. But the last couple of years have been just terrible, slug-wise. They have destroyed any number of hostas, eaten all my sunflower sprouts and laid waste to my toad lilies and other fine plants. Last year they even managed to slither their way up the outside of an old wheelbarrow and make a banquet of some impatiens I was trying to grow there.

I have declared war on the on these nasty creatures.

My first line of defense is a healthy dose of Diatomaceous earth. This is a fine powder made up of the dried skeletons of tiny marine plankton-like creatures. The skeleton is sharp-edged calcium which, not to be too indelicate, is like a knife edge that slices open the skin of the slugs and they die of dehydration. Ah, Death by a Thousand Cuts. It is completely organic and stays on duty even after a rain washes the little skeletons into the top layers of soil. They sometimes carry it a Lowes, Pikes or Home Depot. I got mine at Farmer D’s.

For the organically minded you can also try a new, organic product called, Sluggo. It does not have Metaldehyde, a dangerous chemical to use around pets or children. I have not yet tried this, but it gets good reviews from the organic garden blogs.

My second line of defense is a hollowed out half-rind of cantaloupe. This is placed upside down in the garden. Slugs are attracted to the food source and the shade from a hot sunny day. Check them daily and simply wash the captured slugs off into a bucket of soapy water. You can also try just using a smallish plank of wood. The slugs will seek shelter there even without the benefit of a food attractant and you can dispose of them in a bucket of soapy water.

I also have reliable reports that you can sprinkle salt on any captured slugs and they will shrivel up and die like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. I’ll admit that there is a certain satisfaction in that approach. However that just seems too cruel and gruesome even for me. But feel free to try it if you are feeling particularly vengeful.

A third method is to put out saucers of beer in the garden. They should be semi-buried up to the brim of the saucer. Slugs, like many folks I know, are intensely attracted to free beer. They get into the beer and drown. I suggest using the cheap stuff. It seems like such a waste to use a good craft beer on these little boogers. As W.C. Fields is reported to have said of a similar such situation, “Oh Death, where is thy sting.” You may want to skip drinking the beer after it is used on the slugs. It just doesn’t taste quite right. So I am told.

You can also try Ortho’s Bug-Getta for slugs and snails. It is decidedly not an organic product, but it apparently works pretty well.

You can try any of these individually or do all of them at once. As the late Sen. Barry Goldwater might have opined, “Extremism in defense against slugs is no vice.”

Jeff Coghill has been gardening in DeKalb County for more than 30 years and has probably killed at least one of each kind of plant he has tried before getting another one to thrive. He is a gardening volunteer at the Dunwoody Nature Center and works closely with members of the DeKalb Master Gardeners group. He can be reached at

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