Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How to Control Slugs in your Lily Bulb Garden

Lower leaves are nibbled, topmost leaves OK.

Are you noticing a few nibbled holes in your lily leaves here and there? Are there slime trails on rocks, bark mulch, or has something munched a newly emerged lily sprout and you didn't see the culprit?

Do you live in the Pacific Northwest or somewhere else with copious amounts of spring/early summer rainfall?

Read on... this posting is for you.
Slugs and Snails usually leave jagged holes on the leaves.

Heading "home" across crushed rocks to a damp spot for the day.

If you have not already done so, now is the time to take measures against damage from mollusks.

Slugs especially like to feed at night, when the air, soil and grass is cool, but are not adverse to feeding during rainy days or while hiding from the sun under a canopy of low-growing plants. 

These soft bodies pests come in all sizes, but the most damage seems to be the stealthy newly hatched, less than one-half inch long in length.  You might not notice anything is amiss until the damage has already begun. 


Control is not as difficult as it might seem.  

In fall, cut back Daylily plants or other dense perennials and use a garden rack or hand tool to disturb any mulch, especially large nuggets of bark, to discover any white egg clusters.  Destroy them by scooping up and dropping into a bucket of soapy water or by squashing the eggs with your trowel.  Crushing all the eggs can physically be more difficult, so scooping up the clusters, soil, mulch and all is probably a better plan.  Clean up yard debris promptly and relocate any compost piles to an out of the way location, not just for aesthetic reasons, but also to avoid slugs laying eggs near your garden.

A flock of obliging Chickens will happily cultivate around your plants in fall, plus seek out and consume each and every slug or snail egg.  When we lived in the city, our hens would always find an escape route into the back yard.  There were never any slug or snail problems in the back, but since the ladies never made it around to the front of the house, there were a multitude of snails throughout the rock garden.

Some or all of the following may work for you.

  • Using any brand of natural or chemical slug bait will help control their seemingly exponential growth in the garden, especially if you are quick to act in spring and remain vigilant.
  • Use a barrier of copper to ring important plants.  Unfortunately, pure copper is more difficult to find and is now expensive - my roll from years ago is still useable, especially if I take care to pick up the rings and store them over winter in a garden shed.  Copper clad products do help, at least until the copper wears away, so storage again becomes the key to longevity. 

Cut with scissors to the size you need.

Fasten with a paper clip, make and bend down tabs if you wish.
NOTE:  Before installing copper, check to make sure there are no slugs already hiding under mulch or resting in a crack or crevasse in the soil.  You certainly do not want to neatly trap them with the only food source being the plant you are trying to protect.
Finished Copper ring around lily stem.
  • Beer-fest parties in the garden.  Stale beer and aged, bubbly yeast-brown sugar recipes will attract the varmints to a dish and supposedly drown them when they fall in.  You will need to bury the container so only the rim is exposed, giving them easy access, but with the fluid level low enough so there is no escape.  Keep any beer-quaffing animals away from the dish by using an  wooden box or other cover.  You will then be faced with disposal that can be rather gross, so don't use anything you will ever want to use again; a cheap cottage cheese container will work just as effectively as Mom's china.
  • Setting out half grapefruit, orange, melon or banana peels, cut side down, will attract slugs overnight and in the morning, you can simply scrape them onto a trowel and into a bucket of soapy water for later disposal.


Useful to a degree.

  • Rough gravel, shelled nuts,  Diatomaceous Earth, and other sharp-edged mulch, will in my opinion, only slow them down.  Slugs excrete slime to protect their underbellies, plus they will find open access if there is any break in the barrier.  Note the slug (above) on the crushed rock path?
  • Sharp stick at Midnight.  Take a flashlight outside after dark and go hunting.  The technique is simple; "poke, scrape off and drop" the slugs into your bucket of soapy water.  Of course, this is not for the squeamish and besides, you'll only be targeting the larger ones, because the smaller ones will most likely escape detection. This method appeals mostly to teenage garden helpers, where the temptation to neatly fling carcasses at each other, may defeat the purpose of a "clean" landscape the next morning.  Perhaps offer a bounty?
  • Several ducks allowed to enter the garden with supervision during the summer will happily consume bug, worms, slugs, snails and other tasty tidbits before moving on to a salad buffet, so keep an eye on them before they start on your plants.  The resulting fertilizer can be a benefit, but not for veggies that are meant to be consumed in the near future and eaten raw, such as lettuce.  Ducks are most effective in a fenced barrier between the garden and "wild areas" of grass, fallen leaves and other areas that naturally harbor mollusks.  Duck poop is apparently an irresistible attractant, so slugs and snails will travel a distance for the source of this seemingly delectable food, and thus become a meal themselves. Ducks are also quieter than chickens in the garden, and may be a better option if neighbors are less than enthusiastic about hearing cackling hens.  Of course, a few fresh eggs may win over even the most stubborn neighbor...

The good thing.

A few munchies here and there on leaves will not harm the lily bulb itself, and although not suitable for entering into competition as a cut stem this year, it will flower just fine to enjoy in the garden.  Should a mollusk eat out the tip of an emerging stem however, that bulb will not put up a new stem this year, but it will form a new stem over winter to emerge next year.


  1. This posting is great! I HATE slugs and have a special pair of "slug scissors" which I use instead of a sharp stick. I did use the bounty method when our son was younger. Alas, he is grown and away in Denver now. Chickens are not allowed in DC yards, worst luck. Beer never works for me, so it's slug patrol, but I know I'm missing the little ones. DCGardenGirl

    1. I wonder if my neighbor across the street thinks I'm a little strange since I go out late at night with my flashlight checking each one of my hostas. I sprinkle salt on them. I know....not too much, but it sure works.

      I learned last year that the Bug Getta doesn't work as well as the Bug Getta PLUS. I have those darn pill bugs and earwigs that do a lot of damage too. And the PLUS kills those too. One plant was almost totally destroyed last year and there were no slugs on it. Couldn't figure it out. Chipmunks?

    2. Hard telling what ate your Hosta, but it might have been a rodent of some kind, either tree-dwelling or underground. Have you seen any random "holes" in your garden, which would indicate the presence of voles?

      I've never used the product you mentioned because we have free-roaming birds - everything from Quail to chickens - that like to eat our insects, plus having an important salmon spawning channel running through our farm, we are sensitive to the watershed. -Dianna

    3. BTW, was it just the leaves or was the crown of the plant affected as well? Hopefully, that Hosta wasn't a "one of a kind" for you, because it seems that varmints go after whatever you've paid the most money, at least in my garden anyway.

    4. Bunnies eat my hostas! One time I was putting some bottled urine spray on them and one of the little guys was sitting about 15 ft away just watching me!

  2. Way to go... but don't your scissors get a bit sticky after a while? You'll probably eliminate a lot of those smaller ones with the banana peels or a half cantaloupe rind. I move my pots around every once in a while and not only check under them, but also in the drainage holes for any that might be hiding. -Dianna

    1. Yes, they do get a bit icky, but a quick wipe with a damp rag does it. I'll definitely try the banana peel. I know it's going to be rainy here for a while b/c the strawberries are ripening. It never fails! Rains a lot and the berries rot (and the slugs flourish). Thank goodness for the black raspberries--nothing bothers them, not even the birds (which I can't believe). MJ

    2. Hummm.... Black Raspberries, we have a very large and diverse bird population on this farm and the Blueberries never got anywhere near the ripe stage before they all disappeared. Draping them with netting was terrible with our wind, plus birds getting caught and panicking. The red raspberries do OK and I don't mind sharing, so perhaps I'll have to try dark colored berries again. Thanks for the tip. -Dianna