How You Can Control Slugs in Your Garden

Icky slugs don't have to ruin your flowers and vegetables. Use our tips to banish them and keep them from coming back.

September 11, 2018
Garden Slug

Garden Slug

Sprinkling table salt on slugs is an old-fashioned way to get rid of them, but it can harm or kill plants and other creatures.

Photo by: Gary Bernon/USDA APHIS/Bugwood.org

Gary Bernon/USDA APHIS/Bugwood.org

Sprinkling table salt on slugs is an old-fashioned way to get rid of them, but it can harm or kill plants and other creatures.

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When you see holes in your tomatoes and torn leaves on your petunias, it’s hard to believe slugs could ever be beneficial. But these garden pests build soil as they eat organic matter, and they’re an important food for hungry birds.

Still, nobody wants slimy trails and damaged plants. It's possible to get rid of the slugs in your garden and, if you're diligent, prevent them from coming back.

Natural Controls

Apply diatomaceous earth. This non-toxic material is a great weapon in the war against slugs. It looks like dust, but it’s actually the small, sharp remains of fossilized sea creatures. Sprinkle it around your plants (not on them). It lacerates slugs when they crawl over it so they dry out and die. You can substitute crushed lava rock, pecan shells or wood ashes for this material.

Holes in Tomatoes

Holes in Tomatoes

Slugs will eat almost anything (some even eat other slugs). You'll often find damage on fruits and vegetables that hang low or rest on the ground, like tomatoes and strawberries.

Photo by: Julie A. Martens

Julie A. Martens

Slugs will eat almost anything (some even eat other slugs). You'll often find damage on fruits and vegetables that hang low or rest on the ground, like tomatoes and strawberries.

Make a slug trap. Place boards, pieces of cardboard or overturned flowerpots on the bare ground around your plants. Each morning, flip over the boards or pots, scrape off any slugs you find and dispose of them.

Use barriers. A Slug Shield is a physical and electrochemical barrier made up of copper strands. Think of it as a flexible “bracelet” that wraps around the stems of your plants. Slugs that encounter it are repelled by a kind of electrical shock. The shields also come in large rolls to protect your entire garden or raised bed. Other kinds of barriers, such as copper strips and tapes, are available at home improvement stores and garden centers.

Slug Damage on Leaves

Slug Damage on Leaves

Silvery trails, holes and chewed leaves are signs of slug damage. These garden pests especially like tender vegetation.

Photo by: Patrick Marquez/USDA APHIS PPQ/Bugwood.Org

Patrick Marquez/USDA APHIS PPQ/Bugwood.Org

Silvery trails, holes and chewed leaves are signs of slug damage. These garden pests especially like tender vegetation.

Invite birds to your garden. Grow bird-friendly plants, and you’ll attract winged visitors that devour your slugs. Your county extension service agent can help you find the best shrubs, trees, annuals, and perennials to use. Ducks and chickens also snap up slugs, but be sure your plants are big enough to withstand being walked and snacked on before you let them in your garden, or just let them patrol the perimeter.

Keep your garden clean and neat. Remove piles of moist, decaying organic debris and loose boards, stepping stones, bricks or rocks where slugs can live and overwinter. Aim for an organic garden so you won't kill off their natural predators, like toads, fireflies and ground beetles with pesticides and insecticides.

Watch early in the day. Watering at night creates the dark, moist conditions that slugs prefer.

Commercial Controls

As a last resort, bait pesky slugs with commercial products like Monterey Sluggo Slug and Snail Killer. Read the label on your product carefully; some can harm birds and other wildlife, and some are toxic to pets and children. Follow the directions carefully.

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