Cutworms and slugs, two terrestrial creatures, have been coming out to play at night. I don’t care for their games and use simple, no-cost, environmentally-friendly control methods for both.
Slugs, those slimy crawlers that love to feed on tender vegetable transplants, are enjoying the rainy spring we’ve had in Connecticut. Slugs thrive in moist conditions and are most active from evening to early morning.
You will see their damage – a few holes in leaves or leaves completely gone – and will likely notice the shiny slime trails they leave behind on surfaces they have crossed. And, yes … they will slime up the side of a clay pot to reach their goal. I don’t know how they figured out I planted tatsoi in this and many other clay pots but it only took one night for them to find the tender young transplants.
There are many methods for controlling slugs, just Google slug control and you’ll see what I mean. Lots of gardeners swear by a commercial granular control product or copper barriers. I’ve not used either, preferring to spend my money elsewhere, and cannot vouch for their efficacy. If you’ve tried one of these control products, share your results in a comment below.
For years I used the beer control method: sink a shallow saucer or an empty, washed cat food or tuna can near plants showing signs of slug damage, fill the saucer with beer – use the cheap stuff left behind that no one will drink – and come back the next morning to a soupy mess of drowned slugs. There’s a definite ick factor in the next step. To empty the soupy mess you have to ease the saucer/can from its sunken home. Wear gloves. Slug slime is one of the grossest things to get on your hands. It does not easily wash off. While it’s rather satisfying to know some cheap, tasteless beer brought a few slimy plant-chompers to their demise, it’s a pain to have to empty the cans each morning and refill them at night. Besides, how much cheap beer can one keep around as slug bait?
Some gardeners suggest circling damage-prone plants with crushed egg shells, diatomaceous earth, or some other sharp barrier. Slugs, being soft-bodied, supposedly don’t like to travel over such areas. Again, I’ve not tried this method … too much garden real estate to encircle every slug-prone plant with sharp barriers.
Other trap types of slug control involve finding them during the day when they’ve sheltered under objects – leaves, boards, pots, etc. Place a board on the ground near slug-damaged plants. Peek under it during the day and you’ll likely find resting slugs. Similarly placed orange peels are supposed to work the same way. Once you find sleeping slugs you can shake salt on them – it turns them into writhing globs of slime – did it once, won’t do it again.
Or, you could kill them using my preferred method. I repurpose a washed peanut butter jar filled with a few inches of water and a squirt of liquid dish soap, like Dawn, and a plastic spoon for daily slug control. Each morning I stroll my gardens, coffee in one hand and my slug-killing bath in the other.
I store the jar and spoon in a convenient but out of obvious view spot so I can grab it quickly if I spot another slug. When the jar needs emptying, about every two days, I toss the contents over a weedy patch at the edge of the woods, rinse the jar, and refill it with water and dish soap. In really bad slug seasons I double my control efforts by combining the wood board trap and the morning slug patrols. Lots of slugs meet their end without me having to touch them … ever. And, in really bad slug seasons, like two years ago, I’ll grab my trusty tools at dusk and go on Slug-fari.
Other creatures eat slugs. If you have chickens or ducks you’re in luck. I have neither chickens or ducks. Toads eat slugs but some years the slug population is too high for resident toads to control. Garden-type snakes also eat slugs, a fact I try to remember each time one startles me and slithers away. For this reason I’m s-l-o-w-l-y learning to tolerate the garter, brown, and ring-neck snakes in my gardens.
Cutworms, the other unwelcome pest that easily does as much damage, are much easier to control.
If you are greeted with this … a young plant stem cut off at soil level,
you can be pretty sure you have cutworms. To prevent this heartbreaking loss, place a cardboard collar around the stem of each young transplant.
I begin saving toilet paper and paper towel rolls during late winter to have ample material for cutworm barriers. Cut toilet paper rolls in half, paper towel rolls in quarters. Gently guide the cardboard roll over the leaves of each plant after it is secure in the ground. Gently twist the collar back and forth until it sinks into the soil about 1/2 inch to create a below and above ground barrier cutworms cannot cross. The cardboard will eventually disintegrate or get so soggy that it unwinds but, by this point, the plant will be larger and less appealing to cutworms.
Easy, inexpensive control methods for two common garden pests … I hope they work for you.
Garden thoughtfully …