Slugs. They’re the bane of my gardening life! Whether they’re chomping my lettuces, ravaging my potatoes or making short work of some just-emerged seedlings, their tell-tale slime trails pop up anywhere and everywhere. Keeping up with the malevolent molluscs is a never-ending battle – and it’s an exhausting one!
Slugs feature as one of the most-reported pests in our Big Bug Hunt. It’s no surprise really. They are incredibly adaptable and carry a voracious appetite for a wide palette of plants. What, then, is a gardener to do?
Much has already been written about how to control slugs. Plenty of organic methods abound, including various barriers, beer-charged slug traps, nighttime torch-lit patrols and even growing sacrificial plants to take the hit in place of your precious crops.
But by far the most effective tactic in the war against slugs lies in enrolling their natural enemies: the birds, frogs, toads and other animals that will happily devour slugs as a tasty tidbit. Make a home for slug-eating wildlife and you’ll see populations of this arch nemesis plummet accordingly.
Make a Home for Frogs and Toads
Frogs and toads are notorious for their slug-sapping credentials. It’s easy to encourage more of them into your garden simply by providing them with somewhere to stay – build it and they shall come!
As winter approaches many of these amphibians will be looking for somewhere safe to hibernate. Natural nooks and crannies are preferred – some frogs will even overwinter in the mud at the bottom of a pond – but you can easily provide more accommodation by making your own frog or toad hidey-hole with little more than a paving slab and some sand.
Start by digging out a shallow bowl in an area of the garden that’s naturally damp; a shady, quiet corner is best. Now line the excavation you’ve created with a layer of sand then cover with the paving slab, leaving enough space for an upwards-sloping tunnel that will serve as the entrance to your snug retreat.
Container Pond for Frogs and Beneficial Insects
Building a wildlife pond may seem like an onerous undertaking but it really needn’t be. Any garden, of any size, can have a pond of a scale to match. Ponds support more wildlife than any other garden feature, which is great news for those looking to get on top of their slug problem.
The simplest ponds are made from little more than a sunken tub, bucket, or even an old kitchen sink. Dig a hole for your container then sink it into the ground so the rim lies at ground level. Add some sand or clean gravel to the base of the container for pond-dwelling insects. Now pile some stones in one corner of the miniature pond to help frogs and toads clamber up and out. Finally, lower a couple of pond plants into the water. If possible, fill your new pond with rainwater.
The power of the pond is remarkable. I recently visited an allotment holder who installed a container pond as described above just last winter. She swore that the difference it made was almost immediate. Frogs colonised the pond and slug numbers dropped to such a level that she no longer bothers with other slug controls.
If you have a big garden then a few of these micro ponds would amplify their effect. Or make the space for a magical and ever-changing full-sized pond that will bring colour and movement to your garden, while proving a real focal point.
Nest Boxes for Birds
Hungry birds can have a fantastic impact on slug and insect pest numbers. Simply ensuring your garden has a good mix of trees and shrubs, including berry-producing types, is a sure way to boost the number of resident and visiting birds.
Our feathered friends naturally nest in trees, including dead standing wood. Nest boxes are a great way to replicate this habitat, with different-sized entry holes attracting different species. The end of autumn is a perfect time to set one up so that it’s in place for when the nesting season begins at the end of winter.
Nest boxes are best positioned in a quiet corner – away from prying eyes and out of reach of the local cat! Site it away from bird feeding areas too. When nesting seasons arrives, put out nest-building materials so that the birds can personalise their new home. Suitable materials include pet hair, wool, dry grass, feathers and straw.
A Home for Hedgehogs
European gardeners have the advantage of another regular slug patroller: the hedgehog. Hedgehogs, like frogs and toads, are well known for their love of soft and slimy slugs – they can’t get enough of them!
Now’s the time to prepare a cosy shelter for these hungry mammals as they settle down to hibernate. A quiet, dry bolthole filled with leaves is what they’re after. You can set up a ready-to-use shelter by leaning a waterproof board against a wall to create a sturdy tent. Secure it in place by laying branches or logs on top of it so it doesn’t blow away. Now fill the interior with fistfuls of dry leaves or straw so would-be occupants can settle in and stay warm.
Providing homes for slug eaters is quick and easy to do and will save you an awful lot of effort chasing secretive slugs about the garden! If you’ve tried making any of the above shelters then let me know how successful they have been. With enough allies on board the war on slugs can – and will – be won!