Gardens in England cover more land than that of our National Nature Reserves combined. The UK has lost nearly half its biodiversity (making it one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth) with climate change and healthy ecosystems totally interconnected, taking a nature-friendly approach to gardening is activism! Our gardens hold huge potential to become a network of safe havens for wildlife.
Nature-friendly organic gardening does not mean succumbing to the nuisance certain members of the ecosystems can cause... I’m looking at you slugs!
Rather than seeing gardens as spaces that require our protection from pests, the aim is to create a thriving ecosystem with natural predators maintaining pests at a tolerable level, not eradicating them.
For example, while walking in a healthy woodland, we don't see swathes of plants wiped out by slug damage and that’s not because armies of slug control volunteers go out at night with torches, picking the slugs off the plants, it’s because the ecosystem is biodiverse, balanced and so healthy.
Slugs play an important role in a biodiverse ecosystem, they make a tasty snack for many creatures from hedgehogs to firefly larvae. They help to break down decaying organic matter, which builds healthy soils, supporting the process of locking carbon in the ground. In fact, only 9 of the 44 species of slugs in the UK even eat living plants!
Slugs are so important that in an effort to protect wildlife the RHS no longer classifies slugs as pests and the pesticide metaldehyde, formerly used to kill slugs in gardens and on farms, has now been banned.
So how to use gentle, organic slug control to ensure we are enjoying our gardens as much as they and their predators do?
Although I wish I could tell you otherwise, the RHS has run trials that show wool, eggshells, copper tape, sharp horticultural grit and pine bark mulches really don’t work (although if you’re like me, you may find yourself using them anyway as a sort of blind faith charm or comfort blanket!).
The best organic slug controls
Create diverse habitats for slug predators
Create habitat for slugs' predators, encourage hedgehogs, toads, frogs, birds and beetles that will feast on slugs. Create a compost heap, ponds, leaf, log, stone or brick piles. Plant shrubs/hedges as cover for birds and allow wild pockets of your garden to emerge.
Bring in slug predators
Bring in predators: Chickens or ducks will assist other predators munching through your slug population! Note; ducks are considered best at slug control, although I have a couple of very effective bantam hen assistants in my garden.
Keep your plants as healthy as possible
Keep plants healthy by removing any dead, diseased or damaged growth, growing organically, following the principle of “right plant, right place”, keeping plants appropriately hydrated and maintaining healthy soil. Slugs tend to munch on plants or parts of plants that are already a bit sorry for themselves. Healthy plants handle pests better and have greater chance of recovery.
Protect young plants
Only put young plants out where slugs might find them when they are looking vigorous and strong. Slugs have more chance of annihilating babies, they love young growth!
Plant/sow more than you need
There’s a saying that demonstrates how gardens are spaces we share with other creatures, it goes: “sow 4 seeds in a row, one for the rook, one for the crow, one will wither and one will grow.”
Change your watering times
Water in the mornings so it’s less moist when slugs come out at night.
Work out plant replacements
Have backup plants to fill in the gaps if/when they appear.
Pick and move your slugs!
Collect slugs as you garden and release them onto your compost heap, in a local woodland or feed them to your feathered friends, if you’re really committed you could don a head torch and go patrolling at night.
Consider nematodes carefully
Nematodes are microscopic creatures that exist naturally in the soil, some are parasitic on slugs, they can be purchased online and applied as an organic slugs control. Although effective, I would not take reaching for this biological slug control lightly. They will target all slugs, including the 35 detritivore slugs. Following the sudden crash in slug population, their predators have to search for food elsewhere, when the nematode numbers subside the ensuing slug explosion could be considerable with reduced natural predators to keep them in check, starting a cycle of dependence. Some slug population is good for a healthy ecosystem.
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Plant slug resistant plants
If all else fails, consider plants that are less appealing to slugs or at least avoid those they have a particular taste for, such as hostas and echinacea.
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