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Got Slugs?

“What’s eating my garden?” The caller said, “I come out in the morning and there are these holes in the leaves of my plants!” While there are many pests that can be eating your plants, there are only a couple that will eat and then be gone. Often, you never even see them — these nocturnal pests are slugs. They eat every kind of plant from garden vegetables to strawberries to ornamental plants and even trees! They hide during the day only to come out and forage at night while it is cool and damp.

The damage caused by slugs is typically irregular in size and shape. They are gone without a trace by first light but a good investigator can find their trail, slugs leave behind a white residue everywhere they go.

Sanitation is the best cultural control. Clean out any hiding places such as decaying wood, rocks, or bricks. Anywhere that is moist and dark during the day where they are able to retreat from the hot sun. Open your garden up so that both sunlight and air are allowed to penetrate. Do this by cleaning up plants or removing overcrowding issues with too many plants. Clean up any decaying plant materials, weeds or grass clippings. These materials serve as food sources.

There are some DIY baits that you can use such as a container full of stale beer or yeast and water. Fill a shallow container with at least a half inch of beer, then set out in the garden or ornamental bed. Burying the container to be flush with soil level can be more effective. This will attract the slugs, then they will drown in the container. To trap slugs in the garden, place a board in the garden to serve as a hiding place. Check the trap every morning and remove the slugs. You can scrape them into a bucket of soapy water if you would rather not handle them.

There are also some commercial products that are available. Remember to always follow the label on any pesticide: the label is the law. One such product, suggested in the Southeastern Vegetable Crop Handbook, is an iron phosphate bait. These can be found in products such as Sluggo. Sluggo is OMRI approved and can therefore be used on organic certified vegetables. OMRI is the Organic Materials Review Institute; they certify products that meet the criteria and can be used for USDA certified organic production. OMRI listed products can be found at this website: www.omri.org/omri-lists. More information on vegetables can be found in the 2020 Southeastern U.S. Vegetable Crop Handbook online at www.growingproduce.com/southeasternvegetablecrophandbook/.

If you have a question to submit, email Gene Fox at gene_fox@ncsu.edu. If you’re having trouble with growing in your home landscape, call the Extension office at 252-946-0111 to speak to an Extension Master Gardener volunteer, Mondays and Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and noon. If you would like to be a Master Gardener volunteer, classes are set to begin Tuesday. Please call the Beaufort County Center to find out more and get registered. Classes will be both online via Zoom and in-person for hands-on learning. Until then, happy gardening!

Gene Fox is the area consumer horticulture agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.