Well, no, that’s not exactly how the nursery rhyme goes. And I doubt that puppy dog tails are the cause of too many holes in hosta leaves . But “slugs and snails” – now that’s a slimy refrain repeated with dismay by gardeners across the land.
What to do? There are all sorts of home remedies – none of which work all the time for all situations, but at least one is usually effective for your garden. There’s also a widely available organic commercial slug killer on the market.
Here are the remedies I’ve used at different times and in different parts of the country:
Forget putting out saucers of beer for the slugs to fall into and drown. Generally, yeast is more effective. Mix one-fourth teaspoon yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in 1 cup of water and fill shallow saucers. About 9 p.m., place them in areas where damage has occurred. For best results, remove them the next morning.
There are several drawbacks: If it rains, the liquid is diluted. (You can find covered traps at garden centers.) It can also attract dogs and cats (although it won’t harm them). And it works for only a few days, then the creatures ignore the mixture.
Like many gardeners, I’ve tried the technique of placing some sort of harsh material around desirable plants as a barrier, with the idea that soft-bodied snails and slugs will be harmed by slithering over them. Eggshells, sharp gravel, cocoa shells (sold as mulch), sandpaper, and wood ashes are all worth a try. But keep ashes – which have a liming effect – away from plants that need acid soil.
One of the problems of trying to keep slugs away with a barrier is that often they are already hiding near the plant – beneath those conveniently wide hosta leaves, for instance.
On sidewalks, driveways, and paths, a 4-inch-wide strip of lime will dissolve slugs and snails. But again, shouldn’t be used near plants that like acid soil.
Sprinkling salt on slugs will dissolve them, but salt can be harmful for plants. (You may want to try rock salt beneath stones or pavers, where slugs tend to hide.)
Installing copper strip barriers can be effective, but is expensive. (If you want to go this route, ask at a hobby shop about copper strips; they’re less expensive than the ones sold for gardening.) The drawback: the edges of strips are sharp and can easily cut.
Of course, you can pull the slugs and snails off plants by hand and/or step on them on the ground. But I can’t bring myself to do it; I shudder just thinking about it.
Ducks and some birds also love to make a meal of slugs, so you’ll want to encourage their presence in your yard.
I’ve never tried Sluggo , an organic slug remedy made from iron phosphate. It’s not toxic to animals and kids, but does take up to a week to kill mollusks.
With all the time I’ve spent over the years fighting slugs and snails, what I haven’t figured out, though, is how they know exactly which hosta you’ve paid the most money for, so they can target it as the piece de resistance of their summer awards banquet.