Best defense against slugs is smart plant choices

    I don’t think I ever saw a slug in my mother’s garden, so spotting Missouri slugs, which are frequently 6 inches long and everywhere by mid-summer, was a revelation to me. They didn’t just haunt our garden but could be spotted sliming their way up window panes on soggy Missouri nights.
    Slugs persist even in dry years, and they can pack away a lot of food when they’re super-sized. Kansas City plants look pretty raggedy by August. Predators are in short supply in the fenced yards in the city, too, so the slugs don’t have much to worry about unless irate gardeners armed with salt shakers come after them. I never resorted to that, although I didn’t discourage one of our huskies when she developed an appetite for slug snacks.
    Wisconsin’s gray and spotted slugs don’t quite measure up to their Missouri cousins. For those unfamiliar with the pests, slugs are related to snails, although they lack external protective shells. They travel on slime trails to protect their bodies from abrasions that can cause dehydration and avoid the sun for the same reason. They’re active at night and find shelter from the sun under foliage, mulch and garden litter during the day. They can cause significant damage to garden plants, although it’s usually cosmetic.
    There are many methods to deal with slugs. I try to limit the use of toxic chemicals in our yard, so I’ve never tried commercial slug baits.  
    Slug traps are also popular. One can easily be constructed by placing a large piece of bark or a board in a slug-prone area. The slugs take shelter there during the day, so it’s easy to collect and dispose of them or salt them into oblivion.
    Slugs are also rumored to enjoy beer, so a shallow saucer of brew placed in slug territory invites them in for a drink. In theory they overdo it and drown.
    It’s less work to just plant things slugs don’t like to eat. For sunny areas, that means fuzzy and silver-leafed plants like lamb’s ear and artemesias, roses and phlox. But shade gardens are the most vulnerable to slugs, and there are lots of great, slug-resistant plants.
    Hostas are the backbone of most shade gardens and popular with slugs. Those with blue foliage, however, are slug-resistant. They come in all sizes from tiny ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ to medium ‘Halcyon’ and narrow-leafed ‘Hadspen Blue.’ There are also giants like ‘Blue Angel’ and Hosta sieboldiana.
     Silver-leafed varieties of Brunnera like ‘Jack Frost’ and ‘Looking Glass’ don’t attract slugs either. They both produce blue flowers in early summer. The silver substance in Pulmonaria leaves is also unattractive to slugs. Selections like ‘Mrs. Moon’ and ‘Moonshine’ produce pink or bluish flowers in early spring.
    Varieties of Heuchera or coralbells are also slug and deer-resistant, as well as tolerant of black walnut toxins. Be sure to select plants like ‘Violet Frost,’ ‘Stainless Steel’ or ‘Silver Gumdrop’ that have a silver overlay on the leaves.
    Our Port garden is dry this year and we haven’t had to water extensively. But when the sprinklers go on, slugs will thrive as well as plants. Planning for them is an easy way to avoid problems whatever the weather.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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