Facts About Slugs And How To Kill Garden Slugs

By: Heather Rhoades

Slugs are one of the most damaging pests in the garden. Given the proper environment, a family of slugs can devastate a vegetable crop in a matter of days. Understanding a few facts about slugs, like what do slugs eat, where do slugs live and what eats slugs can help you kill garden slugs in your garden.

Facts about Slugs

What do slugs eat – A better question than what do slugs eat would be what DON’T slugs eat. Slugs will eat any kind of vegetation but prefer tender leaves. This means that particularly tender-leaved plants or seedlings are very vulnerable to slug damage. Slugs will also eat vegetables and fruits, causing unsightly damage to crops.

Where do slugs live – Slugs thrive in a high moisture environment. When considering where do slugs live in my garden, you should look for anywhere that moisture may be retained. Common places to find slugs will be under pots and containers, under mulch, under boards, under rocks and deep in overgrown vegetation.

What eats slugs – Knowing what eats slugs is one of the most important facts about slugs you should know. Attracting slug predators to your garden can help you control the slug population. Toads, snakes, ducks, chickens and raccoons are some of the most common predators of slugs. Your best bet for healthy slug control, however, will be to attract toads and non-poisonous snakes to your garden. These slug predators will eat your slugs without potentially damaging your plants.

How to Kill Garden Slugs

Now that you know some facts about slugs, you can use them to eliminate the slugs from your garden.

Protect tender plants and seedlings – As tender plants and seedlings are a slug’s favorite food, they are also the most likely to be killed by slugs. Use diatomaceous earth, crushed eggshells or copper wire around plants to create a barrier that slugs cannot cross.

Put out bait – Put out bait such as a pan of beer or an upside down melon rind. The slugs will be attracted to the tender or liquid treat. With beer, they will drown in it. With the melon rind, you can collect the melon rind (and overstuffed slugs) the next morning and dispose of them.

Remove moist areas near the garden – If you have a problem with slugs, you should look at eliminating the areas near your garden where slugs may live. Mulch or containers may be where the slugs are hiding. Remove mulch from near the affected plants and put footers under containers to raise them up off the ground. Clean up boards and weedy areas and regularly turn rocks over to allow the undersides to dry out.

Attract animals that will eat the slugs – Non-poisonous snakes and toads are the best animals to attract to your garden for slug control. These animals exclusively eat small pests and will not damage your plants. Build small woodpiles and put out toad houses to create a home where these animals will feel welcome.

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Biology of slugs

Slugs are generally active at night when it is cool and damp, although they may be seen during the day in cool, shaded sites. Warm, dry conditions are less favorable to them.

  • Slugs typically spend the winter as eggs in protected sites, like under plant debris, mulch, boards or in the soil.
  • Eggs hatch the following spring and early summer.
  • If conditions are favorable, slugs can be active throughout the summer and fall.
  • Slugs have a layer of slime to protect their skin from drying up.

Slugs feed on a variety of ornamental plants that grow in part to full shade as well as fruits and vegetables. Some plants they are likely to damage include bellflower (Campanula), larkspur (Delphinium), plantain lily (Hosta), daylily (Hemerocallis), Dahlia, lungwort (Pulmonaria), strawberries, basil, beans, cabbage and lettuce.

Ground covers like spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) create an inviting slug habitat by shading soil and keeping it cool and moist.

Generally, slugs do not bother plants that grow in full sun.

A slug’s Achilles ankle is its soft body, easily irritated by sharp or dry materials. Use this to your advantage by sprinkling wood ashes, diatomaceous earth, gravel, or lava rock in a wide band around individual plants—or the entire garden—to discourage slugs, as they won’t want to crawl across the bumpy barrier. Wood ashes have the bonus benefit of adding potassium to your soil and raising the pH, so consider choosing that method as your first line of defense.

Next time you snack on a citrus fruit like grapefruit or orange, unpeel the rind carefully so you can keep one bowl-shaped half in tact. Poke a hole that’s large enough for a slug to fit through, and then sit the fruit upside down like a dome in your garden. The sweet scent will lure slugs in, distracting them from their usual meal: your plants. If a predator doesn’t get to them first, collect the fruit scraps the next morning and kill any live slugs by dumping them into a container of soapy water.

How You Can Control Slugs in Your Garden

Icky slugs don't have to ruin your flowers and vegetables. Use our tips to banish them and keep them from coming back.

Related To:

Garden Slug

Sprinkling table salt on slugs is an old-fashioned way to get rid of them, but it can harm or kill plants and other creatures.

Photo by: Gary Bernon/USDA APHIS/Bugwood.org

Gary Bernon/USDA APHIS/Bugwood.org

Sprinkling table salt on slugs is an old-fashioned way to get rid of them, but it can harm or kill plants and other creatures.

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When you see holes in your tomatoes and torn leaves on your petunias, it’s hard to believe slugs could ever be beneficial. But these garden pests build soil as they eat organic matter, and they’re an important food for hungry birds.

Still, nobody wants slimy trails and damaged plants. It's possible to get rid of the slugs in your garden and, if you're diligent, prevent them from coming back.

Natural Controls

Apply diatomaceous earth. This non-toxic material is a great weapon in the war against slugs. It looks like dust, but it’s actually the small, sharp remains of fossilized sea creatures. Sprinkle it around your plants (not on them). It lacerates slugs when they crawl over it so they dry out and die. You can substitute crushed lava rock, pecan shells or wood ashes for this material.

Holes in Tomatoes

Slugs will eat almost anything (some even eat other slugs). You'll often find damage on fruits and vegetables that hang low or rest on the ground, like tomatoes and strawberries.

Slugs will eat almost anything (some even eat other slugs). You'll often find damage on fruits and vegetables that hang low or rest on the ground, like tomatoes and strawberries.

Make a slug trap. Place boards, pieces of cardboard or overturned flowerpots on the bare ground around your plants. Each morning, flip over the boards or pots, scrape off any slugs you find and dispose of them.

Use barriers. A Slug Shield is a physical and electrochemical barrier made up of copper strands. Think of it as a flexible “bracelet” that wraps around the stems of your plants. Slugs that encounter it are repelled by a kind of electrical shock. The shields also come in large rolls to protect your entire garden or raised bed. Other kinds of barriers, such as copper strips and tapes, are available at home improvement stores and garden centers.

Slug Damage on Leaves

Silvery trails, holes and chewed leaves are signs of slug damage. These garden pests especially like tender vegetation.

Photo by: Patrick Marquez/USDA APHIS PPQ/Bugwood.Org

Patrick Marquez/USDA APHIS PPQ/Bugwood.Org

Silvery trails, holes and chewed leaves are signs of slug damage. These garden pests especially like tender vegetation.

Invite birds to your garden. Grow bird-friendly plants, and you’ll attract winged visitors that devour your slugs. Your county extension service agent can help you find the best shrubs, trees, annuals, and perennials to use. Ducks and chickens also snap up slugs, but be sure your plants are big enough to withstand being walked and snacked on before you let them in your garden, or just let them patrol the perimeter.

Keep your garden clean and neat. Remove piles of moist, decaying organic debris and loose boards, stepping stones, bricks or rocks where slugs can live and overwinter. Aim for an organic garden so you won't kill off their natural predators, like toads, fireflies and ground beetles with pesticides and insecticides.

Watch early in the day. Watering at night creates the dark, moist conditions that slugs prefer.

Commercial Controls

As a last resort, bait pesky slugs with commercial products like Monterey Sluggo Slug and Snail Killer. Read the label on your product carefully some can harm birds and other wildlife, and some are toxic to pets and children. Follow the directions carefully.

How to get rid of garden slugs

Kori Ellis

Slugs are soft, slimy creatures (snails without the shell) that can wreak havoc on your garden. If you have a problem with garden slugs, try to tackle the issue without the use of chemicals.

The problem with slugs

Slugs will eat just about anything in your garden. Though you might rarely see them (they are night feeders), these slimy little creatures can do some serious damage. When you see slugs, you can try to remove them by hand and kill them in a pail of soapy water. However, if you have a lot of slugs, hand-picking them will prove futile — you won’t be able to get them all. Follow these suggestions to help get rid of these garden pests without the use of toxic chemicals.

Clean out your garden

Slugs like to hide in damp places under grass clippings, rocks, weeds, wood and other items. Clean out your garden so that the only things that are left are the soil and your plants. If possible, tie up the plants to keep the leaves off the ground too.

Beer traps

Slugs like beer. Therefore, you can place small containers, such as pie tins, buried up to the rim throughout your garden. Fill the containers with stale beer and the slugs will fall in and drown. You can then go around to the containers and remove the slugs.

Copper barrier

Some gardeners say that slugs will not cross copper. Therefore, you can buy copper strips from your local garden shop and place them completely around the perimeter of your garden. Of course, you’ll have to get rid of the slugs that are already in your garden first, but this method should keep the new ones from coming in.


Caffeine acts as a natural pesticide. Spread coffee grounds around your plants to keep the slugs at bay. For live slugs, spray them with brewed coffee. Coffee is often as effective as more-toxic slug bait, and it’s much safer to use.

Iron phosphate pellets

At your local garden center, hardware shop or home improvement store, you can find iron phosphate pellets. Scatter these pellets throughout the garden and they will kill slugs within a week of ingestion. Though iron phosphate pellets are said to be safe for animals and humans, you should still take care to make sure your pets or children don’t ingest them. Iron phosphate slug and snail control products are sold under names like Sluggo and Escar-Go! These pellets have a component that attracts the slugs, as well as the iron phosphate to kill them.

Chemical bait (avoid if possible)

You can find a number of chemically based slug baits that are effective in killing slugs and snails. They are sold under a variety of different brand names and come in dust, granule, pellet and spray form. These baits use metaldehyde, which is a compound that can be toxic to birds, cats, small dogs and other animals. Try to avoid using toxic bait if at all possible. These baits are dangerous to your pets, and also shouldn’t be sprayed on or near edible plants.

Watch the video: 2 Min. Tip: How to Make a Cheap Waterproof Slug Trap DIY Slug Trap

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