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Extension cord: Put salt shaker away when tackling slugs

SLUGS CAN be a serious pest in Wasco County.	Wikimedia Commons

SLUGS CAN be a serious pest in Wasco County. Wikimedia Commons

Many people from Western Oregon are surprised when they find out that slugs not only survive in our hot, dry, windy climate here in The Dalles, but can cause significant damage. I know that for a fact, because I have personally dealt with slugs on my hostas and have had Master Gardeners ask me if I have any secrets that will help them control slugs in their gardens.

Although slugs can be found in Wasco County and can be a serious pest, the size, diversity and quantity of slugs that we have to deal with is only a fraction of that found in Western Oregon. For that reason it is a good idea to seek advice about slugs from the OSU Extension Service in Western Oregon.

Robin Rosetta, an entomologist for the OSU Extension Service at the Willamette Valley Research and Extension Center suggests that you put away your salt shaker when attacking slugs. Table salt can build up in the soil over time and damage plants.

“I have always believed that the best way to control a pest is to make the environment where you’re trying to grow plants less advantageous to their happiness,” Rosetta said. “So try to figure out what makes them happy. You have to think like a slug.”

Invasive slugs such as the European red slug often make their homes in Oregon gardens. Some slug species are partial to warm temperatures – others prefer it cool. All slugs thrive in moisture and low light, often hiding in places underneath objects such as clods of dirt.

Slugs leave evidence of their presence in that infamous trail of slime. They scrape the center of leaves with their rasping rows of teeth, creating irregularly shaped holes. They are fond of plants in the brassica family, such as kale and cabbage, and also feast on strawberries and melons.

Rosetta suggested the following methods to make your garden less hospitable to slugs. It is generally more effective to combine an arsenal of strategies and try less-toxic approaches first, she advised.

Water plants in the morning instead of the evening. Rosetta cites a study by Bernhard Speiser and Marchel Hochstrasser with the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture that showed slugs consumed a far greater percentage of the leaf area when plots of lettuce were watered in the evening than when they were watered in the morning.

Design your garden to separate groups of plants that need more watering at a distance away from drought-tolerant plants. This will limit the moist areas that slugs call home.

Copper barriers can be used to deter snails and slugs when placed around garden boxes or plant containers. The barriers should be at least 3-4 inches wide.

As you plant young seedlings in August and September for your fall garden, use a hoe to break up the soil to expose any hidden slugs to the sun. Also keep your plants free of weeds which provide dewy shelters that prevent slugs from drying out.

Hand pick slugs about two hours after sunset. This however, is a viable option only if you have a small area and the time.

Make traps out of small containers halfway full of beer to drown slugs. Slugs are attracted to the fermenting yeasty-sugar mix in the beer. It is also possible to skip the beer and simply mix yeast and sugar together.

Iron phosphate bait is less toxic to mammals than metaldehyde baits but still take care to apply it when pets are not around.

Metaldehyde is a synthetic chemical bait that must be applied in the fall. Note that its pellets are toxic to earthworms, it may affect some insects and it can be harmful to children and fatal to dogs if ingested in large quantities. Make sure to read and follow the label for instructions on using both metaldehyde and iron phosphate baits.

Some pesticides are available for homeowners, including boric acid, chelated iron and botanically-based pesticides such as those containing cinnamon, garlic oil and clove oil. These products act both as repellants and are directly toxic to slugs and snails. They can be hard to find in stores but can be found online in many instances.

Lynn Long is the OSU Extension horticulturist for the Wasco County.

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