Gardeners around the state are locked in battle with slugs intent on devouring vegetables and flowers.
So far, the slugs are winning.
Nothing is better for slugs and snails than soggy, wet conditions, which has basically been the weather around much of the state this spring. It’s forcing gardeners all over Maine to spend a great deal of time in slug and snail prevention and mitigation efforts.
“I’ve heard there seem to be more slugs and snails this year than ever before,” said Jim Dill, pest management specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “It’s been a wet year with lots of soggy vegetation for them to hide in during the day.”
Slugs are nocturnal creatures, spending their days under damp leaves or vegetation and coming out at night to feed on whatever tasty thing is in their path. Most are omnivores, meaning their tastes run from decaying organic materials to prized flowers or vegetables growing in gardens. Among their favorites are marigolds, cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce leaves.
Their presence has left gardeners waging multi-pronged attacks to save their plants.
In central Maine, Julie Burrows has been picking them off of her plants by hand, filling a 24-ounce can at a time with the slimy creatures.
The only areas in Maine where gardeners are not engaged in a slug or snail war are those spots that have remained dry.
In Waldo County, homesteader Patty Pendergast is having a relatively slug-free summer thanks to those conditions.
“We’ve been droughty here in Waldo County, so I am not seeing slugs,” she said. “Raised beds and chickens also take care of them.”
In theory, planting in raised beds can help protect veggies and flowers from slugs, but some gardeners are reporting this summer the slugs are scaling those beds to feast on whatever is planted.
In an attempt to stem the slug tide, gardeners are turning to a variety of defenses, with varying degrees of success.
Some are filling shallow cans or bowls with beer, a known slug attractor. The slugs will crawl in and drown.
Others are sprinkling diatomaceous earth around their plants.
Slugs will avoid crawling over any surface that is dry, dusty or scratchy because they have to secrete too much mucus to do so. Possibly so much that it will kill them. So using diatomaceous earth, cinders, sawdust, gravel or sand can stop them in their tracks.
Home and garden stores do sell natural or chemical slug repellents and it’s important to read and follow the instructions on those labels.
Gardeners can also call in reinforcements to control slugs, according to Dill.
“Toads are slugs’ most important natural enemies,” he said. “And many people claim that having several ducks keeps a garden slug-free.”