BELLINGHAM — Are you sick of slugs eating your garden?
There are a few types of slugs commonly found in Washington that can find their way into your garden, patio, deck and even inside your home.
Slugs can be found year-round in Washington and are more commonly seen in the winter, as during warmer months they hide under plants, boards and other shelters, Jim Kropf, Washington State University’s Pierce County natural resources program director, wrote in an email.
The damage slugs can cause in your garden “can be devastating,” Kropf wrote, especially in spring seasons when plants can “be eaten down to the stems and leaf mid-vein after heavy feeding,” as slugs love to snack on your flowers, vegetables and other plants in your garden.
To help you take care of your garden and plants, here are a few things to know about Washington slugs.
Types of slugs
According to Kropf, some common slug species are the European slug, the gray garden slug and the great gray garden slug.
WSU’s Snohomish County Master Gardener extension program warns of five species of slugs in the state, including the banana slug, European black slug, great gray garden slug, milky slug and greenhouse slug.
Banana slugs are the second-largest slugs in the world, can grow up to eight inches long and are known for their yellow color. European black slugs are not always black and are typically six inches long. The great gray garden slug is a cannibalistic slug that eats banana slugs and can move four times faster than its prey.
Milky slugs are named after the milky slime they produce, but are also highly damaging to strawberry plants, grain fields and vegetable crops. Greenhouse slugs prefer living in greenhouses and commonly burrow under plants to eat their roots.
Two other types of slugs commonly found in Washington are the blue-gray taildropper and the spotted taildropper, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The blue-gray taildropper slug is a rare species but is known for its blue and gray coloring. The slugs can grow up to 1.25 inches long and their diets are made of 90 percent fungi, as well as plant materials and lichen. The slugs usually live in wet forested areas and have been reported in the Puget Sound-Willamette Trough, Cowlitz County and LewisCounty.
The spotted taildropper is a large slug that can grow up to three inches long and has a light brown color with black spots. The slugs are commonly found in wet forested areas and in coastal fog zones near the ocean. Both blue-gray taildropper slugs and spotted taildropper slugs are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both male and female organs and can sometimes self-fertilize to populate their habitat.
Slugs love to eat flowers and ornamentals such as dahlias, roses, chrysanthemums and many more, but their favorite plants to eat are vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage, according to WSU Skagit County Extension Program Master Gardener Harriet Custer. As slugs like to stay underground, they often eat the roots of plants and bulbs.
How to get rid of slugs
Kropf has a few tips for home gardeners to help stop slugs from causing damage:
- Clean up weeds and debris to eliminate possible shelters for the slugs.
- Cut down any tall grass and weeds and clean up rocks, boards, and other possible shelters.
- Keep slug predators in your yard, such as birds, ducks, garter snakes, beetles and frogs, and avoid using broad-spectrum insecticides that could kill them.
- Trap slugs with cans of stale beer partially sunk into the ground. This is sometimes called a slug hotel.
- Hand-pick and kill slugs when they are found.
- Put up physical barriers that keep slugs away from your plants.
- Use chemical bait.
As chemical baits will kill slugs, they are also harmful to other wildlife in your garden.
HGTV also recommends a few ways to get rid of slugs in your garden:
- Set up a shaded shelter for slugs to sleep under, and after it gets dark, go collect the slugs and place them in a container of soapy water or an ammonia solution. Slugs can also be attracted to slices of citrus.
- Fill a spray bottle with a vinegar solution of one cup of water and a half cup of vinegar to spray slugs and snails.
- Place copper strips or copper tape around your garden, and keep it from tarnishing. Copper shocks slugs that come into contact with it. This method is highly effective.
- Grow plants that deter slugs, such as rosemary, lavender, sage, wormwood, ferns, hydrangea and Japanese anemone.
- Use baits or liquid traps.
- Check and move around welcome mats, rocks, mulches, decks and other places where slugs may be staying.