What’s slimy, ravenous, and absolutely thrilled by April showers? Mmm hmm, you got it: slugs. Slugs and their garden mollusk cousins, snails, are Northwest gardeners’ constant companions at this time of year. They tend to cause a lot of trouble, and a lot of grief, and our gardening lives wouldn’t be the same without ’em! Here are our favorite methods of dealing with spring slugs, listed in the order in which we recommend trying them.

Reducing habitat.These moist critters like to hang out in the duff on top of soil, so keep mulch and other debris pulled well back from around your growing plants. Also, get rid of damaged plant parts, because slugs will use them as bridges to healthy foliage. Slugs can tunnel a few inches into the ground, which is where they lay their translucent pearly eggs; cultivating the soil to disturb their slime trails and get rid of egg clusters keeps them confused and on the run.

Hunting. You can do the searching and destroying yourself (we recommend using headlamps on nighttime raids, so you have both hands free), or you can bring in feathered friends to do it for you. Chickens don’t really prefer to eat slugs, and they will often tear up your garden worse than the slimers themselves; ducks, on the other hand, are great slug hunters. When you go out looking for little beasties, don’t be surprised if you don’t see them right away: sometimes the tiniest ones cause the most damage. So, be on the lookout for slime trails and for characteristically damaged plants, and start your close-up inspection there.

Trapping. The easiest way to trap slugs is to set old boards out in the garden, turning them over every morning to get rid of the slugs chillaxin’ underneath. Dang, that’s easy! But then there’s the beer trap, the most notorious type of slug-catcher; it takes some doing to get this one right. Get yourself a medium-depth salsa or cottage cheese container (or several), and put the lid on. Cut out 3 to 4 half-inch square windows, evenly spaced, right below the container rim. Take the lid off carefully, pour an inch or more of beer in the bottom of the container, take a swig for yourself, if you’re so inclined, and put the lid back on the container. (What you do with the rest of the beer is up to you.) Bury the container so that a quarter inch of container-side is showing below the entry windows, and your trap is set. Empty and refill about every three days, when the beer isn’t beery anymore, but don’t pour out the contents in the meantime. Ugh, but true: slugs don’t mind munching on fallen comrades, so that enhances the bait.

Barrier methods. Slugs don’t like to traverse dry soil…but there isn’t any of that this time of year, so never mind. (Do think back to this fact in the summer, when the areas right around your plants are oh-so-nicely-moist and slugs will want to party there even more.) Copper barriers keep slugs in as well as out. Eggshells, gravel, nut hulls, and other rough mulches can help, but can be a lot of work and expense for the limited deterrence they provide. And diatomaceous earth only really works when it’s dry, so forget it.

Poison. In accordance with Integrated Pest Management principles, using chemicals should always be your last resort. If you do find yourself lacking time and energy to control to your own level of toleranceusing cultural, physical, and biological strategies (that is, everything listed above)…it’s time for a less- or non-toxic OMRI-listed product like Sluggo, or iron phosphate under another label. As with any chemical, read and follow the package instructions carefully. And remember: you’re using this product to kill; make sure you are only targeting the slugs, not endangering wildlife, your pets, or children.

Learning more

As with many things, the more you know about a problem, the more strategic and effective you can be in addressing it. But you also might cultivate a little admiration along the way. Start reading up with The Secret World of Slugs and Snails: Life in the Very Slow Lane by David George Gordon. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the possibility of enjoying organic garden slugs as food. Make your slugs “escargot” away! Hee hee.