Are your plants being punished by slugs? Relief from the pesky nibblers can be hard to find.
This time of year can be especially difficult for pests- and a warmer than usual winter means an estimated 500 billion slugs are slithering out of the woodwork this spring. This represents an 80 billion increase on 2016- leaving gardeners & farmers facing a bill totalling hundreds of millions in commercial crop damage and prevention. Each slug can reproduce multiple times each year- producing up to 100 offspring each time- slugs can have up to 90,000 grandchildren! Multiply that by the 27,000 teeth each slug possesses- and in one lifetime you have a lot of knashers ready to go to work on your beloved garden.
Despite our best efforts each year a huge number of UK gardens will be at the mercy of the hungry mollusc, and they’ll munch their way through a wide variety of our flowers, vegetables and ornamental plants.
While many of us resort to pellets to try and dent our garden’s resident slug population, experts advise this might be counter-productive in the long term. They argue poisoned slugs mean the natural predators who, with encouragement, could clean your entire neighbourhood of slugs (hedgehogs, frogs and thrushes for example) are themselves poisoned, not mention the risk to pets who might accidentally ingest any poison. Therefore the pressure on gardeners to find ways to beat the bugs seems more intense than ever.
One trick taking off among gardeners is the use of copper as a slug repellent- unlike poisons this doesn’t affect plants or animals. While some dispute the basis of the belief that slugs are repelled by copper at all, there seems to be enough widespread anecdotal evidence for its effectiveness- here is the procedure for protecting new-grown broccoli plants in clay soil where some slug repellents such as nematodes are ineffective.
- Take a sheet of copper, about 0.5mm thick and roughly A4 size (about 20 x 30cm should do). These are cheaply available online.
- Cut the sheet into strips a few cm thick. Depending on the number and size of plants that need protecting you should be able to get between four and ten strips from the size of sheet above. This thickness of copper sheet can be cut with pliers or snips. If thicker you may need an angle grinder or similar.
- If there is any roughness in the edge file it down to reduce the risk of injury to yourself or pets. If needed a couple of layers of electrical tape can be folded over the edge to reduce the risk of cutting- but try not to cover up too much of the copper surface.
- Drill or punch two holes at either end of the strip. Loop some copper wire inside two of the holes.
- Use a short length of drain pipe or similar to bend the strip, creating an open ended ring, and wrap around the base of your plant.
- Thread the copper wire through the corresponding holes and tie it off. The base of your plants should now be inaccessible to slugs!
- If you’re starting your growing season and have smaller plants- rivet the ring shut through the puncture holes to create a more durable slug ring.
- Remember, the base of your plants may be safe but slugs are crafty- if your plants have low -hanging leaves that reach all the way to the ground, these are at risk too. Use copper wire to close off these routes onto your plants.
- Over time the copper will begin to tarnish- so remember to keep it as clean as possible.