Lettuces are coming forth in the vegetable plot and Hosta’s in the flower garden – just two plants that really show the damage of slugs and snails, so often voted gardeners number one pest.  Once more, we start a year following a mild, wet winter, which means slug and snail populations will be heaving, as less time has been spent in hibernation – more time breeding and feeding.  This is a time when traditionally, gardeners reach for slug pellets of various propriety varieties, but it’s the use of these deathly toxins which is, in fact, exasperating the problems we face in our gardens. Yes, these pellets kill slugs and snails, but they also kill thrushes, frogs, toads, hedgehogs, and ground beetles – the natural scourge of the slug population. It is best to resort to other methods to control these pests, especially since not all are indeed pests, for instance, the leopard slug is known for a diet of other slugs and thus, a welcome visitor to our gardens, whilst the vast majority of these animals feed not on new growth, but decaying old vegetation – helping to keep our gardens neat, tidy and well fertilized.  Slugs and snails hate to cross copper, as it’s high conductivity disturbs them to the extent that they shall not pass. A ring of copper tape around any points where slugs enter a house, will give you slug free indoors, whilst ringing key plants and/or pots again, affords great protection without poisoning the predators. As well as hating to cross copper, slugs, and snails dislike rough surfaces, such as:  sharp sand and ground glass, both of which make effective barriers, though of course they will need replacing after heavy rainfall.   Another successful prevention is companion planting, as certain plants are seen as highly unattractive to slugs such as: fuchsias and aquilegias or, of course, sacrificial planting – where you add in cheap delicacy plants such as: nasturtiums – as sacrificial lambs to protect your prize plants.  By avoiding toxic chemicals, a healthy population of predators should thrive in your garden and help reach a symbiotic balance, so that you will be able to enjoy the abundance of local wildlife, alongside the taste of home produce and beauty of your prized flowers.

Paul Hetherington, Buglife Director and keen Peterborough gardener – t: 01733 201210 – www.buglife.org.uk