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Spring time is a period when many people think about brightening up their outdoor spaces. In May it's time (depending on the weather) to plant out bedding and put out some hanging baskets. Cold snaps in spring have a habit of having their wicked way with anyone who is a little premature with their planting. But the early spring is a tempting time. Temperatures can often reach over 20 degrees celsius, especially in warmer areas of the UK. But how do you stop slimy beasts from snacking on your plants?
If the early spring is dry, this might mean that gardeners will need to start watering their plants. Dry soil, however, does have benefits when it comes to slimy garden pests that like to eat fresh green growth. They tend to hide away when the ground is dry, but as soon as you start watering, they will emerge.
Slugs and snails are flower garden pests, there's no doubt about it.
These hungry beasts tend to hunker down in damp places to await something that feels like rain. They will then come a-slithering along in their droves, having overwintered in the mild temperatures very nicely thank you. Flowers and foliage are their favourite snack...
Population explosion expected!
So how will you cope with a slug population explosion? You know it's inevitable every year. In any given year, we can expect at least 420 billion slugs to hatch out in Britain. Before you reach for those evil blue slug pellets... WAIT!
You might well kill off the unwanted garden pests, but you might also poison creatures that are loved. This is a controversial subject, with many people insisting that the levels of poison required to kill a slug will not harm the frog, bird, hedgehog or badger that eats the slug and that cats and dogs are unlikely to find the pellets palatable. But whatever chemical goes in or on the garden does have serious environmental implications. And the price that could be paid is potentially too high a risk. How will this hedgehog feel if he eats slug pellets?
Biological control is best
A far better way for all concerned, and to lighten the individual guilt burden, is to encourage biological control. There are nematodes that can dwell in the soil, entering the slug while it's below ground. And did you know that only five per cent of the slug population is above the ground at any one time? So that means 95 out of 100 slugs are living underground where they feast on seedlings, roots and tasty plant snacks. They lay their eggs under there too. One slug can lay up to 100 eggs several times each year. They deposit their eggs underground or in damp, warm and moist hidey-holes in the garden.
How to Encourage wildlife - and why you should bother
Frogs, toads, snakes, slow worms, hedgehogs, badgers, moles and birds all eat slugs and other garden pests. So, whilst a few molehills might be a little annoying, those furry creatures will earn their keep. Encourage these mammals, amphibians, birds and reptiles by creating wildlife-friendly habitats in the garden. Log piles, compost heaps, leaf litter, shrub cover and access holes in your fence will turn your outdoor space into an interesting wildlife haven. Hang your bird feeders near flowers that need protection and the feathery friends will snack on some slugs while they are waiting their turn on the feeders. You can also place some slug traps around the garden so the slimy beasts can enter a one-way slug pub from which there is no return.
Embrace the food chain!
Gardeners are renowned for caring for nature and it's important to acknowledge the cycle of life. We should all try to appreciate those creatures at the bottom of the food chain as well as the elite at the top.
Did you know these facts about slugs?
Slugs have green blood. Yes, it's true - their blood is a sludgy green colour!
Slugs and snails are useful for eating decomposing vegetation and animal matter.
Their eggs can lay dormant for many years, before hatching when conditions are favourable.
Slugs are capable of living for up to 7 years.
A slug is a gastropod and this can be translated as stomach foot.
Slugs and snails are hermaphrodite and they therefore do not need another slug for reproduction.
These creatures have a homing instinct but it doesn't have a very far-reaching range. You don't have to destroy them simply re-locate but make sure you deposit them over 20 metres away!
Both slugs and snails can carry parasites such as lungworm which can be fatal to pets.
Try to stop your dog or cat from licking a slug or licking the slimy trail left behind. There are animal preparations available from the vet that can prevent the parasites from surviving within the animal.
Perhaps most importantly, don't panic! We are all in this together. We can live side-by-side and it's important not to feel too stressed about slugs and other pests eating plants in the garden. A certain amount of nature is necessary in order to achieve a good balance between us and the natural world.