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Archive for Tuesday, June 10, 1997

GARDENS TURN INTO SLUG-FEST

June 10, 1997

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From pesticides to stale beer gardeners use a variety of techniques to slug it out with slugs.

They're creepy. They're hermaphroditic. They usually come out at night to ravage plants.

And in the morning you can see the slimy trail of terror they've left behind.

Slugs are back, and area gardeners are using various methods to keep their young plants from getting savaged by snail-like creatures.

"We've had people come in with samples of damaged plants, probably within the last two weeks," said Ann Peuser, of Clinton Parkway Nursery and Garden Store, 4900 Clinton Pkwy.

Plants getting hit the hardest are hosta.

"They love hosta," Peuser said. "They can get on a lot of things, but that seems to be their favorite. Even before the leaf is unfurled, they'll chew a hole through it."

Slugs are members of the mollusk family and look like snails without a shell, said George Byers, a Kansas University professor emeritus of entomology and systems and ecology.

"Anytime during the summer, especially when it's wet, is a good time for slugs," Byers said. "You're probably seeing all these slimy trails going across sidewalks that reflects the morning sun."

Slugs are covered with mucus, which creates the shiny trail they leave behind.

"The damage they do is mostly to seedling plants," he said. "That's why gardeners and greenhouse operators have trouble with them."

Slugs generally don't climb very far off the ground, Byers said. In this latitude, most of them lay eggs in the fall in leaves, which have just hatched.

Also, he said, they are capable of being both one sex or the other.

"When slugs mate, both of them may end up laying eggs," Byers said.

He said their natural enemies were snakes, frogs, toads and birds.

For controlling them, Byers' books advise hand picking them. However, he said he has had success with putting out a cup of stale beer level with the ground. The slugs are somehow attracted to the beer and fall in and drown.

Dennis Bejot, director of K-State research and Extension-Douglas County, suggested controlling slugs by cleaning up the garden to get rid of any hiding places.

For vegetable gardens, he recommended putting lime on the ground around the plants, which keeps the soil dry.

For flowers, Bejot recommended putting 3.25 percent metaldehyde pellets on the soil around flowers.

Peuser said her best advice at the nursery was to use diatomaceous earth.

"It's microscopic seashells," she said. "It feels like powder to use, but to the slugs, it's like razor blades. If they travel over that, it cuts them up, dehydrates them and they die."

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