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GARDENING NEWS 11 March 2015

SPANISH SLUGS HEADING TO NORTH UK


The Spanish slug (Latin name "Arion vulgaris") was first reliably recorded in the UK in 2012 and is spreading fast. For 2015 it looks to be spreading northwards because of the relatively mild winters during the last two years.

The basic details are that an adult is from 10cm to 15cm long (4in to 6in) which makes it one of the largest slugs in the UK. Colour can vary but ranges from a brown-orange to almost pure orange.

 

DAMAGE DONE BY THE SPANISH SLUG


The Spanish slug will eat almost anything as far as vegetation and plants are concerned. Forget all previous assumptions you may have about what slugs will eat, the Spanish Slug will eat crops and plants which other slugs totally ignore. Parsley, fuchsias, geraniums, onions - the list can go on and on, the Spanish slug loves all plants.

Although not really relevant to gardeners and farmers, it will also eat dog poo, other dead or dying slugs and even small dead mammals. It seems that nothing is safe!

It has a few rather nasty abilities which make it well adapted to the UK, more so than any other species of slug:

  • They tolerate warm and dry conditions very well
     
  • They lay twice as many eggs as your average slug
     
  • They can eat several slug pellets with few ill effects
     
  • They produce large amounts of slime which stops many natural predators from eating them.

It would seem that its only weak point is that it cannot tolerate cold winters as well as other species of slugs. As far as manual intervention is concerned, the key date to be aware of is late April to early August. That's when the young eggs hatch and quickly develop into adults.

Starting in mid to late March use whatever method you personally prefer as far as slug pellets are concerned. If you don't use the chemical types, try some of the more eco-friendly ones containing ferric phosphate or the simpler wool pellets.

DO ORGANIC SLUG PELLETS WORK?


There have been many trials over the last decade which claim to evaluate the effectiveness of organic slug pellets. But just remember this, sales of slug pellets at garden centres bring in massive amounts of money for them so any trial, even those by so-called independent organisations, can be subject to financial pressures.

But there is an easy way for every amateur gardener to work out for themselves if organic slug pellets work or not. Simply gather a few slugs, place them in a container with a loose fitting lid, add a few leaves and see what happens. Spread the test over a day or so to ensure the slugs have the maximum chance to eat the organic pellets.

We did this test, but first let us say that every garden is different and the slugs are of different species. The results of our test may be different for the slugs in your garden. Our results were a conclusive thumbs down to organic slug pellets.

Not one single slug was killed and they all appeared to be in perfect condition and entirely unaffected by the pellets. Unscientific maybe, but no one was influencing the results of my test so I felt it was the most reliable I know of. Why not do the same experiment in your garden?

DO NORMAL SLUG PELLETS WORK?


For this section, I'll first describe the two tests carried out including the results. Then a paragraph on how to best use them.

TEST 1
Exactly the same as for the organic pellets, the same container, the same timescales and the same number of pellets. The result? All the slugs were either dead or clearly badly affected.

TEST 2
We have a path leading up to our front door which has shrubs and longish grass to one side of it. The slugs thrive in that long grass and I eventually became very irritated one evening after stepping on several slugs which had ventured out onto the path. Horrible goo stuck to the bottom of my shoes as a result of stepping on the slugs in the dark!

For those slightly unsteady on their feet this was a real hazard. That evening I scattered chemical slug pellets (see below for the concentration) into and around the grass bordering the path. In a fit of annoyance I also scattered them around the edges of the paths of our two neighbours. The results were staggering and, I admit, very embarrassing.

By the next morning there were many hundreds of dead slugs not only on and around our path but also the paths of our neighbours. They also covered much of the main public path which runs past our houses. The kiddies on their way to school the next morning were tip-toeing around dead slugs on the public path with little success because the numbers were so high.

Garden slugs

I am not trying to convince anyone to use or not use slug pellets, just reporting on the results of my own simple tests.

HOW TO USE SLUG PELLETS


To minimise adverse affects on wildlife and pets follow the instructions on the pack. That's rule number one and the key rule.

Rule number two is don't exceed the stated dosage. One key reason for this is that the active ingredient in many slug pellets actually repels slugs. Only about 5% of the pellets are made up of an active ingredient, the rest consists of baits for the slugs to attract them and mask the scent of the ingredient. Putting down too many pellets will result in killing fewer slugs.

Start early in the season, mid to late March is ideal because this will kill many slugs before they lay more eggs. This will have the benefit of requiring less slug pellets to achieve a good degree of control.

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