My home state of Washington is justly famous as the birthplace of Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft, Bing Crosby, and about a gazillion apples. But the state never has received proper recognition for our biggest accomplishment: the Mega Slug. These huge, shell-less mollusks grow much bigger than the mundane, fairy-garden-sized slugs found elsewhere. I didn’t see this myself, mind you, but I heard on good authority that a Tacoma gardener disappeared, and all that was ever found was her broken shovel and a three-foot-wide slime trail leading into heavy timber. I’m told the police flatly refused to follow it.
Personally, I think there may have been some exaggeration in the above story. All the slugs I’ve seen here at our nursery have been smaller than a dachshund. Anyway, you can imagine that we nurserymen receive numerous questions regarding slug defense. So I am ready with information.
To wit: A wealthy-looking lady came into the nursery the other day holding one of those tiny, elaborately groomed lapdogs in her arms. You know the kind—with a jeweled collar and pink ribbons in its bouffant, blow-dried hair. She said, “I moved here from California last year and I love hostas, but the slugs eat them the minute they come up. How can I stop them?”
When I get this familiar question, I always start with the most ruthless remedy and work my way to the more benign ones.
“There are slug killers containing metaldehyde,” I said. “They are effective and last awhile, but I don’t recommend them because they are very poisonous. If you use such products, they should be placed under a heavy plank to keep birds and pets away.”
“I don’t want to use anything that might harm little Fruffles,” she said, hugging her little frou-frou dog.
“Some people put salt on them,” I said, “or shoot them with a squirt gun full of ammonia, but that requires finding them individually.” The look on her face told me that she didn’t have the killer instinct needed for these methods, so I pressed on.
“Other gardeners put on gloves and go out in the early morning to collect them by hand and tie them in a plastic bag for the garbage,” I said.
“They don’t make gloves thick enough for me to pick up a disgusting slug!” she replied, cringing. (Many pampered city people are just not ready for life out here on the frontier.)
“We sell a product containing iron phosphate,” I continued, “and use it at the nursery. It’s effective and nontoxic to birds and animals, but it’s not long-lasting and tends to be expensive.”
“Is there a less expensive, nontoxic solution?” she asked. (Wealthy people didn’t get that way by throwing away money on trendy slug bait.)
“Well, some gardeners stick cottage cheese containers in the ground and fill them with beer,” I said. “The beer attracts the slugs and they drown—but they die happy.” I ended with my surefire joke: “But it gives the beer more body than I really like.”
I expected the usual laugh. What I heard instead was the sound of her car starting as she and Fruffles—quickly—drove away.
Some people get jokes and some people don’t. ❖
This article was published originally in 2016, in GreenPrints Issue #107.