Ants in Your Garden
by The Old Rose Gardener aka Elaine Petersen

In addition to a bumper crop of dandelions, my front lawn is home to three gigantic ant hills.  If  I even attempt to disturb their castles, an army of warrior ants launch a deadly attack, aiming for my ankles and any other exposed portion of my body they can reach and deal stinging bites.  After attempting to brush them away unsuccessfully, I retreat and leave them to their pursuits whatever that may be.

Gardeners usually consider ants to be pests.  Ants can loosen the soil around young plants, causing them to die.  Some species shelter and protect aphids, whose honeydew they feed on.   On the positive side, ants can improve air circulation in heavy soils, and their burrows improve water drainage.  I have read that a mash of hot chilies and water will keep the ants away.  Another homemade repellent is a mix of orange peels and water pureed in your blender and poured directly into an anthill early in the morning. Instant grits work too.  Grits expand in ants' bodies and finish them off.  Leave the grits in piles near the insects' pathways.  Boric acid mixed with sugar is an effective ant poison but only in gardens with no children and pets.  Spread it on a piece of wood or stone near the nest, then cover for protection from rain.  Foraging ants will love it.  
Well, there you have some green solutions to your ant problems.  Let me know if they work!
 


That Thug the Slug
by Tom Micheletti

Ah, that perennial question! What's eating holes in the leaves of my Hosta? By midsummer they're all chewed full of holes, and look terrible. But rest assured, it won't kill the Hosta, they're tough plants, it just makes them look ratty for that season.

Well, it's slugs chewing all those holes in the Hosta leaves. These dreadful creatures even have a loathsome name! If there are a lot of holes, then there are probably a lot of slugs! The common culprit in our area, is a grayish tan creature about one half inch long and about as big around as a pencil. It has two antennas on its head and is very slimy. It looks like a snail that lost its shell. In fact, it is related to the snail. Slugs are active at night and on cloudy days, chewing all those holes in the leaves of our favorite plants. Telltale signs are the slime trails: shiny squiggly lines they leave behind as they crawl across the ground.

Slugs reproduce by laying eggs, sometimes up to 50 in a clutch. Slugs are active when nighttime temperatures are above 50° F and there is ample moisture, either from rainfall or watering. It's a good case for watering early in the day! They also like a damp, dark daytime hiding places, beneath leaf litter, mulches, dense ground covers, etc. By cultivating soil around plants the eggs can be destroyed, reducing slug populations. Also a good cleanup in the fall will reduce the amount of eggs over-wintering in plant debris.

CONTROLS

Soapy Water: If you go out at night with a flashlight and a bucket of soapy water, you can hand pick slugs from your Hosta leaves and drown them in the bucket; they aren't good swimmers! Check the undersides of the leaves carefully. This can become a daunting task, as there can be many generations to contend with. It is also not for the squeamish handling those slimy little creatures. You could wear rubber gloves, or use tweezers. Some gardeners just suck the slugs off the leaves of their plants with a 'Dust Buster' hand-held vacuum cleaner, then dispose of their catch by emptying the bag into the soapy water.

Attractive Hiding Places: You can also lay boards, or tightly rolled-up damp newspaper on the ground, check them every morning and scrape the hiding slugs into your bucket of soapy water. Melon and grapefruit rinds, inverted plastic flowerpots, or anything that supplies that damp dark environment will attract slugs to hide during the daytime.

Beer: Another remedy is to get a can of beer (any brand will do, slugs aren't fussy) and pour some into all those little margarine tubs we have gathering around the house. Cut a few holes in the tops, so the slugs can get in, and use the tops to deflect any water from rain or sprinkling. If there’s any beer left in the can, drink it for courage before going into battle. Sink the tubs up to their rim in the garden. Slugs attracted by the yeast will fall in the tubs and drown; they aren't good swimmers, remember. The beer will have to be changed every few days to keep the solution fresh. Also pour the contents onto the ground, because the dead bodies of their own kind attract other slugs. If your slugs aren't old enough to drink yet, you can mix a concoction from two tablespoons of flower, one teaspoon of yeast, one teaspoon of sugar, to two cups of water. It should give similar results, with great taste and is less filling!

Copper: Slugs do not like copper. It gives then an electrical shock. Barriers made of pure copper, or copper flashing at least three inches wide, are effective. It can be expensive to surround large beds with copper, but a few prized specimen plants could be surrounded with copper barriers.

Diatomaceous Earth: Another effective control is “diatomaceous earth.” This is the finely ground shells of ancient sea creatures. It is available at garden centers and is a fine powder that can be sprinkled on the plants and ground. As slugs crawl over the powder, it scratches their soft bodies and the slugs die from dehydration. Care must be used when spreading the fine powder so as not to breathe the dust as this can irritate the mucous membranes in our bodies as well. Eye protection and a dust mask should be worn as a safety precaution. Diatomaceous earth will have to be reapplied after a rainfall or sprinkling.

Ammonia and Water: Another reported remedy in the arsenal is spraying the slugs with a dilute solution (1:4 or even weaker) of household ammonia and water. Experiment with dilution rates and test different plants on only one leaf before broad applications are made. Ammonia is a source of nitrogen that may burn the leaves of plants.

Iron Sulphate: Another remedy is an application of iron sulphate on the soil surface around each plant. It must be reapplied after rain or sprinkling. It is a form of fertilizer available in garden centers, and care must be used so over application is not made. Also application of fertilizers late in the season is not be recommended, as it could cause tender new growth that may be damaged by an early frost.

Natural Predators: Time to call in the reinforcements Toads, ground beetles, lightening bug larvae, garter snakes, moles, shrews, and wrens all prey on slugs. These are natural means of slug control, but will also be affected if you resort to chemicals. Chickens, ducks, and geese are also effective if you have a country location that permits keeping them. It has been reported that a slug eating beneficial nematode (a microscopic worm that doesn't harm plants) is being tested in Great Britain, and is showing some promise. These nematodes aren't available in the U.S. though.

Other Plants: There are some Hostas that are more slug resistant. That is slugs don't find them as palatable! They are the Hosta with thicker, heavier leaves, usually referred to as substance. By intermixing these in our Hosta beds we offer a less tantalizing meal for our enemy.

Chemicals: If all else fails it may be necessary to resort to chemicals. Various slug baits are available from garden centers. The active ingredient in these baits is methaldehyde. It paralyzes slugs after they ingest it. They are unable to crawl for shelter after the sun comes up, and they die from dehydration. If the weather is cool and rainy however, the slugs may not be affected as much and may survive an otherwise lethal dose. It is also toxic to earthworms and other creatures, as well as pets, which sometimes ingest poisons not meant for them. A more recent addition to the slug control arsenal is a product made from iron phosphate. It is a type of fertilizer toxic to slugs. Any chemical-laden slugs should be disposed of so as not to accidentally harm other animals like birds, or our group of reinforcements we called out to help earlier. Overuse of chemicals can be a serious problem, and various populations of slugs can become resistant to them over time. Always use chemicals carefully and follow all directions and safety precautions.

 

If all this sounds like a lot of work, IT IS! After all, this is a war were talking about here! These beasties are eating our favorite plants.

Slugs eat many types of garden plants, both ornamentals and vegetables, so these same controls can be applied to many of them, except the use of chemicals on food plants.
The best solution is a natural balance of predator and prey.

It is nice to know, however, that there are solutions to fall back on when the balance gets out offhand. If worse comes to worse, we can hope for a drought. You may have noticed slugs are not as big a problem in years with less rainfall, but then without having to fight our battle with the slug what would we do with all that extra gardening time? Well now! About all those weeds in my Hosta beds!


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