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Indiana gardeners fight slugs in the hosta garden

Slugs eat holes in  hostas, one of the land-bound mollusks' favorite food. Photo courtesy PPurdue University Plant & Pest Digital Library

Slugs count hostas as one of their favorite foods. Photo courtesy Purdue University Plant & Pest Digital Library

The cool, wet spring has contributed to early reports of insect damage on hostas in the Indiana garden.

Slugs and snails nibble holes in hosta leaves, turning the perennials prized for their foliage into an unsightly mess. Not only are hostas the favorite food of these earth-bound members of the mollusk family, the plants grow in an environment that’s perfect for the snail and slug lifestyle — cool, moist and rich in organic matter.

Here are some tips to control slugs and snails:

  • Keep mulch away from the base of plants. Mulch harbors slugs and snails.
  • Place a dampened newspaper on top of the mulch at night. In the morning, slugs and snails will be on the underside of the paper, which can be tossed into the trash or placed in the compost pile.
  • Place a grapefruit rind cut side down in the hosta bed at night. Slugs and snails gather in the rind, which can be tossed or composted the next day.
  • Place a board in the hosta bed in the evening. The next day, slugs and snails will be on the bottom side of the board. Scrape off the critters into a bucket of soapy water and toss.
  • Apply diatomaceous earth, a natural product made of fossilized one-celled algae called diatoms. Ring the bed or individual plants with the powder, which slices into the undersides of slugs, causing them to dehydrate and die. Reapplication after a rain is necessary. Read and follow the label directions.
  • At night, place empty tuna cans (or something similar) in the garden so that the top is at soil level. Fill the cans with beer. The slugs are attracted to beer and they drown.
  • Lastly, there’s hand picking. Yuck.
Small holes in hosta leaves are a sure-sign of slugs. (C) Photo by L. Jesse/Iowa State University

Small holes in hosta leaves are a sure-sign of slugs. (C) Photo by L. Jesse/Iowa State University

Many slug and snail killers are hazardous to pets, especially dogs. There are non-toxic slug baits. Sluggo is one brand.

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