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Gardening: Outsmarting slugs and earwigs

Mar./Apr. 2011 California Country magazine

Peace and marigolds in the garden.



Every spring I plant marigolds. They look cheerful and bright tucked among the vegetables. And I enjoy the pungent odor they release when I pinch off spent flowers.

At least, my goal is a garden full of brightly colored marigolds. Because every year, no more than a day or two after planting, the earwigs and slugs devour all of the leaves, leaving a skeleton of stems and perhaps a flower or two.

I've learned a lot about thwarting fast-moving earwigs and slimy but wily slugs.

First I tried rolled-up newspaper. The earwigs are supposed to crawl into the newspaper at night, and next morning you toss the paper filled with earwigs into the garbage. I placed rolled newspaper strategically around my marigolds­­–and every morning, no earwigs. Where were they? I discovered hundreds and hundreds of them under the lettuce. It made sense. Wouldn't you rather sleep inside tasty lettuce leaves than a newspaper if you were an earwig?

Next, I tried tuna cans with water and olive oil in them for earwigs, beer for slugs and snails. Surefire fix, the books said. They attracted raccoons and skunks instead.

Then I tried circling the plants with ash from the fireplace. It kept the slugs away as long as it stayed dry. Diatomaceous earth, which is used in swimming pool filters, also works and isn't a problem when it gets wet. It's sharp, and slugs won't crawl over it because it probably hurts.

Slugs and snails won't cross copper, either, because it shocks them. I put copper tape (sticky on one side) on the top and sides of the raised bed. It won't do anything about the slugs already inside the bed, but no more will be tempted to crawl in.

Finally, I resorted to snail and earwig bait. Thankfully, there are products that kill these pests but that are not harmful to pets, children or the garden. The one I used contained iron phosphate, which is an organic compound that breaks down into fertilizer for the garden. Check with your local nursery for products.

Finally, peace and marigolds in the garden.

Pat Rubin is a longtime gardener and garden writer. Send questions or comments to her at patrubinsgarden@gmail.com.


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