What eats hosta leaves?

Slugs are a common pest in your hosta garden. Slugs look like snails, but without the shells. They prey on hosta leaves, which means missing foliage and small holes in your hosta’s leaves. They are annoying pests for any hosta enthusiast and can ruin the look of your garden.

This spring, we’ve been noticing a lot of people having slug problems. Slugs prefer lots of moisture. With all the rain we’ve had this year, slugs are everywhere. They prefer cool, dark conditions, so they usually strike at night or when there is cloud cover in temperatures above 50°F. It is important to be proactive with slugs. It is better to start baiting for them early in the spring rather than wait until you notice the first damage on your hostas. Below are a couple tips on how to get rid of slugs eating hostas.

Tips on how to get rid of slugs eating hostas:

  1. Eggshells – crush them up and place them around your hostas. Slugs won’t crawl over eggshells because the sharp edges cut them. Some people save eggshells throughout the winter months in a Ziploc bag. Then, in the spring when they are dried out, they crush them up and place them around their hostas.
  1. Coffee Grounds – just like with the eggshells, lay coffee grounds around your hostas. The caffeine is deadly to the slugs. They will soak up the caffeine through their feet when crawling over the coffee grounds, killing them.
  1. Beer traps – take a small shallow container (cottage cheese container cut down to an inch works great) and bury it to ground level next to your hostas. Then, fill it with beer. Slugs are very attracted to beer and will fall into the trap and drown. You will want to empty and refill the traps each morning (depending, of course, on how many slugs have drowned in the trap).
  1. Epsom salts – place a ring of the salts around your hostas. The slugs won’t go near it!
  1. Put up lots of birdhouses – birds eat slugs, so having lots of birdhouses around your hostas will attract lots of birds to eat the slugs. Problem solved! I’ve also heard of people placing rings of birdseed around their hostas to attract the birds.
  1. Plant slug resistant hostas – Some hostas have thicker leaves that are much harder for slugs to eat. Planting these will reduce the amount of slug damage. Here’s the slug resistant hostas on our website: https://www.hostasdirect.com/buy-hostas?hosta_slug_resistant=502
  1. Slug-killing products from garden store – you can find several slug-killing products at your local garden store such as Sluggo. These have all been effective.

These are tips on how to get rid of slugs eating hostas that have been effective in the past. You will just need to find the method that is most effective for you on how to get rid of slugs eating hostas.

We’d love to hear about any other solutions that have worked for you! Comment below with any tips!

It’s only fair to share…emailFacebook


How to stop slugs eating young plants

Slugs are active all year, but they’re a particular problem in spring, when there’s plenty of young growth for them to eat.


Tell-tale signs of slug damage are irregularly-shaped holes in leaves, stems, flowers, tubers and bulbs, and silvery slime trails.

There are many options for controlling slugs, and if you combine a few methods, you should keep them under control if you start the process in spring.

Protect seedlings, new growth on most herbaceous plants, and all parts of susceptible plants, such as delphiniums and hostas.

Organic slug pellets, made of ferric phosphate, are just as effective as non-organic ones but are less harmful to wildlife, or you can try nematodes. You could also try going out at night with a torch and bucket to pick slugs off by hand.

Discover four more ways to stop slugs eating young plants, below.

Organic slug pellets, made of ferric phosphate, are just as effective as non-organic ones but are less harmful to wildlife.

Use copper barriers

Copper barriers are effective slug deterrents – if a slug tries to cross one it receives an ‘electric shock’, forcing it back. Put copper rings around vulnerable plants, or stick copper tape around the rim of pots.

Hosta shoots protected by a copper ring

Let them eat bran

Slugs love bran and will gorge on it. They then become bloated and dehydrated, and can’t retreat to their hiding places, making them easy pickings for birds. Make sure the bran doesn’t get wet, though.

Sprinkling bran around lettuce seedlings to fend off slugs

Mulch with grit

Slugs find horticultural grit uncomfortable to travel over. Mulch around the base of plants in the ground and in pots – it looks attractive and helps keep compost moist and weeds down.

Mulching around parsley with horticultural grit

Use beer traps

Make a slug trap using cheap beer – they’re attracted to the smell. Do this by sinking a half-filled container into the ground, with the rim just above soil level. Cover with a loose lid to stop other creatures falling in. Empty regularly.

Advertisement Making a beer trap Eryngium, agastache, scabious and Verbena bonariensis

Slug-resistant plants to grow

  • Hellebores
  • Astilbes
  • Hardy geraniums
  • Eryngiums
  • Agastaches
  • Penstemons
  • Sidalcea
  • Astrantia
  • Ferns
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Verbena bonariensis

During last season, my hosta leaves were really chewed up. Is this due to mites or slugs? Any recommendations on preventing it?

Mites are not what chewed your hosta leaves. It’s those slimy critters that are part of the mollusk family: slugs. They, as well as garden snails, use tooth-like jaws to saw through leaves and flowers. Like bats, these garden pests feed at night and on overcast or rainy days. They are most active during warm, rainy springs. While there are more than 25 slug species in the United States, hostas’ real enemies are the little black and brown slugs that eat both shoots and roots.

Slugs slide along on a slime trail that’s excreted by their single large foot. Their eyes are located at the end of the large tentacles on their head, while the smaller tentacles enable them to smell. Slugs are hermaphroditic, containing both female and male organs. Nonetheless, they need to pair in order to breed, usually in the spring or fall when weather is mild and moist. In fact, slugs are more prolific than rabbits, laying clusters of 40 to 100 gelatinous eggs in the soil, under rocks, and in outdoor pots. After hatching, slugs can mature in a few months; as adults, they can mate up to six times a year.

  • While ridding your garden of slugs is not easy, there are many simple things you can do in the garden to decrease their damage:
  • Eliminate their habitat. Garden debris provides a hiding place. Using less mulch will reduce your slug population.
  • Hand pick slugs during the evening and early morning hours. Crush them or dispose of them in a bucket of soapy water.
  • Add plants such as ginger, garlic, mint, chives, red lettuce, red cabbage, sage, sunflower, fennel, foxglove, astilbe, ferns, mint, chicory, and endive that have foliage and toxins less desirable to slugs. Also consider planting some of the blue type or waffled-leaved hostas that slugs seem to scorn.
  • Create a barrier of abrasive material such as crushed eggshells, sand, wood shavings, diatomaceous earth, hair or ash around your hostas. Keep these materials dry and replenish them after it rains. Take care using diatomaceous earth as it may damage your lungs if breathed; use a face mask when applying it.
  • Drowning slugs in beer is not as effective as you may think. Dissolving yeast in water can be just as effective and much less expensive. If you choose this option, bury several containers at ground level, empty them and refill them daily. However, you may have too many slugs for this method to be effective.
  • Much of the slug’s body is water so they are susceptible to drying out. Cultivate your soil in early spring to expose their eggs to drying air & predators. Try to keep your garden as dry as possible without damaging your plants.
  • Iron phosphate baits decrease slug populations without harming birds, small pets or humans. These baits are sold under the name Sluggo, Es-car-go, and Safer’s Slug & Snail Bait.
  • Set up a barrier with copper strips or tape. Slugs will not cross the copper. When they slide over it, there is a toxic reaction, similar to an electric shock.
  • Attract predators that eat slugs such as ground beetles, frogs, birds, and ducks.
  • Lastly, try coffee grounds. Researchers have found that slugs have a real distaste for caffeine. The grounds themselves repel slugs, but a 1 to 2 percent caffeine solution kills nearly all slugs within two days.

So, you have bugs eating your hostas plants. And you need to stop them to protect your hostas.

In this complete tutorial, you’ll learn:

  • How to identify what’s eating your hostas leaves
  • How to prevent bugs from attacking your plant
  • Natural ways to get rid of bugs on your hostas
  • How to repel pests to protect your hostas
  • And more

By the end of this guide, you’ll have everything you need to know to effectively get started and safeguard your hostas from bugs so it can flourish.

Feel free to bookmark this page for quick reference!

And if you have any questions, ask me by leaving a comment.

Sound good? Let’s dive in.


What keeps eating my hostas?

Hostas plants are a common target for slugs and snails.

Hostas, or plantain lilies, have a lot of natural bugs that like to chew on the leaves and take a big bite out of ’em.

There are usually two main culprits that eat hostas plants. It’s usually bugs or animals.

This should be relatively easy for you to determine by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you see deer, rabbits, chipmunks, or other critters in your yard?
  • Or do your hostas seem to “magically” get holes out of nowhere?

What animal will eat hostas?

There are a few animals that eat hostas, such as voles, squirrels, deer, rabbits, and small rodents. If you have any of these animals native to your area, they may be the culprit for why you have damaged plants.

These succulents provide plenty of nutrient-dense leaves which animals have no problem consuming, so you can expect holes or damaged leaves. Some larger animals like deer will eat the leaves by the mouthful, whereas rabbits will tend to nibble on the plant here and there.

Either way, these animals can cause some major damage to them. This is why you should fence off the plant from them. You can relocate the plant or use mesh to cover the entirety of the leaves. Or if you have native animals, you can use some kind of barrier or fencing to protect the plant.

But then again, animals may be hard to control. Especially if you’re on a farm.

You should check to make sure that it’s actually an animal or bug that’s eating your plant first before you do anything. This way, you’re repelling the right pest and save yourself the time and energy.

What bugs eat hostas?

Plantain lilies can be protected by using some DIY remedies.

As for bugs, there are quite a few that feed on hostas leaves.

The most popular ones are cutworks, beetles, aphids, grasshoppers, slugs, snails, pill bugs and spider mites.

The methods outlined in this DIY pest control guide will help get you started on repelling those bugs and protein your hostas plant.

If you have any of those bugs listed, read the linked pest control guide for each one to learn how to get rid of it.

If you see animals and rodents in your yard, chances are that they’re feeding on your plant. Whether or not you’re there. If the problem comes from an animal, you can use natural repellent, set up fencing, or use a protective plant mesh to cover your hostas.

If you don’t see animals, then you probably have bugs that are eating your leaves. This guide will cover how to kill and prevent bugs. Let’s get started.

Homemade remedies to protect hosta plants from bugs

You can kill and repel pests from your hosta plant using some basic techniques.

Here are some home remedies you can do to stop pests from eating your hostas. Test a few of them out and see what works best for your situation. These should stop bugs from eating your hostas.

Use strong pepper

Pepper will drive off bugs that come near your hostas plant without damaging the plant itself.

The reason why pepper is so effective is that it emits a very powerful scent that many pests can’t stand.

Thus, it’s an effective natural repellent against many types of bugs. Without harming your hostas.

  • You never should apply pepper directly to the plant, as this can be too strong.
  • Make a pepper spray by diluting it with water.
  • Get a small spray bottle and add 3 cups of water and a half cup of pepper.
  • Swirl the mixture until the pepper is evenly distributed in the bottle.
  • Then add 1 tablespoon of dish soap to help make the pepper “stick” to the hostas. If you don’t add dish soap, the pepper spray will simply fall off the plant or evaporate.
  • Dish soap is safe for hostas when used correctly and also repels pests.
  • Spray the repellent on the hostas leaves evenly. This will stick the pepper on there and repel any bugs that try to eat and make holes in your hostas leaves.

You’ll find that the pepper is effective for many pests and this may be all you need to stop them.

You can change the concentration of pepper and also use different types, such as chili, cayenne, etc. Reduce the pepper amount if you notice plant damage. Or add more if you notice the pepper doesn’t seem to be working.

Depending on how much soap you use, you may be able to keep the pepper on the hostas even after light rains or winds. Reapply as necessary.

Check your plant every week to see if the pepper is still stuck on there.

Mint oil

Mint is another DIY remedy that you can do for cheap.

You can buy mint in essential oil form at most grocery stores. Add a few drops (2-3 drops) to 1 cup of water and 8 drops of dish soap.

Mix it all together in a spray bottle and then spray your hostas with it. The solution will stick to the leaves just like the pepper and keep the bugs away.

You have to apply again after rains or wind, but it should be relatively effective during the process. You can also use more mint or less water to make the solution stronger.

Fresh mint

You can buy mint at the store and just chop up some fresh cut mint.

Sprinkle it around your hostas in the soil or container if you have it potted. The smell of mint repels bugs naturally. Replace the mint when you see it start to rot. Mint’s strong odor acts as a natural repellent.

Keep adding mint until all the bugs are gone, or until you find some other permanent way to keep the bugs away and protect your plant.

You may have to do this for an extended period if necessary if bugs are always a problem for your hostas.

Citrus oil

You can also use citrus essential oil as a spray to protect your plant.

Just like pepper and mint, you can use citrus in the form of lime or lemon. Add 4 drops to 1 cup of water.

Then add 8 drops of dish soap. Mix it together and spray it on your hostas.

Similar to the other techniques on this page, you’ll want to apply again when it rains or when you notice the effectiveness of the repellent wearing off.

Citronella oil

Citronella is a very effective pest repellent and can protect your hostas from pests.

You can use many different forms of it such as citronella sprays, candles, or even oils. Any of them will be effective.

You can use citronella spray as directed on the label if you buy it, or you can make your own citronella repellent at home. Just add 20 drops of citronella oil, 10 drops of dish soap, and 2 cups of water into a spray bottle.

Citronella candles

You can also light citronella around your hostas.

The candles repel all sorts of pests, from mosquitoes to earwigs. Of course, this can’t be a permanent solution because the candles will get expensive and you can’t always have candles outdoors.

This can be a temporary solution as you get your pest problem sorted.

Lemon juice

You can also spray lemon or lime just directly onto the plant as a spray. Just mix equal parts lemon juice and water.

And then spray it on your plant to keep the bugs away from it. Pests hate lemon and lime juice, or any citrus, so that should offer some safety for your hostas plant. This is a cheap and effective way to get rid of bugs on hostas.

Use fresh lemons

You can cut up lemons and place the slices around your hostas plant. The scent of the citrus fruit may help deter the bugs and protect the leaves.


Onion is another powerful veggie that pests hate. You can cut up and dice an onion and then sprinkle the pieces all over the soil around your hostas.

The scent of the powerful onion will keep bugs away and maybe even get rid of some that are already eating your plant. This method is cheap and effective.

Tea tree oil

You can use tea tree oil as another essential oil to keep bugs from eating your hostas. First, you’ll have to buy some oil at a specialty shop. Check apothecaries or department stores.

After that, add just 8 drops to 2 cups of water. Stir gently. Tea tree oil happens to be very odorous and powerful, so you’ll want to test the spray on a small part of the hostas first. Make sure the plant doesn’t burn. If it’s OK, then spray the whole thing.

Allow the plant 48 hours to react to the oil first. Tea tree oil will help prevent bugs from eating your hosta leaves and making holes all over your plant. You may have difficulty finding pure tea tree oil, but you should get it as pure as you possibly can.

Also, be aware that some pets and humans are sensitive to the methods on this list, so always do your research first before attempting anything.

This is one of the best ways to get rid of bugs on hostas.

Dish soap

You can make a dish soap at home quite easily by using 2 tablespoons of dish detergent to 1 gallon of water. Stir the mixture gently and you’ll have a gallon of liquid bug killer you can use on your hostas plants.

Pour some of the dish soap mixture into a spray bottle and spray it directly on your plant leaves. This mixture will kill bugs like thrips, green aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites that are currently on the plant. Dish soap even repels skunks!

Be sure to get the underside of the leaves also because many pests hide under there or lay eggs. Reapply every other day until the pests are gone.

Just like any other DIY mixture, test some out on a small part of the plant first before using on the entire hostas.

Vegetable oil

Adding vegetable oil to your dish soap mixture can help by making it more “sticky” and lasting longer. Consider adding 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (any type) to your DIY dish soap recipe.

This is called horticultural oil and will stick to the leaves so you don’t have to apply the pesticide/repellent so often.


Herbal teas can be an effective repellent for slugs and snails, especially wormwood tea. You can buy this tea online or at specialty shops. Add 2 tablespoons of wormwood leaves to 2 cups of water.

Then spray your hosta leaves with the tea.

This will kill many pests- such as slugs and snails. Another excellent way to get rid of bugs on hostas naturally without any chemicals. The tea is safe for plants, but you’ll still need to test it first.


You can kill worms by using cornmeal and sprinkling some on your hosta leaves. Many worms, such as cutworms, eat the cornmeal and will die because they’re not able to tolerate the food.

Cover your plant

Lastly, if you have animals eating your hostas plants such as rabbits, deer, or chipmunks, you can use a protective mesh cover to save your plants.

Or you can get a barrier to prevent these animals from coming close to your hostas plants in the first place. Consider using some sturdy mesh or fencing for animals.

What kills slugs on hostas?

Slugs and snails eat hostas plants like crazy.

Slugs are a major source of holes in your hostas leaves.

They munch through the plant like no tomorrow and leave jagged and irregular holes in your leaves. Snails are also just as bad.

To get rid of them, avoid using a synthetic pesticide and consider using these natural and organic control methods first.

Use your coffee grounds if you drink coffee. And if you don’t, buy some.

Coffee grounds are a natural and safe way to get rid of slugs on your hostas. The caffeine coffee grounds is the magic key that’ll kill slugs when they feed on your leaves. The slugs don’t even need to eat it, they just crawl over it and it’ll kill them.

Other than coffee grounds, you can also make slug traps by using small planters and turning them upside down. Put some pieces of cardboard or paper towels under the planter and roll them or stack them on each other. Leave the pot there overnight. The next day, you’ll find that there are slugs under the pot. Go ahead and dispose of them.

Beer traps

You can also use beer in a pan to kill slugs. Get a small bowl or frisbee and fill it up to the top with beer. Any cheap alcohol can do the job. Leave it out overnight.

Slugs will be attracted to the beer and then drown in it.

Manual removal

Last is to manually remove slugs by hand. You can do this at night when they come out to feed. Wear gloves and pick them off and then dispose of them.

Also, check for snail eggs that might be in the soil around your hostas. Use a flashlight to spot them. Slugs typically hide on the bottom of leaves that are damaged or dark areas.

Use commercial slug killer

Out of options? Then use some commercial slug killer.

Since I don’t suggest using these due to harmful pesticides, all I can say is to read the directions on the package and use it as directed. Get a natural or organic one if possible.

How to prevent holes in hosta leaves

The main reason you have holes in your hostas leaves is simply from pests or animals that are eating your plant.

Use a combination of the DIY methods to protect your plant on this page and you should be able to reduce the number of bugs or animals munching on your leaves.

Assuming that you don’t have a plant nutrient deficiency, the only other reason for the jagged or weirdly shaped holes on your plant is often from bugs and animals.

Bugs will eat the leaves for their nutrients and this causes holes in your hosta leaves.

What do you do with holes in hostas?

Hostas eaten by bugs or animals will have visible damage.

Prune them. Rather than letting the holes stay there and rot, you should prune them off your hostas so the plant doesn’t waste energy trying to grow that leaf.

There’s no reason to keep the leaf there was the plant doesn’t grow leaves back after being eaten.

Will hostas grow back after being eaten?

The leaves won’t regrow, but the plant will continue to branch out with new leaves. The root system will continue to grow more stems and leaves to replace the eaten ones.

But you need to take care of the pest or animal problem first or else they’ll just get eaten again.

Do hostas multiply?

Hosta plants are grown from a single rhizome. The plant enlarges from the single rhizome and then eventually can be divided into smaller hosta plants.

Hostas multiply slowly and don’t make new roots until the first foliage hardens off. You can divide your hostas plant manually, but you should wait until the plant is ready to be split.

How do you keep hostas healthy?

Fertilize them using an all-purpose fertilizer each spring. You can also use granular fertilizers but never leave the granules directly onto the leaves.

Keep the leaves and crown rot free. Hostas are a sturdy plant that doesn’t need much maintenance as they’re disease-free for the most part.

Their succulent leaves attract slugs and snails, but you can use a variety of home remedies to keep bugs away such as tea tree oil, dish soap, and manual removal.

Further reading

Here are some additional resources you can reference that may be useful for you:

  • Hosta: How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Hostas
  • Hosta Plants – Tips On The Care Of Hostas
  • How to Care for Hostas

Did you get rid of the bugs on your hostas?

Protect your plants and be patient.

That’s all I have for you.

You now have a good foundation to get started and protect your plant.

You can now repel, kill, and deter common pests that eat hostas, and with this knowledge, you should be able to safeguard your plants.

This guide took some time to put together so if you find it helpful, leave a comment and let me know. Tell a friend who also has hostas or share it on your social media =]!

If you have any questions, you can comment below for a quick response!

Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.

I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).

Fight nature with nature.

My Hostas Have Bugs!

It is difficult to ID a bug without a picture. Spiders would not eat plant material. You may not notice slugs since they are not visible during the day. You could put out a slug trap to rule out slugs. FYI, a Fact Sheet on slugs is attached. Other insects that eat hostas are listed below. A pesticide can’t be recommended without knowing what kind of bug it is. Once the source of the damage is ID’ed, a course of action can be determined.

Identifying Hosta Pests

Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied, pear-shaped insects that tend to cluster together on the undersides of leaves or on tender new shoots. Whiteflies are about 1/16-inch long and wedge-shaped, winged insects. When disturbed, whiteflies rise up from the hosta in a small cloud, and then settle quickly back down. Both insects feed on sap and can cause stunted, deformed growth, and both insects deposit honeydew, which can attract ants. Grasshoppers are green or brown and from 2 to 4 inches long. They tend to chew the outer margins of hosta leaves, leaving ragged edges or stripping the leaves off the stems. The fat, gray or brownish cutworm is 1 to 2 inches long and feeds at night, severing stems at ground level or below. They may also attack roots, causing the hosta to collapse or wilt. Leaf beetles are about 1/3-inch long with elongated bodies and flexible wing covers. They feed on the leaves between the veins and margins.

There are probably a hundred different (home remedies) approaches to getting rid of some of the slugs in your hosta garden. All of them seem to work to a certain extent but none of them do the job totally. Here are a few of the more common approaches:

  • Trap Them – We have all heard about placing a tray of old beer at soil level. The slugs crawl in and drown. They are actually after the yeast so baker’s yeast may also work.
    Place some pieces of wooden board in the area with the slugs. During the heat of the day, turn the boards over and kill the slugs with a mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water. Some people use vinegar and other low toxic materials to kill them. Be careful in the over use of salt in the garden.
    Take a roll of newspapers and put a rubber band on it. Soak it in a pail of water for a few hours. Take off the rubber band and lay the newspaper in the slug area. They will crawl between the pages of the paper. Roll it up and dispose of the paper and slugs on page 4.

  • Direct Killing – Spray the slugs with the dilute bleach solution directly on the plant. The downside of this is that the critters feed at night. Use a flashlight to find them but be sure to tell your neighbors what your are doing. Explaining to a non-gardening policeman can be embarrassing.

  • Exclusion – There are several ways to prevent slugs from moving from plant to plant in your garden. Since they are soft bodied creatures, they do not like to crawl across any rough surfaces.
    You can spread things like wood ashes, crushed egg shells, diatomaceous earth, cinders and other coarse materials around the base of the plants. The down side is that, after a few rains, these materials may lose their effectiveness. They also do not stop the slugs that are already on a particular plant.
    Copper ribbon is now available in most gardening catalogs. Cut it into pieces and place it around the base of especially valuable specimen plants. When the slug attempts to cross the copper strip, it gets a galvanic response which give it a little tingle.

  • Poisons – There are a few pesticides that are specifically labeled for slug control. A common one comes in the form of a granular bait which, when eaten by the slug, causes it to lose its ability to produce slime. Another one is based on iron phosphate and, may have some fertility effect for the plants too.|
    In Great Britain, a parasitic nematode is available. Unfortunately, this material is not yet legal for use in the United States. Some people have purchased this material while on a visit to England and have used in their gardens. This could be great or it could be very dangerous.
    In the U.K. it appears that the nematodes only affect slugs. However, until studies are done in North America, we do not know what other species may be affected here. Most of the very serious horticultural insects (gypsy moth, Japanese beetles, European chafer, etc.) and diseases (Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, etc.) have been inadvertently imported from other parts of the world.

Slugs can be very destructive pests in your garden.

Slugs and snails can be quite damaging to both ornamental and edible plants. Here’s what you need to know to keep slugs and snails under control in your garden.

About Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails are one of the most difficult garden pests to control. Because they’re hermaphrodites (both male and female), they can all lay dozens of eggs up to six times a year.

Extensive slug damage to hosta plant.

Slugs are active from spring through fall, then hibernate over the winter. To identify a slug or snail problem in your garden, look for:

  • Adults: To find slugs or snails, look after dark, before dawn, or on cloudy days. Check underneath plants, on the bottoms of boards and rocks, and on low growing foliage, especially in shady areas.
  • Eggs: Look for colorless eggs, about the size of a BB, in clusters under dirt clods or on the underside of large leaves near the crown of plants. Egg laying occurs during warm months, especially in the fall.
  • Damage: Slug damage is apparent in irregular chewed out spots on leaves.
  • Plants: Slugs are especially fond of lush or succulent plants like basil, beans, cabbage, citrus trees, dahlias, hostas, lettuce, and strawberries.
  • Trails: Slugs and snails secrete a mucous that lubricates surfaces to help them crawl, then dries to a silvery trail. If you’re not sure what’s causing damage to your plants, this secretion is a telltale sign of slug or snail activity.

Organic slug and snail bait made with iron phosphate.

Controlling Slugs and Snails

Here are some tips for controlling slugs and snails:

  • Abrasive Barriers: Discourage snails and slugs by surrounding planting beds (or individual plants) with a scratchy, slug deterrent barrier. Popular barriers include gravel, crushed eggshells, coarse sand, cedar chips, wood ashes, lime (if your yard needs it), and diatomaceous earth. Eliminate any slugs that might be trapped inside the barrier and reapply after wet weather.
  • Clean Up: Because slugs and snails thrive in moist, decaying plant matter, keep your garden free of debris. Be particularly vigilant underneath decks, porches, and in shady areas. Add leaves and grass clipping to your compost pile, rather than using them as mulch around plants.
  • Snail on leaf.

  • Commercial Baits: A variety of slug and snail baits and poisons are available, but most of them – such as metaldehyde – are highly toxic to humans and pets. For a safer solution, look for baits made of iron phosphate. Scatter baits evenly in slug prone areas in the early evening after watering.
  • Copper: Thought to repel snails by giving them a mild electrical shock, copper foil or flashing can be wrapped around the bottoms of planters, edges of raised beds, and plant trunks; or as rings around low growing plants. When standing flashing vertically, bury it a few inches in the soil to prevent slugs from burrowing under. You can also paint a band of copper sulfate on the trunks of susceptible plants.
  • Eliminate Hiding Places: Slugs and snails are notorious for hanging around the undersides of boards, branches, rocks, decks and ground covers. Eliminate as many of these hiding places as you can, and use others as targets for your traps and baits.
  • Hand Removal: Handpicking and destroying slugs and snails is one of your best defenses. Wear gloves or use chopsticks to make the job easier, or flick the pests into a container of soapy water. Water your garden thoroughly before handpicking to draw the critters out, and destroy any eggs you find.
  • Slug on plant.

  • Homemade Traps: Attract slugs by putting boards, wet newspapers, cabbage leaves, or citrus or melon rinds upside down around the garden. Check back the next morning and destroy the slugs and snails that have gathered. Another popular homemade trap involves sinking a vertical sided bowl or jar in the ground and baiting it with beer. Homemade traps aren’t particularly effective at getting rid of slugs or snails over large areas, so you’ll probably need multiple traps and applications.
  • Keep Soil and Plants Dry: Slugs lay eggs in moist soil and around damp plants. Increasing air circulation and reducing watering can help discourage the pests.
  • Mulch Carefully: Keep mulch several inches away from the crown of plants. Don’t pile mulch directly against plant trunks, and limit it to a few inches thick.
  • Natural predators: In fenced areas, a few ducks, chickens, or geese will happily help keep your slug and snail problem under control! If that’s not practical, try introducing beneficial nematodes or decollate snails (Rumina decollata) to your garden as natural predators.
  • Snail on leaf.

  • Sharp Barriers: Line the edges of raised beds with hardware cloth cut to extend over the edges in a slug deterring, spiky border.
  • Snail-Proof Plants: If the problem is widespread, focus on filling your garden with plants that slugs tend to leave alone, such as begonias, California poppies, fuchsias, geraniums, impatiens, lantana, ornamental grasses, scented herbs (like rosemary and lavender), along with stiff or woody plants.
  • Solarize Soil: Covering the ground with clear plastic for a couple of months in summer will kill everything, including hibernating slugs and eggs, other pests, and weed seeds.
  • Till or Cultivate: Turning the soil in early spring will help kill hibernating slugs and their eggs. It can also bring the pests to the surface where birds, frogs, and snakes can snack on them.
  • Trim Low Growing Plants: Low branches, and plants that rest against fences or walls, should be trimmed so that they don’t touch the surface.
  • Water Carefully: Rather than overhead watering, which gets everything wet, consider drip irrigation or soaker hoses to target water just on plant roots.

Further Information

  • Grapefruit Slug Control (video)
  • Ugh, Slugs! & Snails Too (ghorganics.com)
  • Snails and Slugs (University of California Davis)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *