mulching confusion...help!

cajun01July 12, 2006

We have a thick layer of bark chips in our flower beds. The lady at the store recommended 4-6 inches to keep the weeds at bay. It has worked wonderfully. However, we now have a SLUG problem. They love hanging out in the moist woodchips and come out at night to chomp on my new perennials.

My hubby and i are very frustrated. Should we even be using bark chips? Should we even use some type of mulch ground cover between our plants?? My sister had a wonderful garden wtih no wood chips and her soil always looked great. Our soil is a little clayey and compacts easily and I just can't see it looking well.

I'm so confused about what to do! My hubby wants to get rid of the chips to eliminate the snails. But i don't want to be pulling weeds the rest of the summer either.

What to do? What do you do??

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bonniepunch(USDAz4 AgCanz5a)

Mulch is a great thing. It prevents a lot of water evaporation form the soil (lowers your water bill and conserves water), it keeps weeds to a minimum, and it is fantastic insulation in the winter. Also depending on what type of mulch you are using, it breaks down and provides organic matter to your soil - something you probably really need if you have clay soil.

But yeah, slugs can be a problem :-)

In my opinion, the benefits of mulch outweigh the drawbacks. You can have a great garden without mulch, but it's more work, and if your soil needs improvement, a mulchless garden is a *lot* more work.

Are you using those big chunks of bark chips, or is it the finely shredded stuff? The finely shredded stuff is what you really want - that breaks down better. To control the slugs, you can try sprinkling diatomaceous earth around - it's the crushed up shells of prehistoric mollusks (sold at garden supply stores and pool stores - it's used in the filters). Avoid slug baits that contain metaldehyde - that's fairly toxic, and if another critter or kid gets into it... Safer's has a safe to use slug bait that some have found effective in helping. Not every one finds it works though.

Hunt down and destroy any eggs - they look like little gelatine balls, and are often right by the base of plants. You should make an effort to put a dent in the adult population by removing as many of them as possible as soon as possible. I go out at night with a flashlight (or early morning will work), pick them off and drop them into a can of soapy water. I use chopsticks to pick them off, but a pair of latex glowes will work if you are grossed out by the slime. Ammonia solution in a spray bottle (1 part amonia to 9 parts water), sprayed directly on the slugs is also quite effective.

If you have kids, or if there are neighbourhood kids you like, you can offer a 'bounty' of five or ten cents a slug. You might want to establish a penalty fee if they damage the plants, just to keep them from getting overzealous!

BP

    Bookmark   July 12, 2006 at 11:40AM
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claubill(z3Sud ONT)

I know what you mean. No matter how much you weed, they just keep coming back. We have some areas that I am not going to plant anything in them for a couple of years so we decided to order 4 yards of cedar mulch. Every day, I would go into the journal bin at the university and collect big piles of newspapers and load as many as I could into my backpack on a daily basis. So with the newspapers and the cedar mulch, I now have some areas which use to be weed problem areas. I'm hoping that in a few years when I'm ready to plant new stuff that the roots of the weeds would have died. That's what I'm hoping. Anyways, about the slugs. I'm on a low-carb regime so I eat a lot of eggs so I just collect them and when I have a big coffee can full, I crush them and spread them around the plants that have mulch around them. So, it's worked.

P.S. The gelatine balls. I didn't know they were slug eggs. I've seen them but I thought they were just dew drops. I'm glad I read this post.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2006 at 12:19PM
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cajun01

We have the large bark chips. I told my hubby to get the shredded stuff but he thought the big bark chips looked nicer. Maybe we'll get them out of there and put in some nice mulch. What to do wtih a whole bunch of big wood chips??

I've been reading on a lot of other garden forums that people just put down newspaper and compost with nothign on top. Argh. We've put a lot of work into our yard and although I thought I was doing things properly in the beginning, I'm starting to see what's wrong.

I went out last night and salted all of the slugs I could see. Not great for the soil, but I figure if i just throw salt right on the slug it's not so bad...

    Bookmark   July 12, 2006 at 12:36PM
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bonniepunch(USDAz4 AgCanz5a)

Ouch! Those big bark chips are really bad for encouraging slugs. They're more cosmetic than functional (they're not useless, they're just not as good a mulch as most other things). I'd haul them up around the plants that the slugs like to feed on - replace them with compost on newspaper, shredded leaves, finely shredded bark, shredded coco hulls (some danger if you have a dog that likes to eat them), or whatever you'd like. You can keep the big bark bits for other things - I use them around my tomatoes. The slugs don't care for the 'maters, and I need them there to prevent the squirrels form digging.

Salt works to kill them, but be very careful not to overdo it, as you know. I'd fill up a spray bottle with a weak ammonia solution if you want a hands-off killing method. Ammonia breaks down into nitrogen that the plants can use, so if you drip a bit onto the soil it's ok (still be careful because too much ammonia can burn). The eggshells Claubill mentioned work well too (they shred the slugs, like the diamaceous earth), but you'd have to like eggs a lot to get enough :-)

BP

    Bookmark   July 12, 2006 at 1:03PM
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ianna(Z5b)

GArdening is always a maintenance issue. One solution begets another problem. So the question is which problem can you live it. The weeds or the slugs (and other pests)

It wouldn't matter what size of chips, slugs or other pests would always be present.

Agreeing with Bonnie here. Mulch is good to guard against evaporation and it's also good to guard against winter's harsh weather. As we are getting into really hot condition, I think a mulch layer is necessary - especially if these are annual plants. (Most perennials are deeprooted and can withstand drought)

As for weed prevention, well it's not an effective control system. Weed seeds will always find a way into that pile. You would be able to kill off the weeds beneath but not the new weeds that land on it. You certainly wouldn't want to end up with a mountain of a mulch pile in your garden bed.

My practise with mulch is simply to pile it to tender or borderline plants on for winter's protection. I remove with during spring because of precisely that reason (to guard against pests and not just slugs but also fungus and other desease). Instead I pile on new topsoil with loads of compost. It acts like a mulch and provides nutrients at teh same time. As for weeds, it happens but a very simple way to get rid of weeds is a a hoe. I layer on thick good top soil every spring. Once weeds begins to grow, I take my hoe and kill them off immediately. And as for later weeds that grow -- well it can't because in my yard, I liberally sow wildflowers in and amongst my perennials. It blocks out the space for weeds to grow. I hardly have any as a result and in addition, it's become a show stopper.

I'm concerned about you salting the slugs. that salt will wash into your soil and that's not good for your plants. There's a thing called diatomous earth (spelling?) which are microfossil shells that slugs (and ants) hate. It hurts to crawl on, and it sucks the slugs dry and kills them.

However, if you cannot live with the slugs and may wish to remove the mulch, do fill up the area with the new topsoil as I mentioned. And if you aren't planning to reseed anything anytime soon, you can douse the area with corn glutten which will inhibit new growth from seeds. The only downside to corn glutten is that you;d need to do it once more every few weeks. I prefer simply hoeing the area.

Ianna

    Bookmark   July 12, 2006 at 1:19PM
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