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I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone help!

Posted by jannaramsey 7/OK (My Page) on
Tue, Jun 14, 05 at 22:49

Somebody please help me! I had the most gorgeous bed of petunias that suddenly started to die last week. I thought they couldn't handle the hot sun, despite the fact that so many of you told me they could.

I gave up tonight as they were basically all dead anyway and ripped them all out (feeling a little queasy as I threw them away). As I looked down at the dirt, I saw little green caterpillars. I went inside, grabbed a flaslight and one of my husbands shoes and started murdering wacking away at the ones trying to escape out of the dirt and onto the nearby flagstone. My neighbors surely think I'm nuts by now!

So...

What do I do to get rid of these multi-legged little petunia killers?

How can I be sure the soil is free of them to plant something new?

And how do I prevent them from coming back?

Someone w/ knowledge of these little monsters...help me out!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

The best and safest caterpillar killer on the market is anything that contains the active ingredient "Bt", (Bacillus Thuringiensis, variety Kurstaki). Bt is a bacteria that kills caterpillars. You spray it or sprinkle it on plants they are eating. They ingest it along with whatever they are eating and they become sick and they die within 3 to 5 days.

Bt is the active ingredient in numerous products, including Thuricide, Dipel, Safer Caterpillar Killer, Green Light BT Caterpillar Killer, etc. You can find these in stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes, etc. or at nurseries or feed stores.

Be sure the BT product you purchase is the kurstaki strain labeled for caterpillar use. There are other strains of Bt: israelensis is used to kill mosquito larvae, fly larvae and fungus gnats, for example, and the san diego strain is used to kill Colorado potato beetle and their relatives.

Keep in mind that, if you are a butterfly lover who plants certain plants to attract butterflies to your garden, you should limit the use of Bt kurstaki or you won't have any butterflies or moths.

Bt stays active on plants a relatively short time--maybe about a week--so you may have to make repeat applications.

Dawn


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

I am not sure what butterfly larvae would use petunias as a host plant, though. I'll have to research it and get back to you, unless Tomato Worm knows--she's a butterfly gardener, too.

I always research before I terminate (ruminate before terminate). It may be something that is an endangered species, or something lovely that you would like to see more of around your garden. Mostly I appeal to the swallowtail family and the fritillaries, and to the sphingoid moths (hummingbird). But none of these (I don't think, correct me if I'm wrong TW) cats would feed on petunias.

Susan


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

I would post on the Butterfly Garden Forum. Those guys really know their stuff and can tell you what your caterpillar is. Hope you get some relief!


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lol

B.T.W. - your post had me laughing! The title anyway - I feel your pain! I deal with all kinds of critters here, too! I try to garden organically, but my goodness it can be hard sometimes!


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Am I a new gardner or what??! Whoops...it may not be the caterpillars fault after all!

I came inside last night after feeling slightly defeated over losing an entire bed of petunias and signed on to ask for help, convinced those little caterpillars were the culprit. After I posted the orignial message though I went back out with my flashlight to see if I could capture one of those guys, so I could find out from someone exactly what it was. Guess what I saw in the stream of light as I passed over the flagstone though??

SLUGS!

Not your average little slug either. I'm talking big, Oklahoma fed slugs. I killed 8 of them! (I hope I don't offend anyone w/ all this talk of killing bugs.)So, now I feel terrible because I may have blamed the caterpillars too quickly for my petunia massacre.

Basically...I'm overrun with creatures! :)


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Hi Janna,

Being overrun with critters is not necessarily a bad thing, although I will say that slugs are some of my least favorite creatures! You can get a slug bait at the store that has iron in it. It works. One brand name is Slug Go, but there are many.

As someone who tries to garden as organically as possible, I can tell you that a healthy habitat (which is what your outdoor area is, you know) will have a wide variety of critters. This is actually a good thing. Many of these critters function and interact in ways that are good for the habitat. Think of the whole habitat/ecosystem in your yard as the "circle of life".

Problems develop, though, if the critters get out of balance, for example, and there are too many of them for the habitat to support. Then they can become destructive as they voraciously chow down on your plants in their struggle to survive.

Problems also develop when wide-spectrum insecticides are used. Why? Because those insecticides will kill off the good bugs which are the predator bugs that eat other bugs. For some reason it seems like the bad bugs bounce back faster than the predator bugs (probably a survivial mechanism), so you'll find yourself overrun with bad bugs and with no good bugs to help keep them in line.

An example of a predator bug eating "bad bugs"? Aphids and lady bugs. At a certain point in the spring, a gardener will find aphids (green, black, pink, red, whichever) ALL OVER their plants and will panic and think 'they're going to destroy everything'. But, if that gardener can calm down, remain patient and wait for the lady bugs to appear a week or two later, they will find that the lady bugs devour the aphids and the plants survive just fine. That is part of the balance of nature.

So, critters in and of themselves are not bad. It is only if they are present in such large numbers that they destroy your plants that they are considered a problem. I wouldn't want to live in an outdoor habitat where ALL the critters have been nuked into oblivion. As annoying as they can be, they each provide a vital link in the food chain for something else.

All that said, though, I work to eliminate some bad bugs just like everyone else does. For example, I use Bt to target corn earworms, and I release ladybugs and green lacewings as needed to help with other pest infestations. I generally don't use parisitic wasps to control caterpillars, because I enjoy the moths and butterflies and want them around.

You just have to decide for yourself which critters are worth fighting, and which ones you can tolerate. The truth is, you will always have insects, because you can't kill them all, and if you try to, Mother Nature will send more in to fill the vacuum.

Other pests I think are worth "fighting" are fire ants, mosquitoes, and wasps that build nests on porches or in garages. But, I try to target them in ways that don't hurt the good bugs.

In the 25 years or so that I have gardened as a adult, I have evolved from being a chemically-oriented "kill every bug I see" type gardener to being an organically "co-exist with them as much as possible" type gardener. And, truthfully, my organic garden looks much better and is much healthier than my old chemically-oriented garden. But, I have had to learn to accept a certain level of insects and other pests no matter what I do.

So, don't let the pests get you down. When they do damage, by all means try to stop the damage. Just don't drive yourself nuts trying to contain them all, or eliminate them all.

Happen Gardening,

Dawn


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Janna....ugh....ugh......ugh. I hate slugs, can't stand to even look at them. I'd rather eat a rolypoly than catch a glimpse of a slug. Slimy, squishy, bad bad creepy crawly nasty things. There, I've said enough.

Arm yourself with DE (not for swimming pools, get the stuff for slugs). Sprinkle around your slug-lovin' plants. It's diatomacious earth (DE). Dawn wrote a really great piece about on one of the threads. She's a good 'un when it comes to literary masterpieces of knowledge. You can do a search for it.

I am shiverin' and shakin' now thinking about.....DON'T SAY IT DON'T EVEN THINK IT, ARGHHHHHHHH, I CAN'T HELP BUT PICTURE THE GREASY-LOOKING THINGS....I'M HOLDING MY BREATH, AND SIGNING OFF.....

Susan


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

I seriously doubt DE kills slugs. They are molluscs. DE won't harm any non-arthropod creature I know. Susanlynne, have you ever looked into a potential market for slugs? Just think of the hassle-free, shell-less "escargot."
Seriously, the tobacco and tomato hornworms will eat Petunia if nothing else tastier is around. Petunia is a nightshade.
Dawn, I told you already, I HATE those "caterpillar killers!" Just look a the label of the Ferti-Lome dipel or Bt dust cans. It shows a big tomato worm on the can! If not for such propaganda, I don't think most people would fret over a few big hornworms in their gardens. Those are SPHINX moth larvae and we should care about our native sphingids. Believe me, the moths that come from tomato/tobacco "worms" are beneficial! The larvae are just pure fun to rear and they are not as fragile or "untouchable" as many butterfly larvae. It's fun to play with hornworms!


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Folks,
other than what Dawn has already said beautifully about finding and maintaining the balance of nature in your garden, and remembering that your garden is a piece of the living earth that includes life in the air and soil as well as you and your plants and animals, it helps to think about gardening practises that may be contributing to the problems.
The saying "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" is a great one for gardeners.
Learn to recognize the various egg cases of insects in your garden and know what it takes for each insect, friend or foe, to complete its life cycle. Try not to aid and abet the bad bugs and honor the helpful ones.
For instance, slugs and snails like to hang out in the drip trays and saucers of patio plants. So, if you are going to use them, be sure you check and dump out any slugs that might be making those areas a daytime siesta location.
Slug and snail hater that I am, I like to dump them in the middle of my drive so my bird buddies get a free feast! I don't even have to squash the slugs and snails because their nasty squirming and crawling attracts birds that fly down and gobble them up. I'm sure the slugs and snails scream, but I can't hear them!
Also, scrub and rise old and new pots out in the fall and spring before using them with a mild detergent and bleach solution and repot plants into clean pots. If you spy any slugs or snails in the soil around a plant's roots as you are repotting, gently wash the roots before you finish repotting. Washing and airing clean pots is a great fall and spring ritual.
If you hope to build or buy a greenhouse, this habit of cleanliness will come in very handy. I grew up with a huge commercial greenhouse and remember how hard my parents worked to keep it clean and tidy. Those of you who have them know that greenhouses are not just a haven for tropical plants and winter weary people. They are also great places for growing insects and molds of all kinds unless you vent properly and keep everything as well drained and clean as possible.
Please, just as with snakes, don't kill spiders just because they move fast or look scary. Read and socialize a little. Find out what your bugs do for a living. One good spider can help rid your garden of tons of flying, crawling, stinging, plant eating insects and is worth having around. If you don't like where a spider or other beneficial insect has set up housekeeping, put on your big kid panties, capture it, and move it. It sounds nuts, I know, but I actually relocate ladybugs to plants suffering from aphids. This is probably why I have a good number of ladybugs in my yard and have never had to import them. I do the same with spiders that spin a web across much used pathways.
In your beds, don't overdo the mulch. This isn't Canada or Mexico. Most plants that are winter hardy in your zone will be fine without an extra thick winter coat and many don't need summer mulch until late June or July. Think about it. How often could you actually be comfortable in Oklahoma wearing a down coat? Maybe a few days out of the year! If you plant close enough together, and mix evergreens and early growth plants with later growth plants, the plants themselves will shade out weeds and help keep the soil from drying out. If you really need to keep the roots of some plants warm, fine. But get the undecomposed mulch off of them when it is time and let the soil breathe a little.
If you are growing veggies, use a mulch light enough to let the soil breath and let birds and other beneficials get to the bad bugs. And use clean straw or alfalfa, not bales of cheap, moldy junk crammed full of all sorts of wheat and weed seeds.
If you are using old carpet or other materials that are slow to break down in your veggie garden paths, rotate your beds and paths each year so that your beds have a chance to breathe and recouperate and you are steadily improving the soil in the entire garden each year. You'll cut down on slugs, pill bugs, mold and diseases that come from heavily compacted, dark, poorly ventilated, frequently wet soil.
Try leaving the summer mulch on your beds until early spring and then remove it and leave it off until your plants really need it. Let the hungry birds and other beneficials have a chance at the bugs as they hatch out. Then only put your summer mulch down when the weather heats up.
Removing spent mulch will also remove the eggs bad bugs that overwinter there. Like fleas and their eggs, for instance, which love to sleep in a good deep mulch bed over the winter. Just think about how good it feels in the spring to strip out of your heavy coat, sweatshirt, and jeans and put on that comfy, breathable cotton T shirt, shorts and sandals, go into your garden, and feel the spring sun and air on your skin. Let your soil and plant roots have the same pleasure!
If you use shredded leaves and dry grass clippings as mulch in the fall, you'll usually find that by spring they have decomposed. That's as it should be and is perfect for the worms and birds and such.
Finally, those of us who work hard at being as organic as we can be in our gardens will invariably attract the attention of like minded, industrious critters. Like Maudie, or Myron, my pet mole.
I have flooded, dug out and murdered, baited and bombed for years and still have one or more moles. Yes, I've been conscientious about getting rid of grubs in my lawn using all the right stuff. But moles also eat earthworms and goodness knows I have lots and lots of those in my fertile beds! I'm not about to kill off all the earthworms along with the grubs just to get rid of the moles.
So, I've finally decided that moles go with the territory and that the plants aren't nearly as unhappy about living with my unseen enemy as I am. In fact, they may well be serving a valuable purpose by providing drainage in the deeper layers of clay.
If the plants are fine, leave the moles alone and let them help loosen the soil. If the mole tunnels attract mice, let the snakes and cats eat them, let your dog keep them at a distance, and save your time and money for battles you have a chance of winning.
Happy gardening!


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Okay - here you go on the subject of diatomaceous earth or DE.

"Diatomaceous earth, an organic and natural product, is mined in the American West It was formed from trillions of microscopic one-celled algae called diatoms, which weave tiny shells for themselves out of the silica they extract from water

As the diatoms die, these shells settle in deposits at the bottom of ancient lakes and lagoons when the lakes dry up and the seas recede, the deposits are fossilized and compressed into a soft, chalky rock called diatomaceous earth

After it is quarried, milled, finely ground and passed through a screen, it feels and looks like flour and can safely be fed to animals, or used as a dust or spray

Diatomaceous earth particles are characterized by their very irregular shapes, generally spiny structure and pitted surface area They average only 5 to 20 microns in diameter, yet have a surface area several times greater than any other mineral with the same particle size

Diatomaceous earth contains about 33% silica - the main ingredient in a diatoms skeleton - plus sodium, titanium, magnesium, boron, copper, strontium, manganese, vanadium, gallium and other trace elements, including aluminum, iron calcium and zirconium

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS - IMPORTANT

When spraying or dusting, use a mask and goggles to keep particles out of your nose and eyes the sharp edges that destroy the insects can irritate the eyes and respiratory system

LAWN AND GARDEN

Diatomaceous earth can be applied as a dust or mixed into a slurry for foliar spraying It can be used as a barrier to crawling pests or dusted/sprayed onto foliage for control of soft-bodied insects as well as ants, cockroaches, silverfish, etc

Dust in the late evening or at night, to reduce harm to beneficial insects

Because the substance is so dry, dusting works best after a light rain or after plants have been sprayed with a fine mist of water

Dusting should progress upward from the ground, covering all stems and leaves, especially the undersides of the leaves and stems Diatomaceous earth can also be applied wet Using a five-ga4pn sprayer, place a teaspoonful of Safer soap or another sticker-spreader in a quart of warm water Put 1/4 pound diatomaceous earth in the sprayer, and add the soap mixture Then top off with water Make sure to keep the solution agitated as you spray

To protect your fruit trees, sprinkle a liberal amount of diatomaceous earth on the ground around the trunks Also paint the tree trunks with a mixture of Safer soap (above), diatomaceous earth and water This protective buffer zone will impede the migration of various fruit tree flies (maggot stage) and worms, as well as Japanese beetle (grub stage)

When used as a barrier for earwigs, snails, slugs, etc, diatomaceous earth must be kept dry to be effective

As a lawn insecticide, diatomaceous earth is a potent deterrent to grubs; cinch bugs, cutworms and other soil insects Apply the dust four times a year at a rate of 25 pounds per 1500 square feet

Earthworm farmers find 100% diatomaceous earth effective in controlling parasites in worm beds because earthworms are structurally different from insects, they can digest particles of diatomaceous earth and then eliminate them in their castings

DUST FOR LICE AND FLEA CONTROL

Diatomaceous earth is used as a dust against fleas, lice and other external pests on pigs, dogs, cats and chickens Use full strength as a talcum powder to rub into dog and cat coats and in dusting boxes for chickens

PARASITE CONTROL IN ANIMALS

A purely natural product, diatomaceous earths action against insects is strictly mechanical The microscopically sharp edges of the ground product contact the offending organisms and pierce their protective coatings The parasites then dry out in a few hours and die, passing harmlessly through your animals digestive system and into the manure pile."

DE dehydrates and suffocates the slugs.


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Hardly scientific and maybe I've just been lucky but I've had a lot of luck for three years running now with sprinkling coffee grounds around my hosta for slugs. The first year I tried it, I found dead slugs. Now I just routinely sprinkle coffee grounds starting when the hosta are emerging from their winter's nap. Haven't seen any slugs this year or last year.


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

There's a chemical in coffee beans that is toxic to snails and slugs. I just can't remember its name. No, DE is not effective on intestinal roundworms. They are more like the earthworms. I still will question its efficacy on snails/slugs due to the biology of these animals. I know DE is HARMLESS to earthworms!

I can't use it, lest I destroy my pet caterpillars along with the bad insects.

I agree with Dawn and others who have talked about maintaining a complete ecosystem with their gardens. Plants ae not just for us, but to feed caterpillars as well and most are really quite harmless. Bagworms, forest tent caterpilars, webworms and gypsy moths are most of the exceptions.

OKC1, please reconsider allowing easy access to slugs or snails from birds. Birds will eat them, but unfortunately, these molluscs also harbor potential parasites for birds, too. In fact, most roundworms have a 3-host life cycle. The snail is the primary host for that first "larval" stage of their development.
Some birds such as waterfowl, are okay with snails as nature designed them to be the cleansers for the problem. Okay, robins can eat earthworms and seem to thrive on them, yet earthworms can and will carry parasites and disease to other birds such as starlings or gallinaceous poultry. Get the picture? Avian or general parasites will affect some species or types of birds but not others, but to be safe, such molluscs are simply not for common yard birds.


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

  • Posted by OKC1 OK (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 18, 05 at 11:53

Okay.
Lesson learned, oh wise Tomato Worm.
From now on I solemnly swear to save up snails and slugs, make a quick trip to the lake, and feed them to the ducks.
That's got to be better for the water fowl than the bread some folks feed them.
But, I also swear I will listen to hear if they scream as they are being swallowed.
LOL


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Iiiiimmmmmmm still not gonna pick up a slug no matter what anyone says. And TW, I don't think the butterfly/moth caterpillars are gonna be climbing under my hosta any time soon. They are not located anywhere nears my nectar or host plants. I just sprinkle it in a circle around the hosta, just inside the leaf canopy. Nothin but slugs and sowbugs in the area. And, I'm tellin' you, belief or not, that it DOES work.

Oh, BTW, I bought my RED PENTAS today - for the sphinx moth cats. TWO big ones this year, instead of the one I bought last year and almost ran out of by the time the cats were ready to go to ground.

I love my cats and butterflies, and wouldn't ever do anything to intentionally hurt them, TW. And if I find that I do, I will rectify the situation as soon as possible. I don't use BT anymore. But the fact is, right now, I don't have anything but the cabbage whites flying around. It's a tough year for the butterflies in town anyway. Those of you who live in more rural places probably see more. Also, I just haven't been in the garden as much this year because it seems like my poor body just can't take the heat right now.

Susan


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Susanlynne, I did not mean for you to literally pick them up. LOL! I was only joking about the "easy escargot." Okay, since you have obvious experience with DE and slugs, I'll take your word on it. If you send me a small sample, I'll try it here as I have a LOT of slugs. I don't have any hostas or any other non-host plants for caterpllars. The slugs are pests in my mater patch, but I know DE will kill hornworms--IF and WHEN I ever get any. This is why I'm so hesitant to use it. The sphinx cats are earth pupators.

OKC1, get some DE for the slugs, but please use it judiciously so as not to harm any butterfly or moth caterpillars.


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Ah, I ain't gettin' no stinkin DE, TW.
Don't care if I do have a few holes in a few leaves of a few plants or lose a few plants, for that matter. The horn worms and other cats can chew without upsetting me too much. I'm such a fat/phat planter I have plenty of plants to spare. In fact, I have had some really good seasons with lots of butterflies and moths and am watching to see how they do this year.
Just don't like them getting into my houseplants while they are on the porch during their summer vacations.
LOL


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Hi all,

I just came back to the computer after a few days of hard-core tomato-picking and processing, and no computing! (I am already sick of tomatoes.) This has been a fascinating thread to read.

Linda, I know well your thoughts on Bt and its destructive power, but I grow three corn crops...early, mid-season and late. Usually the early corn ripens early enough that I don't have to worry about corn earworms or corn borers. But, without Bt, I wouldn't get any mid-season or late corn worth eating. If some desirable caterpillars die in the process, that's unfortunate but that's jsut the way it goes. I try to keep the killing of all insects to a minimum, but there's times it's necessary. I refuse to feel guilty for dusting BT on a tiny portion of our 14 acres, since the rest of the acreage is not treated for anything.

OKC1, what incredible helpful advice you offered in your post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! I always love reading what you write.

Susan, What am AMAZING amount of DE information you packed into one post! I love DE because I know I'd have to use more "hard-core" bug solutions were it not for DE. And, I'm with you on it being a bad year for the moths and butterflies. I'm wondering if it is drought-related? We have fewer butterflies this year than ever, and it is very sporadic. We'll see a few for a couple of days, and then not see any at all for the longest time. And, it is TOO HOT outside for man or beast now, isn't it?

Hi again, Linda. I haven't seen any hornworms in the garden yet either, which seems sort of odd. I do have 3 plants out of about 100 that have some sort of damage that certainly looks like hornworm damage, but can't find one of those caterpillars anywhere. I know they can disappear into the green foliage of the plants, but usually I can spot them anyway. Not so this year.

Hope y'all are having a lovely weekend. It is too, too hot and dry here.

Dawn


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Oh, gosh, TW, I would never use it on a plant that was a host plant for my cats......that is, if I ever get any this year. I'm very downhearted because I haven't seen any yet, and the wasps are circling the fennel out front, which means if I do, I'll be fighting them off. I'll have to set up a place for the cats on the porch - those evil, butt burying creepoids! Ugh! Now, wasps, I truly dislike, God forgive me for disliking any of your creatures. I know they must have a purpose, but I just get past the fact that they eat my babies.

Susan


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

Slugs have almost dessimated my garden this year. After a recent rain, I found 46 of those bad boys seemingly sunning themselves on my fennel, rue, and parsley clump. I had been wondering why they appeared to cease growing.

I just called the pool store and learned DE is sold in 10 pound bags minimum for 7.95. I'm off to the pool store. Slugs, snails, fleas, ticks - the benefits seem to FAR out weigh any negatives. My host plants as well as the nectar plants don't stand a chance unless I can get these slimers under control.

Thank thank thank you for posting the benefits of this product.

Someone else wrote that slugs cannot cross concrete, maybe I have super slugs, but I wake in the morning with slime scale on my sidewalks, windows after crawling up my stucco home and have also wickedly salted several outside my back door (on the concrete) who appeared to be waiting there just to gross me out and let me know they own my yard. Yuk!


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

OH, PLEASE....DON'T DON'T DON'T USE THE POOL DE! You have to get the kind especially for ornamentals. The DE made for swimming pools is a TOTALLY different product and will kill your plants!

Susan


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Baby Duck Won't Eat

We found an abandoned malard duckling and took it home with us. Aparrently a hawk was trying to eat him! We don't know how long he was in the water for, but he fell asleep almost immediatly. He didn't wake up all that day. But now he won't wake up to eat or drink! Should we force feed him? If so, how often? Is there anything special we should feed him? Please Help!!!!!


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RE: I've been in the garden... murdering caterpillars! Someone he

You probably should ask this over on the farm forum or one of the wildlife forums here at gardenweb.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wildlife Forum


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