How to tackle unwanted garden pests using nature’s own defences

Spring is really trying to spring at the moment. I noticed this when visiting family a couple of counties along. They had daffodils on all of the roadside verges, whereas we had none.
The weather has become noticeably milder and gardens are going to be really coming alive very shortly, if they haven’t already.
And yes, I am aware that the weather in this country is unpredictable and that we could spend the next three weeks under snow, but I’m remaining hopeful… (despite seeing reports of snow forthcoming).
Now, this time of year can be a mixed bag in terms of weather. How often have you stood in the garden with the sun on your back, early March, only for a searingly cold wind to jolt you to your bones?
Then again, I remember the first lockdown in 2020 and just how warm it was. You can never really tell.
If you go by folklore, you might be thinking, if March comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb, and maybe that will be the best way for things to pan out.
Certainly, it will give you a little more time to get your garden ready for spring sowing.
Remember, bees will be hibernating in your garden soil while the outside temperature is still cold, so be careful if you decide to dig.
Another benefit of a colder beginning to the month is that it might just keep slugs at bay for a little while longer. Not that they ever really stop or go away, but the colder weather slows them down. Warmer, wetter weather is when they really thrive.

What to do about slugs?
The RHS offers the following sobering advice for gardeners wishing or hoping to rid their flower beds of slugs for good. “Slugs are so abundant in gardens that some damage has to be tolerated. They cannot be eradicated…”
That’s right, there’s no getting rid of them. They’re here to stay. And short of finding a Pied Piper who operates in the gastropod business, containment or management is the only way forward.
You can do this either naturally or chemically. Here, we’ll look at nature’s own defences, but first, let’s look a bit more closely at the slugs in our gardens (it’s okay, we won’t look too close).
Slugs are gastropods, which are single-shelled (not always evident), soft-bodied animals, which are part of the molluscs group. Some estimates suggest the average British garden contains up to 20,000 slugs and snails. Yes, that is a lot.
There are 44 species of slug in the UK. Here’s the thing, only some of them damage plants. Most feed on dead and decaying matter, which makes them really useful in the garden.
They are most active at night or when it’s been raining. A warm, wet night is party time for slugs, at least it is in our garden.
Slugs cause damage to plants by using their ‘rasping tongues’ to make holes. Especially at
this time of year, when seedlings and the soft shoots of certain plants are particularly vulnerable.
With greater awareness of the ecological impact of pesticide use, many gardeners are seeking biological and natural ways of controlling garden pests.
The RHS suggests using tiny eelworms to control slugs. The nematode can be watered into the soil where they (squeamish alert) find their way into the bodies of slugs and infect them with bacteria that will eventually cause death.
The eelworms work best in warm, well-drained soil and may be less effective on clay soils. You may need to wait until the soil temperature warms from its winter coldness.
These biological warrior worms will ever only infect slugs, which means other soil dwelling bugs and animals will be perfectly safe.
Of course, talk to any seasoned gardener and they will tell you a hundred different ways to prevent slugs reaching your lovely plants.
Beer traps, copper-bottomed pots, crushed egg shells, scooped out citrus fruits… perhaps they worked one time, but as Science Focus magazine revealed recently, there really is no evidence that they do.
If you fancy heading out on night patrol, you can don your wellies, grab a torch and literally pick those pesky slugs off one by slimy one. What you do with them is up to you, but if you were kind you could redirect them to a compost pile.
To take the stealth guerilla mode further, try and encourage natural predators to your garden. You can do so by feeding them or by providing a safe harbour, but also by not using anything that could kill them off or scare them away.
The following birds should be encouraged: thrushes, blackbirds, robins, starlings, gulls, jays, magpies, seagulls and owls.
Encourage natural predators such as ground beetles, toads, newts, hedgehogs, badgers and hedgehogs. Create habitats for these creatures so that they can snack and snooze.
At the same time, remove loose bricks, big stones and logs that offer shelter to slugs. If you rake fallen leaves during the winter, birds and other predators can find slugs and their eggs.
Certain plants help to deter slugs: Astrantia, wormwood, rue, fennel, anise, acanthus, antirrhinum, corydalis, digitalis (foxglove), forget me not, fuchsia, hardy geranium, Japanese anemone, nasturtium, oriental poppy, sedum and rosemary are all said to naturally deter slugs.
You can resort to chemical means, if you wish, no judgement here, but always be aware of what you are putting into the ground or spraying onto plants and what wider effects it might have.

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