Mollusca rustiduckii

WARNING: This post contains images from the start which readers of a horticultural disposition may find distressing.

 
 

 

Oh dear.

Dahlia ‘Karma Chocolate’

 

It’s possible that I’ve mentioned molluscs here before. Where have you been if you missed it?  But this summer has been particularly bad. The weather, a heady mix of sunshine interspersed with abundant rain, has promoted lush and luxuriant growth in the garden.. mostly weeds I grant you but some of the plants haven’t done so badly either. Some, not all. Not with the attendant record crop of slugs and snails.

In my time I’ve tried every remedy known to man. You name it, it’s been put through its paces. Beer traps, eggshells, coffee grounds, spiky berberis cuttings, gravel. Shocka mat. Nematodes. Picking the wretched molluscs off my plants and providing flying/wild water rafting lessons for free. Sharp sand. Copper rings. I read on twitter recently that while a single copper ring doesn’t always do the job a double ring most definitely does. May I draw your attention again to the dahlia above. A double row of copper rings. The first morning after installing them I went outside full of hope and expectation only to find the familiar slime trails marking the spot they’d used to climb over. And not just one of the rings but two. Undeterred, the following night I moved the rings further apart. It made not the slightest difference.

 
 

 

It’s an even worse picture in the vegetable garden.

 

I hate having to resort to slug pellets and have only ever used, sparingly, the ferric phosphate organic type deemed wildlife ‘safe’. The trouble is, up until this year, they’ve been the only thing that works. Well not any more. This year it got to the point where I was having to put them out every night. Each morning every last pellet had been gobbled up and presumably as the hors d’oeuvre because the plants were still disappearing just as fast. Enough.

 
 

 

Broccoli

 

Many people swear by wool pellets. Sad to say they’ve been hopeless here. Nor is the garden enhanced by the aroma of wet sheep which persists for days. With a quarter of a bag left over I tried what I hoped might be a winning combo. One of my last dahlias still in possession of its leaves, D. ‘Honka Black’, was carefully enclosed by a copper ring which I then filled with wool pellets. Surely that would defeat even the most determined of my slimy nemesis? For almost a week it did and I dared to think that maybe I’d finally cracked it. It’s kept them at bay the longest so far but honestly, that isn’t saying a lot. Yesterday I dug up ‘Honka Black’, for the second time, and put it back in its pot. I’m beginning to wonder if the valley chez duck is home to a mollusc hitherto unknown to science which is totally bombproof, has an underbelly made of rhino hide and is just biding its moment for world domination.

So what next? I’m really only left with two choices. Drown my sorrows in Pinot while I work on Plan B, C, Y.. or throw in the towel. I’m opting for the former.  Taking care not to rush over the first part. Here’s what this year has taught me.

 
 

 

I grew a lot of plants from seed. It could be that I grew too many plants from seed. And possibly there’s no ‘could be’ about it. But when both the RHS and the Hardy Plant Society have excellent seed distribution schemes, on top of the separate wish list that had been quietly building up for months, it’s conceivable that the gardener’s eyes grew bigger than her potting bench. It doesn’t help that orders must be placed in autumn when the gardener is consumed by wistful thoughts of summer past and the practical implications of sowing 60 plus packets of seed are still way off in the future.

Spreading oneself too thinly makes it inevitable that something will be neglected and seeds may stay too long in their trays awaiting pricking out. Once held back like this the resultant seedlings are never as robust as they could be. Weakened growth is far more susceptible to slug damage than a plant which has been consistently growing strongly.

Next year I will grow fewer seeds. Probably.

 
 

 

The kitchen garden in more hopeful days.

 

Everything has to be started off in pots here, direct sowing is impossible. If a new shoot from a seed isn’t snaffled by a slug within minutes of its appearance it is only because a mouse got there first. Monty Don has the same problem, as I learned this month. But in my eagerness to get things out of the greenhouse and into the ground I’ve perhaps planted them out earlier than I should have. If grown under cover young plants need several days of exposure to the elements to toughen up the leaves, irrespective of how warm the days are. They also need to be of a size capable of sustaining an attack. A plant can afford to lose a few lower leaves. If it can be gobbled up entirely in just a few mouthfuls it has no chance.

This also applies to ornamental plants bought online which quite often tend to be small, typically in 9cm pots. I’ve made a few of these purchases this year given that I haven’t been visiting nurseries or plant fairs. And at least two of them I’ve had to dig up again after just a few days in the ground, for their own protection. In future I’ll grow on all of these, potting them up as needs be, to the size more typically sold in a garden centre.

 
 

 

The pot ghetto gets a lift!

I really don’t know why I haven’t thought of this before. The shelves keep my smaller pots off the ground and away from the marauding hordes. Note the cunning chez duck upgrade of a copper tape covering for the vertical struts. In this application it does seem to work. A challenge too far maybe.. even for a slug?

 

But if I want the garden to be easier to manage I must also start to think more carefully about the species I grow. It will mean some hard choices. The molluscs and I seem to love so many of the same plants. Dahlias, irises, hostas, asters (if I can still call them that), I can’t lose them all. Fortunately I can keep roses, peonies and many of the prairie plants. Grasses remain relatively unscathed. As long as we don’t mention the rabbits and the deer..

 
 

 

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’

 

The vegetables and salad leaves will get another chance next year and we’ll see how that goes. I’ve got a couple of new things to try. As a starting point we’ve removed all the excess vegetation from behind their raised beds, previously overgrown with self-sown ferns, teasels and couch grass and a perfect hiding place for enemy forces. Unfortunately in doing so we’ve also revealed an ugly gap under the concrete path which Mike has started to block off with stone. A lower gravel path, in place of the original strip of grass, will complete the mollusc unfriendly zone.

 
 

 

And finally I’ve purchased an experimental bag of Strulch. It’s a mineralised straw primarily used, as the name suggests, as a mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture. But it also gets rave reviews as a slug deterrent. Shortly I’ll remove the sorry remains of the salads and vegetables in the raised beds and replant with some of the larger ornamental specimens from the pot ghetto to create a temporary winter holding bed, then cover the soil with a blanket of Strulch. What do you think. Have you ever tried it?

One thing’s for sure. If it works here it’ll work anywhere.