How to Make a Home for Slug-eating Helpers

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Container pond to attract slug-eating frogs

Slugs. They’re the bane of my gardening life! Whether they’re chomping my lettuces, ravaging my potatoes or making short work of some just-emerged seedlings, their tell-tale slime trails pop up anywhere and everywhere. Keeping up with the malevolent molluscs is a never-ending battle – and it’s an exhausting one!

Slugs feature as one of the most-reported pests in our Big Bug Hunt. It’s no surprise really. They are incredibly adaptable and carry a voracious appetite for a wide palette of plants. What, then, is a gardener to do?

Much has already been written about how to control slugs. Plenty of organic methods abound, including various barriers, beer-charged slug traps, nighttime torch-lit patrols and even growing sacrificial plants to take the hit in place of your precious crops.

But by far the most effective tactic in the war against slugs lies in enrolling their natural enemies: the birds, frogs, toads and other animals that will happily devour slugs as a tasty tidbit. Make a home for slug-eating wildlife and you’ll see populations of this arch nemesis plummet accordingly.

Toad

Make a Home for Frogs and Toads

Frogs and toads are notorious for their slug-sapping credentials. It’s easy to encourage more of them into your garden simply by providing them with somewhere to stay – build it and they shall come!

As winter approaches many of these amphibians will be looking for somewhere safe to hibernate. Natural nooks and crannies are preferred – some frogs will even overwinter in the mud at the bottom of a pond – but you can easily provide more accommodation by making your own frog or toad hidey-hole with little more than a paving slab and some sand.

Start by digging out a shallow bowl in an area of the garden that’s naturally damp; a shady, quiet corner is best. Now line the excavation you’ve created with a layer of sand then cover with the paving slab, leaving enough space for an upwards-sloping tunnel that will serve as the entrance to your snug retreat.

Frog in a small pond

Container Pond for Frogs and Beneficial Insects

Building a wildlife pond may seem like an onerous undertaking but it really needn’t be. Any garden, of any size, can have a pond of a scale to match. Ponds support more wildlife than any other garden feature, which is great news for those looking to get on top of their slug problem.

The simplest ponds are made from little more than a sunken tub, bucket, or even an old kitchen sink. Dig a hole for your container then sink it into the ground so the rim lies at ground level. Add some sand or clean gravel to the base of the container for pond-dwelling insects. Now pile some stones in one corner of the miniature pond to help frogs and toads clamber up and out. Finally, lower a couple of pond plants into the water. If possible, fill your new pond with rainwater.

The power of the pond is remarkable. I recently visited a gardener who installed a container pond as described above just last winter. She swore that the difference it made was almost immediate. Frogs colonised the pond and slug numbers dropped to such a level that she no longer bothers with other slug controls.

If you have a big garden then a few of these micro ponds would amplify their effect. Or make the space for a magical and ever-changing full-sized pond that will bring colour and movement to your garden, while proving a real focal point.

Nest box for birds

Nest Boxes for Birds

Hungry birds can have a fantastic impact on slug and insect pest numbers. Simply ensuring your garden has a good mix of trees and shrubs, including berry-producing types, is a sure way to boost the number of resident and visiting birds.

Our feathered friends naturally nest in trees, including dead standing wood. Nest boxes are a great way to replicate this habitat, with different-sized entry holes attracting different species. The end of autumn is a perfect time to set one up so that it’s in place for when the nesting season begins at the end of winter.

Nest boxes are best positioned in a quiet corner – away from prying eyes and out of reach of the local cat! Site it away from bird feeding areas too. When nesting seasons arrives, put out nest-building materials so that the birds can personalise their new home. Suitable materials include pet hair, wool, dry grass, feathers and straw.

Hedgehog in a garden

A Home for Hedgehogs

European gardeners have the advantage of another regular slug patroller: the hedgehog. Hedgehogs, like frogs and toads, are well known for their love of soft and slimy slugs – they can’t get enough of them!

Now’s the time to prepare a cosy shelter for these hungry mammals as they settle down to hibernate. A quiet, dry bolthole filled with leaves is what they’re after. You can set up a ready-to-use shelter by leaning a waterproof board against a wall to create a sturdy tent. Secure it in place by laying branches or logs on top of it so it doesn’t blow away. Now fill the interior with fistfuls of dry leaves or straw so would-be occupants can settle in and stay warm.

Providing homes for slug eaters is quick and easy to do and will save you an awful lot of effort chasing secretive slugs about the garden! If you’ve tried making any of the above shelters then let me know how successful they have been. With enough allies on board the war on slugs can – and will – be won!

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Comments

 
"As a Birthday gift were given a delightful "bug house" by a dear friend Our problem is .. Where to site it? In full sun, partial shade, full shade, out of the the wind, high up, low down - near a tree,in open garden, facing N,S,E or West... or does it matter? PLEASE can someone advise. "
Peta in Fgrance on Friday 21 October 2016
"The best place for a bug house is somewhere warm and dry - you don't want it filling with rainwater and drowning its occupants! Keep it sheltered from the wind if you can. Surrounded by vegetation is best, though not essential, and it doesn't matter how high or low up it is, but off the ground is probably best. Ideally place the bug house in a sunny location, which will keep it a little bit warmer and stop it freezing hard for prolonged periods in winter."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 21 October 2016
" Thasy is so helpful ............Husband is searching for the spot as I type thank you Ben "
Peta in France on Friday 21 October 2016
"Hi, I noticed that the picture you show of a bird nest box had a perch on it. It is very important that these boxes do not have a perch. A perch will allow a predator a good platform to get into the box and kill the baby birds or destroy the eggs. Thank you. "
PETER MALIN on Saturday 22 October 2016
"I particularly like the idea of encouraging hedgehogs. I've never seen any in my area. Is there any way of legally and responsibly acquiring them? "
Sean H on Saturday 22 October 2016
"Hi Peter. Many thanks for the warning on this."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 23 October 2016
"Hi Sean. As far as I am aware there is no-where you can acquire hedgehogs from. The best thing is to make your garden hedgehog friendly and encourage the local hedgehogs that are about. As they're wild animals you really can't acquire them - but you are indeed blessed should they visit! I hope some find their way into your garden. "
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 23 October 2016
"... and remember to leave holes in your fencing so the hedgehogs can get into your garden in the first place. They like to travel from garden to garden."
GEGS on Thursday 27 October 2016
"Absolutely, leaving holes in your fence or having a hedge between your garden allows hedgehogs to roam and more effectively search for food. "
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 27 October 2016

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