Living with slugs (and snails)

As most regular readers of my blog will know I’ve tried to build my garden up to attract various wildlife. I’ve tried to avoid potentially harmful chemicals for weed killing and pest controls. But even trying to encourage wildlife I still need some methods to control some of the more destructive forces in the garden. I’m talking about the slugs and snails. My aim hasn’t been to wipe them out completely as I don’t feel comfortable with committing large scale molluscacide I just want to reduce plant damage.

While many people use nematodes I’m not convinced of the long term sense in this solution. Nematodes for slugs and snails involve microscopic eelworms that create bacteria leading to slug destruction. Snail shells combined with time above ground defend them from nematodes. While a biological control seems like a better option than slug pellets which have been shown to be harmful to animals up the food chain. But something about the idea of nematodes is distasteful to me. I just want to control the numbers, not eradicate completely. I’m not looking for little daleks programmed to exterminate slugs and snails I just want a few less holes in plants trying to get established.

So I still favour biological controls, but not ones leading to total destruction of the slugs and snails. Encouraging predators into the garden helps create an equilibrium with the slugs and snails not destroying all green life. I have encouraged birds in through keeping bird feeders stocked. While they come for the food put out they still usually do a sweep of the borders to check for prey.

I’ve also tried to encourage hedgehogs to take up residence. While none have stayed they do visit through the hedgehog hole. Within. The garden I have hedgehog homes and feeding stations to bring them in. The trail camera shows they do visit. I don’t know how many slugs they account for, but I still like knowing they are there.

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Frogs and toads can eat through large quantities of slugs and snails. While I don’t have a pond next door does. To encourage some across into my garden I have a number of frog homes. Spots that are shaded and moist for frogs and toads to shelter in. A broken pot can be buried into the ground to provide shelter.

On top of biological controls slugs and snails can be controlled through barriers. Copper tape is recommended as they don’t like crossing the copper. However many still will cross when wet. Grit and egg shells are again recommended, but any gaps and they will find a way through.

Sheep wool pellets can be used to protect plants. They also act as a mulch helping water retention in the soil. It is however quite pricey for any reasonably sized area.

With almost any barrier method the slugs and snails can find a way in. Any leaves drooping over the barrier provides a path to a feast. Most varieties become less effective when wet. So I’ve mainly employed barriers to allow seedlings to get established. Then I trust that the larger plants can handle a bit of leaf loss.

When I have seen damage is bad I’ve employed beer traps to reduce numbers. Slugs and snails seem unable to resist beer. The beer dehydrates them leading to their death. Darker beer is supposed to be more effective, but I haven’t four d much difference between cheap lager and other varieties. Plus I don’t really like to pour away nicer beers to the slugs.

I have some commercially made traps, but jam jars and plastic bottles can be up-cycled into traps.

Through this multi-fronted approach I seem to be keeping plant damage to a level I can live with. While many people go out with the torch at night to remove this isn’t really an option for me as I have Alice to put to sleep, so not about to send time in the night picking them off. If you do though it is worth getting to know your slugs. Leopard slugs for example eat other slugs so are worth leaving.

My seedlings seem to be surviving better this year and making it to flower. I may even risk adding some hostas to the shaded corner!

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Six on a Saturday-2.6.18

Time for this weeks six. A guide to participants by its creator here. This week has been back and forth for weather. We’ve had days of brilliant sunshine and overcast dark days that seem like Winter hasn’t left. The garden is full of a sense of anticipation. Many flowers are on the verge of opening to display their treasures.

1. sedum, spathulifolium blanco

This sedum started as a small tight ball in March. Now it has flowered and spread covering the pot with small bright yellow flowers. The sempervivums are just poking through nicely.

2. Asiatic lilies

These two Asiatic lilies were bought a few weeks back at a community plant sale. They are giving a fantastic glow on the patio. The orange is more neon than I expected. Possibly a bit tasteless, but the patio pots are saved for more exotic choices. Whereas the border seems to be developing largely into cottage garden favourites.

The photos don’t really get across the vibrancy of the orange.

3. Sweet peas

I planted my sweet pea seedlings into the garden. A bunch into a pot to grow up the Aldi obelisk. Then another group up a wig wam in the border. Already a few flowers have opened. So far a pleasing combination of red and purple.

4. Morning glory

Having finally become fed up of the morning glory seedlings on the windowsill I’ve also planted them out. Some into pots to climb the fence near the house. Some into the border to climb the fence.

The weather going chiller again has been a concern, but if they don’t grow they don’t grow. While the flowers are pretty I don’t think I’ll bother again. Space is limited on the windowsill for seedlings and the border can only fit so much, so don’t want to be worrying about tender plants. Hopefully by next year a number of the climbing roses, clematis and honeysuckle will have established over more of the fence.

5. Geraniums

I know the geraniums have featured a number of times over the last few weeks, but more have come into flower. The renardii flowers are lovely with their veins of colour, although the leaves have picked up an unsightly orange appearance.

These thugs were donated by my mum last year and have now taken over a section of the bottom of the garden. Eventually they’ll need dividing or they’ll dominate the whole area. But right now they are filling a good area and suppressing weed growth. When you examine the flowers close up they are rather delightful.

Another unknown variety from my mum that has been flowering for several weeks and just keeps giving. Another tall beast, but looking good under the dwarf apple tree.

Some smaller self seeders filling gaps in the border.

6. Donations

My mums contributions this year are snap dragon seedlings and decorative gourds.

In return she may have verbena and hollyhocks as I have quite a few going strong.

Things are really getting going in the garden now, should have some more colourful sixes ahead.

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30 days of wild 2018 day 1

Today is the start of June and the Wildlife Trusts 30 days wild. The 30 days is the reason this blog was set up. The basic idea is for 30 days in June you try to do one wild act. The Trust provides a range of ideas: follow a bee, photograph something blue, feel the grass under your feet, etc.

Since I originally took part in the 30 days two years ago enjoying nature has become well integrated into my life and I am raising Alice to hopefully have the opportunities to enjoy nature and the great outdoors. The benefits of this lifestyle has grown in profile over the last decade. The research is starting to put figures to the anecdotal evidence. Spending time in nature can improve health, reduce stress and improve your general mood. My time outdoors and involvement in nature is well documented in this blog. I do believe it has played a positive role in my life and has helped me cope with the challenges of sleepless nights as a parent and in high stress job.

This year I don’t intend to do as long write ups as previous years. I want to enjoy other people going through the process of discovering love of nature and enjoy my own activities rather than feeling pressure to publish. So I’m only going to post a few highlights.

Today I went for a walk with Alice round to the park. On the way I spotted a cinnabar moth. Cinnabar moths are a day flying moth that is part of the tiger family. Last year I found the caterpillars a number of times, but don’t remember ever seeing the moth. The caterpillars feed on common ragwort, which grows quite freely in a number of local spots. Two years ago I probably wouldn’t have noticed this little remarkable moth. Whereas two years on of involving myself in nature I’m more alert and mindful to what is around me.

We got back from the small park and Alice wasn’t ready to go in the house, so we grabbed water and sunscreen as the clouds had gone to be replaced with brilliant sunshine and headed out again. This time to the larger park.

Down at the park we looked into one of the wetter patches. This section is usually boggy, last year it dried up a lot more at this time, but this year it has remained a pool. I’ve spotted newts, although I didn’t see any today. I could however see many tadpoles.

Growing out of the water are these beautiful wild yellow iris. Again, two years ago I wouldn’t have known what this was. But two years on and a collection of field guides later I spotted it for what it is, rather than thinking it was a limp daffodil. I haven’t grown irises in my garden, but I have admired a number of wild and domesticated ones in other peoples gardens and I’m tempted. There are varieties to suit most soil and I think they might do well in my garden.

Returning home Alice still didn’t want to be in, so we went in the garden. We topped up the water bath and Alice helped fill up the bird feeders. The birds quickly descended to feast.

I’m proud of how far Alice has come in two years. We take her outside most days for a walk. I’m sure this time spent walking in the park and along the sea front is why she is so confident on her feet, beyond the expectations of her age. When we go out in the garden she’s taken to filling a bowl at the bottom of the garden with water. When asked who is it for? She can answer hedgehog. She fills the bird baths. She puts out bird seed. I hope she continues to be interested in helping nature as she grows up.

So my 30 days posts may be each day or may be sporadic, but either way I hope many of you get involved and enjoy.

Six on Saturday:26.5.18

This week has been a good week for gardeners with the mass coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show. I was happy with Chris Beardshaw as best in show and the Yorkshire Garden as the people’s choice. Both were clearly excellent quality show gardens. While often the show gardens have little relevance to my garden, with little I can take away to my own garden, I’ve like many of this years entries. I’m only halfway through watching the coverage, but it is now half term for me, so I’ve got time to catch up and give my own garden some attention.

1. Lavender

Along the front path I have a patch of lavender planted last year. These were 99p purchases that were bone dry needing some care. I’m glad to say they look like they’ve recovered and hopefully I grow these into a nice mass to give scent entering and leaving the house. I have a number of lavender patches around the front and back garden and several varieties. As a keen wildlife gardener it’s a reliable plant for helping support a wide variety of pollinators, so was a must for me despite the clay soil I work with. All the patches had plenty of grit mixed in when planted to help improve drainage. This patch at the front has been the first to flower this year.

2. Fennel

The fennel was planted last year. It only had a chance to form a small mound of feathery leaves. But as a hardy perennial it has come back stronger this year forming a nice mass of feather foliage. It makes a pleasing contrast to much of the more rounded leaves of the plants around it. Fennel forms umbels of yellow flowers that are good for butterflies to land on.

“It is an indisputable fact that appreciation of foliage comes at a late stage in our development

Christopher Lloyd

3. Tomatoes-gardeners delight

One of the parents at school has donated a tray of tomatoes. I’ve brought them back home to get them started and then will plant out into the school garden at a later date. This week is British Tomato Week for anyone thinking of buying a few plants. Tomatoes require a bit of love and attention, but should they get to picking stage it is a true taste delight eating your own tomatoes. I’ve grown them in a schools a few times, but not for a few years, so we’ll see how I get on.

4. Obelisk

I’ve set up a recent Aldi purchase of an obelisk. I’ve set it in a plastic half barrel planter. Not the prettiest thing, but needed a wide base. Maybe in future years I’ll splash out on a better quality one, but the width I needed it will do the job nicely for now. My sweet peas are coming on well on the windowsill and I’m looking to plant out onto this next week. The obelisk itself looks good and is making a good perch for the birds. Alice’s small hands helped get the soil into the container through the gaps in the obelisk, but has given it a little bit of a leaning tower effect.

5. Cosmea

The cosmea grown from seed is now getting it’s first flowers. The warm weather has brought them on a bit, but now it’s going colder again may halt there progress.

6. Birds

After a period of smaller numbers while the young hatched the number of birds has increased. The number of species is still low, but the quantity of starlings, sparrows and blackbirds is momentous for a small garden. I’m currently looking out on maybe 30/40 starlings, blackbirds scavenging in the border and sparrows along the fences. Today I’ve seen: starlings, sparrows, wrens, jackdaws, wood pigeon, collared dove, herring gull, blue tit, great tits and robins. While a noisy bunch it’s good to hear the cacophony of the young outside the double doors.

Hope you all enjoy your bank holiday weekend and have the chance to get outside into your gardens.

Six on Saturday: 19.5.18

Today the garden will hopefully be in use as we have family coming round for Alice’s second birthday. No Royal Wedding for us. Time has gone quickly with Alice coming on more everyday. The garden has come on a long way over that time as well.

1. Alliums purple sensation

There are still a few queen of the night tulips hanging on in there, but most of the tulips are gone. This loss though is being replaced the alliums. The purple sensations spheres are spreading out to form full spheres. These alliums form one tall stem with one small sphere to each stem.

2. Alliums Turkish onion

These alliums were planted in the first year in the house. They have large leaves before forming a large sphere low to the ground.

3. Aquilegia

Aquilegia, or Granny’s bonnet isn’t something I planted. It has come up each year poking out through other plants. But the leaves are interesting. The colours vary. One is flowering now, while a few more self seeded ones in the shade have more to come.

4. Oxalis

Last week we went to a community plant sale and picked up some cheap purchases. Amy like the oxalis. I believe this can spread badly, but for now it’s going on the new ladder planter on the patio.

5. Lilies

I also bought two lilies for the patio. One orange and one pink. They’ll add a burst of colour to the ladder.

6. Herbs

Amy wants a number of herbs to cook with, so we got a few cheap purchases at the sale. Dry as a bone currently. In need of a good water this evening.

Now to get things ready for birthday celebrations. Guests arriving in an hour. Hope you all have good weekends. The weather is glorious for a garden party. No sitting in watching weddings or football for us. The previously posted birdbath is getting good use now.

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Six on a Saturday 12.5.18

Time for six on Saturday as started by the propagator. The last few weeks of heavy rain followed by bright sunshine has really brought on the garden. Everywhere luscious green foliage is appearing. Blossom is out all over. The tulips are almost spent, but the alliums are following close behind to replace the loss. I like Summer flowering plants that form tall spires and they are all making their push to the sky. The hollyhocks, the foxgloves, lupins and teasel are all pushing up higher and higher. It’s a good time of year for the garden.

1. Clematis

The first of my six isn’t actually from my garden. It’s my neighbour’s clematis that is growing through. My own aren’t doing very much right now. There is one on side of the fence that was in the garden when we moved in. This had become thin and sprawling and only managed one flower last year. I’ve trimmed it back to almost the ground and it seems to be returning stronger. Then I have another on the other fence that was planted fresh last year that seems to be establishing now.

The neighbours clematis is growing through and over the fence. It’s providing a nice burst of colour in a patch that is currently a bit bare. I’ve got a climbing rose coming up here. Combined they should compliment each other well. Not sure of the type of clematis, beyond Spring flowering, but it is going strong.

2. Lilac

The lilac is out in flower now. It’s one of Amy’s favourite and the colour is nice. Not as strong smelling as I remember last year, but still has more flowers to come.

I’ve taken out a few suckers to grow new plants. Lilacs spread by suckers. The roots spread and new shoots grow around the stem. I’ve dug out three and potted up in a gritty soil mix. Then watered well and stones on the top to help retain moisture. These are destined for school if they establish well enough. I’m trying to save school budget by improving my outdoor area with free plants grown by different methods of propagation. I’m also making use of the discarded plastic pots of other purchases that are now planted in the border.

3. bluebells

The bluebells in my garden are just getting going. This years frosts has sent everything a bit off kilter. They were English, but I think they might be hybridized now. I’ll see when they flower.

Behind the garden there is a path with both blue and white varieties flowering. They are one of my favourite Spring flowers. Another like daffodils that mark the season.

4. teasel

Last year I established some small teasel seedlings in the border. Now they are beasts ready to flower. While not a popular garden option as it seeds all over and the leaves fill a lot space I wanted it for its wildlife potential. Bees love it. Goldfinches flock to it. I love seeing the goldfinches in. Last year they were all over my cornflowers. I’ve scattered some cornflowers seeds again. So I’m hoping between the cornflowers and the teasel and putting out niger seed I’ll see them more regularly. As biennials it should flower this year, as there second year. I have a few starting off this year to ensure a patch flowering next year.

The leaves are great, large, thorned things that surprisingly haven’t been eaten apart by slugs and snails.

5. Sempervivum

My patio holds my more exotic plants with alpines and succulents, while the border holds more traditional cottage garden choices. The sempervivum suffered with the frosts, but are recovering well now with rich green leaves and the darker leaved varieties looking fresher.

Six. beer traps

The slugs and snails have been devouring one of the patches of foxgloves and self seeded hollyhocks.

I have tried to avoid weed sprays and pest deterrent sprays that may be harmful to much of the visiting wildlife. I haven’t used pellets for several years now to avoid poisoning other animals up the food chain. My compromise has been beer traps. I periodically fill them up to kill off a few of the slugs and snails and give plants a chance to recover. It doesn’t eliminate, but it gives the plants a chance to establish a bit stronger. In hot weather the beer evaporates quickly, so they need topping up regularly if you want to keep them effective. As I’m just trying to keep numbers down I’m a bit lackadaisical about this.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my six and enjoy your weekends.

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My watcher on the wall keeping an eye on my writing.

Six on Saturday-5.5.18

So this weekend is a longer weekend with the Bank Holiday. Surprisingly, we have sunshine as well. Bread buns are out of stock across the nation as people prepare for barbecues. My garden is seeing Spring coming to fruition. The blossom is on the trees. The Spring bulbs are all coming through I force now. The Summer bulbs are starting to poke through. Already I’ve forgotten what went where and having to check back on the blog to see what I’ve planted.

1. Cherry tree

Last Summer I ended up with a cheap dwarf cherry. It had lost many of its leaves, but come back to life now. The branches aren’t the most amazing shape, but I’m hoping as it grows up I can encourage a more pleasing form. The birds have been pecking away at buds for the last few weeks. Despite this the blossom has still managed to come out.

2. Apple tree

The apple tree is also blossoming. Another dwarf fruit tree. This was given a severe prune last year and dug out and turned around to encourage growth in a better form. It had seen five years of neglect while the house was rented. So last year we only had a small number of apples while it recovered. This year going off the blossom I might get enough for chutney again.

3. Queen of the night tulips

The queen of the night tulips are starting to flower marking the last of my tulips. These have grown much taller than the other tulips despite the pack details saying they’d be roughly the same height. This has give them a bit of a leggy effect, tall and thin over their other family.

4. Geraniums

Carrying on from last week I’ve added two new geraniums to fill patches of border that are a bit empty. Then as these grow I can divide and spread around the border and take some for school when I’ve filled my borders.

I’ve gone for two recommended for pollinators: Ingwersen’s variety and renardii. After this severe Winter I’m more aware of hardiness in the garden. Both of these have good hardiness ratings and RHS plant of merit awards as well as the good for pollinators award. Both are tolerant of a range of soils and conditions so they should thrive. They are also recommended for under planting roses. I haven’t currently done this, but maybe if they get to a point where I can divide I might use them for that purpose.

5. Ajuga, black scallop

I bought one small plant last year as part of an alpine deal. Since then it has spread nicely over its pot. It’s a hardy evergreen with rich dark leaves. The blue flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies. Unlike most of my other alpines it likes moister soil and shade. It is recommended for under planting shrubs, so long as it is an area that stats moist. It spreads by runners, so I can create more removing the runners to establish in other pots.

6. Seagulls

For the last of my six here are one of my commonest visitors the seagulls. Being a seaside town my garden is swamped by these as much as sparrows and blackbirds. Currently I’m woken by a dawn cacophony of randy seagulls on our roof. They like sitting on the shed and at times will try to sit their massive frames on the bird feeder. I do put bread out for them, which is swarmed over within minutes. It isn’t the best food source for them, but as were a seaside town I can’t imagine it’s any worse than the chips. Yesterday Alice and myself were in the garden when this group descended within metres of us. Alice thought it was hilarious and wanted to go closer to say hello, but I kept her back. Don’t fancy a peck from those beaks.

They can be a pain stomping through borders, but by and large I quite like seeing them settled on the fence.

Hope you’ve all enjoyed my six and have good long weekends enjoying the sun.

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