Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Trapping Slugs with Beer: Myth or Reality?

In yesterday’s blog20150715A, I explained why an anti-slug barrier made up of crushed eggshells is not effective. I received plenty of flack over that blog (you can’t attack a popular gardening myth with expecting a few angry responses!), but also a lot of questions about slugs, the most popular one being about whether the famous “slug beer trap” works or not. So let’s make it today’s subject.

Is the Slug Beer Trap a Myth?

First, for the thirteen gardeners on the planet who have not heard that you can attract slugs with beer, a bit of an explanation.

20150715BA slug beer trap is a snap to prepare. You just insert a small dish or bowl into the ground and pour some beer in. Any beer will do, even non-alcoholic beer. Slugs, attracted by the smell of malt, are supposed to fall into the dish and drown. Moreover, if you try it, you will indeed find a few drowned slugs marinating in the beer the next morning. So, in principle, it seems to work.

But the time-lapse video above reveals what really happens. Most slugs that visit the trap are content to drink some beer and then continue on their way without any negative consequence. Some even slide right on down into the trap, wallow in the beer then climb back out, apparently very satisfied with their night of drinking. Others (a small minority) also descend into the trap, but don’t leave: they drown and they’re the ones you find belly up the next day. (Nobody knows why some slugs drown while the majority were are uninjured: that remains a mystery).

Another problem: the odor of malt attracts slugs from afar and therefore actually increases the population of slugs nearby and damages to leaves increases. It’s like a sip or two of beer gives the slug hordes the munchies. Therefore plants near the trap actually suffer more damage than plants located far from the trap. In other words, the slug beer trap, when used as usually recommended, does not protect your plants and can even result in even worse damage.

However, there is a method that ensures a beer trap really does reduce the damage caused by slugs. Don’t put the slug beer traps out in your own garden, but instead recommend the method to your neighbor. He’ll try it, be satisfied with the few slugs that drown in the traps, and attract all the slugs in the neighborhood to his garden rather then yours.

O.K., that was kind of underhanded. So let’s be more magnanimous. Place the trap in your own garden, but as far as possible from the plants subject to slug damage, such as vegetables and hostas. This will draw slugs into areas where their leaf eating is not a problem. Clean and top up the trap every few days and you should see your slug population decrease, especially over time.

Tomorrow I’ll do a quick summary of other methods for slug control… and some work very well!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

6 comments on “Trapping Slugs with Beer: Myth or Reality?

  1. LOL. You are absolutely correct on all points. I will stand with you when the mob comes with a rope. Note: Slugs are cannibals. Dead slugs with draw more dead slugs.

  2. Pingback: Can Coca-Cola Kill Slugs? – Laidback Gardener

  3. This gave me a really good laugh, love your sense of humour and advice!
    I will probably have to get the torch out and pick them off the fruit trees 😊

  4. Let us be realistic. Life is the ability of matter to form systems that can react to their environment in certain, mostly predetermined ways. The complexity of such systems can be absolutely mind-blowing, jet in the end it is just matter, man, slug or virus.
    Pain is a practical survival tool in some systems. It may get the system out of danger or at least activate the system’s memory to the end of avoiding its cause next time. Or to get support from another system that is programmed to help when it detects suffering in others.
    A system without memory or without the ability to avoid situations or to get help would not have developed the sensation of pain, as it doesn’t come with any advantage for them. They could still have developed reflexes as a response to situations, but without the option of adjustment. They would just respond to situations like a ball reacts to gravity, no pain involved.
    Now are slugs in pain when cut in two or skewered up? I would wish so. Maybe others would then realize our garden is a dangerous place and flee. They’d actually flee the country altogether! In any case it does not matter because they are just matter, and there are many causes worthier of our emotional engagement before we should think of humane ways to kill slugs..

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