The Sleeping Garden

Skeletal Achillea

Actually gardens (like money) never sleep. They may doze, but they’ve always got one eye half open, even if most of the plants are in hibernation. The weeds rarely stop entirely. In fact I’ve just done my first full-on weeding session of the year, for one of my customers whose borders had been invaded by a fine crop of annual weeds. Did no-one tell them it’s winter? Fortunately I managed to get most of the work done before the rain really set in (but it wasn’t pleasant out there).

The other thing (or rather; things) that don’t stop for winter, are the slugs and snails. From now until the growing season really gets going is a critical time. There are plenty of slugs around, and on mild nights (and days, sometimes) they’re out and about, trying to feed. But there isn’t much for them to eat. So when your perennials, bulbs, etc. tentatively poke their heads above ground, they’re likely to be grazed off at the neck. It’s a battleground out there, and at this time of year the plants are heavily outnumbered.

A Meagre Catch

Time then, for us gardeners to deploy our special powers to even the odds. In my own garden, because I want to garden organically, I don’t use slug pellets. I have other solutions up my sleeve. In the growing season I go out at night and pick them off. Not every night – I have got a life, of sorts.  At this time of year, slug traps work well. You can pay a lot for manufactured slug traps, or you can make your own. I recycle yoghurt pots or, better still, shallow glass dishes, and cover them with scraps of stone, to keep the rain from washing the beer away.

Slug Cairn

Last year I got the pond dug, filled and planted (though I’m still working on the water feature) and it plays host to a healthy population of frogs, which eat their fare share of slugs. Although I’ve never seen them doing it. I can’t imagine them tackling a slug that’s almost as long as they are (imagine a frog getting that stuck in its throat!) but they’re invaluable for keeping down the smaller slugs. They certainly did a good job protecting the hostas around the pond in my last garden.

There are a few little joyous touches here and there amongst the barren soil and dead foliage. The Chaenomeles (Japanese quince) has already flowered well, and there are snowdrops and winter aconites. Some of the daffs aren’t that far off flowering, and nor, surprisingly, is the Ceanothus. I’d like to think spring isn’t far away, but I know there’s some very cold days to come before it arrives.

Eranthis hyemalis


8 thoughts on “The Sleeping Garden

  1. The weeds are gathering aren’t they? I’ve been mulching beds for the past few days and the amount of nettle and dandelion poking through already is alarming. Shame the slugs don’t feast on them really. Dave

  2. Hi Graham, I’ve never found slug traps work well enough. Organic Slug pellets, although had an effect needed to be applied so often the price became silly for the area I have. I even tried Nematodes and although they seemed to cut the numbers they didn’t do a good enough job and too many plants got eaten. I also went out night after night (I lie, the wife did) and picked off hundreds each night but again not good enough. I have slugs in plague quantities. After 4 years of trying to get enough young plants started but failing I decided to use proper, full throttle slug pellets….they worked like Naparm – my one compromise to an otherwise purely organic growing. Once their numbers are under control I can go back to traps and picking them off.

    • Hi Andy,
      It’s a war of attrition – slug traps and picking them off brings the numbers down, but it’s hard work. I haven’t tried nematodes. You need the right conditions, and I think it could work out expensive. It does depend on the size of plot you’re managing – for a big plot, manual methods are too time consuming. I know some of the bigger gardens use chickens, geese, pheasants, etc., which sounds like a marvelous idea and is apparently very effective. I’d love to try this, but I’d be concerned about the collateral damage! I appreciate the need to compromise, and I’m sure you’re being careful not to use more pellets than you need to. Graham

  3. Slugs are a real problem for me too, they love the mild and wet Devon climate. I’ve tried pretty much everything. Beer traps, nematodes, organic slug pellets, shocka mat, coffee grounds, garlic, gravel and sand mulches. Nothing really works. The organic slug pellets fared best but they disappear fairly rapidly so it gets expensive. I suspect the mice are helping the slugs out!

    • All we can really do is to keep the numbers down. Maybe that’s just as well, or we would deprive some of the more beneficial garden inhabitants of their food supply!

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