Hostas and slugs

Posted: Tuesday 23 April 2013
by James Alexander-Sinclair

As spring finally springs and the soil warms up, we should address a very common hosta problem.


As spring finally springs and the soil warms up, we should address a very common hosta problem. You may not, I suppose, be aware that there is any sort of problem, but that may be because you are either very lucky, or that you have never grown them.

The idea of wide, slightly quilted, deep bluish-green hosta leaves is captivating, but often the reality is completely different. The reality involves slugs and snails, nightly chewing the edges and perforating the centres of the leaves, leaving them looking like dog-eared lace doilies. Hostas seem to be the snack of choice for all molluscs.

This problem is pretty much universal - except, it seems, at Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. Hever Castle has a magnificent rose garden, and also some of the lushest and finest hosta leaves I have ever seen. I asked the Head Gardener why they were completely without slug damage, and he informed me that he had only ever seen about ten slugs in fifteen years. Perhaps it is witchcraft (Anne was widely slandered as a witch), or just something in the soil.

Tim Penrose of Bowden Hostas sells t-shirts and books on the subject of slugs, and has even composed a song. He will sing it for you to his own guitar accompaniment if you ask him nicely.

He has also written an illustrated guide called ‘Slugbusters’, which sums up twenty years of experience. His top tips are:

  • If you are going to use slug pellets, put them out early in the year: as early as Valentine’s day (a date he has chosen because you are more likely to remember it). Slugs start their reproductive cycle around February, if you manage to get them before they lay hundreds of eggs, that is a result.

  • Encourage wildlife to your garden – thrushes, hedgehogs and frogs all eat slugs.

  • Go out into your garden at night with a torch and pick up as many slugs as possible. I used to pay my children to go out with collecting buckets to do this. Their record was 496 (that was an expensive evening).

  • Try and keep the garden relatively tidy: slugs love hiding amongst piles of debris.

  • Try making a slug deterrent by crushing two bulbs of garlic and boiling them in a litre of water for a few minutes. Add a tablespoonful of this to five litres of water and sprinkle on the leaves every couple of weeks. It probably reminds the snails of French restaurants and hot garlic butter.

It is a battle but don’t give up - the struggle is worth it for a perfect hosta.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Hostas and slugs
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sheilac 23/04/2013 at 17:33

Hello, my slug problem is pretty huge even though I have all sorts of wildlife. I have started putting roughly crushed eggshells amongst and around my hostas in the hope that the slugs and snails won't like to manoevre through or past them. I save my eggshells, put them in the dishwasher, then into the AGA to dry them completely and make them as hard as possible. Then crush and scatter. I am also trying this with my veg patch. We'll see what happens, I have my fingers crossed.

Gardener Liz 27/04/2013 at 15:17

I was going to put a comment on, and join ", but the list of personal questions is endless, and before I had finished registering another questionaire popped up!

Here is my views on how to deal with snails, and slugs.

If you have a lot of slugs and snails in your garden as I have, and enjoy watching the birds and wildlife I find it best only to grow plants that snails don't like in the garden, such as Day Lilly's and Penstemon, Snowdrops and Daffodils. I do grow a couple of Hostas successfuly in pots, I find the best way is to surround them with copper tape or rings. I have also found Hostas, unlike other plants don't mind standing in water,so can be grow in an over sized deep saucer of water, as slugs cannot swim! Just make sure as the plants grow they do not touch the wall, or anything that can be used as a bridge.

Also worth a try is spraying a circle of WD40 around the pot. as slugs and snails do not like to cross this. I have used this on pots used to grow salad leaves, and find once the pot is sprayed the effects last for several weeks.

Hope this helps


Obelixx 27/04/2013 at 17:06

I have too many hostas for copper/eggshells and so on and very persistent slugs.   I have, however, used wildlife friendly slug pellets for several years and find them very good.  I have cats, dogs, loads of birds, hedgehogs, amphibians and insects.

You need to be organised and scatter the first few pellets around susceptible plants in late winter or early spring to get them as they emerge from hiberation and then every couple of weeks to catch the stragglers and the newly hatched before they have time to breed or feed.   I start on Valentine's Day as it's easy to remember.  

You can also spray with a garlic solution as they don't seem to like that either.



Bookertoo 30/04/2013 at 17:10

Funnily enough, my slugs seemed to love the garlic!! I use copper tape on pots, remove the top inch or so of soil with the eggs in and replace with fresh plus new gravel each spring. Robin loves this as he comes to eat the eggs. Have around 65 hostas in pots, never done any in the ground as the slugs run hourly parades around the garden to see what has come up to eat. Did use nematodes one year, they worked - very, very hard work to apply - then of course, as nature abhors a vacuum, in came all the neighbouring slugs. Copper works, eggshells don't, nor does vaseline on pots etc., etc., not here anyway.

KEF 01/05/2013 at 14:56

I only have a few hostas but I put pistachio nut shells around them, slugs don't seems to like crawling over them and don't like the salt. Plus we get to scoff nuts in a good cause.

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