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Things That Go Bump in the Night

I was conflicted this week as to what to write for this article. It was a toss-up between creepy crawlers in the garden or things that make me go bonkers horticulturally speaking. For instance the mega natural disaster caused by last November’s big chill that killed approximately thirty percent of our landscape plants that nobody in the public sector seems to be addressing. So to avoid making people mad at me, I’m choosing creepy crawlers!

Let’s start with slugs. If you have slugs foraging on your new lettuce or tomato leaves this is a clear indication that you are over watering and way too frequently. Address your irrigation technique and the slugs will go away—they can’t tolerate dry soil conditions. That said there are some clever techniques to keep slugs at bay.

Slugs for whatever reason are attracted to fermentation. Placing bowls of beer or yeast, water and sugar around your garden will attract slugs like nobody’s business. They will crawl into the bowls blissfully and drown.

Another method to keep slugs at bay is to use diatomaceous earth around susceptible plants. Diatomaceous earth is fossilized marine phytoplankton which when ground up creates miniature glass like shards that will make mincemeat out of the belly of a slug. By the way, diatomaceous earth is a proven method to get rid of internal parasites in the digestive tract of animals including humans.

Sowbugs and pillbugs aka, roly polys, are not insects, but crustaceans that live on land. Interestingly, roly polys are fairly long-lived. Adults can live up to two years and longer. Rarely are roly polys of any concern except in ultra-high numbers where they can feed on young seedlings in the garden. Mostly, roly polys devour decaying vegetation at night and seek shelter during the day under rocks and plant duff. Many a childhood memory has been made playing with these lobster and shrimp of the land.

One of the most loathed garden insect is the European earwig. With its huge pincers, they have inspired many folktales. Earwigs favorite food includes soft plant materials like flower petals and seedling plants, but they also have an appetite for aphids and insect eggs. They feed at night and seek the shelter of dark crevices during the day. Often they are blamed for causing boring damage to plants when in fact another critter did the damage—the earwig was simply using the cavity for shelter.

If you have a penchant for killing earwigs consider two non-toxic methods. Method one is to wet some newspaper and lay it directly on the garden soil; come morning you’ll find many earwigs sheltered up for the day inside yesterday’s news. Simply toss the newspaper into a garbage sack and place in the dumpster.

The second method is to put a small amount of vegetable oil in a margarine container and place on the garden soil. Earwigs are so attracted to the oil that they will crawl into the margarine containers by the hundreds and drown in the oil.

Gardeners often find themselves in a conundrum regarding black vine weevils. They see the damage on their plant leaves with evenly spaced rectangular notches but never see the critter. Black vine weevils live in the plant duff during the day and come out at night to feed. By morning they are back down in the soil never to be seen.

To control these weevils consider using an insecticide with the active ingredient permethrin.

If you have questions about other creepy crawlers, give your local garden center or Extension office a call.

Originally published in the Casper Star-Tribune, July 12, 2015


Throughout this site, the following are used as guidelines for watering established plants: