Slugs or birds? Who’s eating your veg plants….

Before you tear your hair out trying to defend your plants against slug damage, check that it’s not birds nibbling your veggies.

Lettuces, brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbages etc), chard, beetroot leaves and spinach are all popular with slugs, and snails, and birds! So, if you have holes in the leaves, here’s how to tell who the culprit is, and what to do about it:

Slugs & SnailsĀ 

What to look for:

  • Small to medium holes in the leaves (e.g. 1-2cm holes), big chomps taken out of the sides of leaves
  • Slime trails on the leaves are usually visible so have a close look
  • You can usually find slugs/snails hiding near the damaged plants – e.g., under the pot, or in between the soil and wood of a raised bed. You may also find the slug/snail on the undersurface of the leaves
  • Sweetcorn damage is a bit different, and the leaves look shredded as the slugs avoid the veins.

What to do:

  • Clear the area of hiding places as much as you can – remove big stones, tidy away trugs & pots
  • Set slug traps – the easiest is to fill old yoghurt pots or ramekins with cheap lager. This attracts the slugs. You can also use citrus halves – e.g. half an orange scooped out – and set these around like little slug-friendly igloos – then remove any you find on a daily basis.
  • Use natural barriers like wool pellets, grit, baked & crushed eggshells around vulnerable plants



What to look for:

  • Birds flying away from your plot as you approach it!
  • Leaves eaten right back to the veins (as pictured)
  • Top of the leaf is often torn off (rather than sides, as birds just peck the most easily available parts of the leaves, whereas slugs come up from ground level so often start at the sides)
  • An absence of neat holes in the leaves (as these would suggest slugs)
  • Uprooted baby plants – the birds can often tear the plant right out of the soil if it has only just been planted.
  • Brassicas stripped right back to veins – classic pigeon activity, they can eat an entire crop in just half an hour!

What to do:

  • Netting is really the most effective way to keep birds off your crops, but please please make sure it is a bird-friendly type of netting, rather than one that easily traps the poor things.
  • Horticultural fleece can also be used.
  • Scarecrows and dangly CDs from strings can help to deter them, but we find this only works for a few days until the birds cotton on!

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