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Reader q&a on marigold problems:

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I planted some marigold plants in my back garden and within one week all the leaves and flowers were gone. I think they were eaten by snails and slugs. I tried slug bait but the problem has not completely gone. Can you suggest any solutions to my problem?

The Green Chronicle replies...

Marigolds themselves are usually reckoned to be a good slug deterrent. However if these particular marigolds are being eaten by slugs you might try a whole range of organic anti-slug tactics. Slugs can sometimes be caught in beer traps - little cups of cheap beer buried up to the rim by the plants being protected; they might be kept off with crushed egg shell or grit scattered on the soil surface; they might also be warded off with wood ash or saw dust scattered in the same way. These barrier methods obviously depend upon pretty thorough ground coverage. Ridding the area of nice slug habitats is a good idea. So remove possible slug shelters like boards, stones or bricks from near the plants, and a nice fine tilth is better for combatting slugs than a clumpy soil surface. It is possible to buy anti-slug nematodes which, once the soil temperature is above 10 degrees Centigrade, will parasitise the local slug population. Nematodes are an expensive solution to be sure. Better long term biological control would be ensured by encouraging more biodiversity in your garden. Try a pond to encourage frogs for a start, they will munch through many a slug. Encourage birds in to the garden (if you don't own a cat), and they will help control pests. In general if you are suffering greatly from any one pest it is a sign that the eco-system in your garden is out of balance. There should be predators to eat a lot of your pests and thus allow you to grow, with at least some success, what you want to grow. There are even species of slug-eating slugs; I have hoped for their appearance many times in the past. As I suggested earlier I am a little sceptical about the idea of slugs eating marigolds, and it might be worth checking the plants out at night with a torch to see if you can catch your culprit at work. This works well as a final line of defence: If you find slugs you can pick them off and either feed them to some chickens or put them where they can't destroy your flowers.

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