Weird Gardening: Ticks, Slugs, Cats, and Beetles

Sandy Neily here, trying to keep slugs off my petunias.

A few years ago, writing for a regional paper, I went looking for unusual garden tips, first interviewing Joanne Suley, a spunky Skillins Greenhouses instructor. “People are just going to think I am horrible,” she said.

When asked for unusual solutions, Suley had plenty. “For slugs, I shake out salt or use circular sandpaper I cut and arrange around a plant. Slugs don’t like to cross it because it does rip their stomachs up.”

She laughed about Japanese beetles. “I have a friend who collects them and puts them in a blender with a cup of water, and then sprays her plants. She says it works, but if you go to her house for mixed drinks, make sure which blender gets used. Of course, it smells like gross decomposition.”

She uses baking soda and water as a fungicide and says most leaf diseases that show up early are from too much overhead watering followed by a good dose of sun. “Maine doesn’t have early blight. I fight mildew with a spray of spoiled milk or seasoned yogurt whey. Yes, it gets funky but it’s very acidic and it works.”

I’ve updated the piece and added more tips. There’s such a wealth of “pssssst, try this” advice, that gardeners gave me permission to list their ideas without names. Ready to gather up toilet paper, yogurt cups, and lemon rinds? Let’s go!

First Ticks! Keep lawn short, very short. Create a 3 ft. “nothing” barrier between lawn and woods with woodchips or gravel. (Not leaves, and clear any down leaves you have anywhere!) Create this kind of barrier around swing sets and recreation sites. Ticks won’t cross that barrier to get to grass. Move your wood pile outside the “nothing” zone if you can. More than deer, mice are vectors of Lyme disease and they love wood piles.

Home-made tick tubes. You can buy prepared ones.

Folks are using tick tubes in their wood piles and around lawn edges, but they must be well hidden from pets. Here’s all you need to know.

Acadia’s park rangers duct tape from low on their socks and tucked-in pants right up to their calves and then use DEET spray on the whole mess. (And they should know.) I could find no one who is deeply immersed in the outdoors who uses natural remedies for ticks. Turkey hunters who crouch all day in dense brush treat one set of clothes with Permethrin and swear by it. (Follow can instructions. Yes, nasty to apply; I use a mask and gloves. It’s OK when dry. I use one treated set of pants, socks and long-sleeved shirt all summer. Great for hiking, too.)

This strategy works well, especially for kids. After an outing, go straight to the bathroom; no stopping for anything! Strip, put clothes in dryer for at 15 minutes, pop child or yourself in shower.

Moving On …

  • For weeds, thick newspapers topped with straw or bark mulch are an effective weed barrier. (Oh, that’s why my mulch fails.)
  • Tilling by moonlight discourages weed growth; weeds can’t germinate without sun. (I plant with a headlamp anyway; no black flies.)
  • Use a pipe planter for mint and crazy-spreading plants; plant in a long pipe that has been buried vertically. Roots must go a long way down to spread.
  • Keep plants warm to extend your season. Keep water buckets in the garden so the sun can heat them, and at night the heat from the water slowly warms the garden.
  • Powdered milk (it’s the calcium) makes juicy tomatoes; just add it to the soil.
  • Crushed eggshells keep slugs and snails out and add essential nutrients.
  • Glue pennies around the flat side of raised beds; snails and slugs won’t cross them.
  • Car wax on old stiff tools loosens their joints; upending tools in a bucket of builder sand keeps them clean and rust free.
  • Make a spiffy garden pond out of an old bathtub. Add goldfish and then donate them to a local school. (Woohome, has great garden enhancement ideas.)
  • Place old seeds on a wet paper towel. If sprouts start, they’re good.
  • Invasive cats in the garden could fill an encyclopedia. Plant plastic forks throughout your garden (tines up); cats and critters don’t like to navigate them. Suley uses chicken wire. “I place it on the ground early in the season so plants grow through it. Cats just hate walking on it.”
  • Folks also suggest we plant or distribute the herb rue or use a motion activated sprinkler or place attractive rocks between flowering plants to deter digging or introduce unpleasant odors. Try citronella, orange or lemon peels, coffee grounds, vinegar, lavender oil, eucalyptus oil, or tobacco.
  • Save veggie cooking water to water plants. Pour, grow, eat, repeat!
  • Put a diaper in the bottom of the hanging plant or pot before putting in soil for moisture retention.
  • Start seedlings with cupped lemon rind (used halves) or small yogurt cups; poke a hole in the bottom for drainage, add soil, plant one or two seeds, and it’s a starting tray.
  • Plant tons of seeds and get the spacing you want. Just place seeds on unrolled toilet paper, re-roll it, and then unroll it in the garden, gently covering to the proper depth.
  • And deer? Here’s plant and tick protection at the same time (if you want to discourage deer). I use Milorganite.

    Moose and deer are no longer getting my day lilies thanks to Milorganite.

    It’s technically a fertilizer but is human-based. Deer hate it; plants and my Labrador love it. I spread it too thin for my dog to gulp, but the bag and web site says it’s pet safe. I now have huge flowers and no deer. Don’t think I would spread it on veggies.

Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association also comes to the rescue, offering up ‘The Pest Report’ during the growing season. The discussions include biology of the pest organism, effects on the plant, and recommended solutions.

Baking soda can be used to make fungicide, weed killer, grub killer, and much more. Maine has an Integrated Pest Management Program to “reduce reliance on pesticides.” Click around the site to find fact sheets and practices that are environmentally friendly.

Light colored pants and white socks advertise ticks before they get to your armpits and other cozy places.

Good luck! (Tuck those pants into white socks!)

Sandy’s novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and she’s been a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novel at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on the video trailer and Sandy’s website. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” will be published in 2019.


About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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3 Responses to Weird Gardening: Ticks, Slugs, Cats, and Beetles

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great tips. My late mom used newspapers under her mulch always. Like you, I have a set of clothes sprayed with tick repellent, and a “dirt shirt” to wear in the garden. I used to make an insect spray by soaking cigarettes, straining the water, and mixing it with need oil. A toxicologist said, in horror, nicotine is deadly, I hope you wear a mask and gloves. I’m a rugged farm girl…I never thought of that.


    • sandra neily says:

      HI, Kate. Love the nicotine experiment! Think is says how determined we are to prevail! I do use mask and gloves but this year’s black flies (up north) had me using DEET behind the ears and on my wrists, like evil perfume. I hated to, but they were weaponized bugs! Late and huge snowmelt followed by rain.

  2. Many excellent tips in this column!

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