Zucchini is one of the best garden plants for beginners and pros alike, as it is a fast-growing, hardy plant that bears large, abundant fruits. However, pests like slugs and snails can sometimes take over your zucchini patch and squash your dreams of a fruitful harvest, which is why it’s critical to identify and eliminate them before they devastate your zucchini plant.
Slugs eat zucchini plants. Squash plants, such as zucchini, are a favorite among slugs and snails since the vines grow low to the ground. However, slugs generally avoid fully-grown zucchini plants since they have sharp bristles that can damage a slug’s skin.
In this article, I’ll take you through everything you need to know about slugs on your zucchini plants. I’ll also help you determine if slugs are invading your zucchini patch and teach you some practical methods for controlling and eliminating slugs to keep your garden healthy and pest-free.
How to Identify Slugs on Zucchini and Squash Plants
The first step to figuring out what kind of pests are eating your zucchini plants is to do a bit of investigation. Slugs can be challenging to find since they tuck themselves away in dark, cool places. However, if you know when and how to search for them, you should be able to determine if they are chowing down on your zucchini plant.
It’s also important to note that slugs and snails have the same behavioral and eating patterns, so any identification or eradication method that will work for slugs will also work for snails.
Know When Your Squash Plant Is the Most Vulnerable
Zucchini is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with other fruits and veggies, such as cucumbers, pumpkins, and melons. These plants are all low-growing vines, which makes them prone to ground-dwelling pests like slugs and snails, who feast on sweet leaves, stems, and fruits.
Young zucchini plants are most vulnerable to slugs since the leaves and stems are the sweetest and softest when the plant has not yet matured.
However, as zucchini plants grow, they develop bristles on their stems and on the bottom of their leaves, which is a natural defense against slugs and snails. These hairs are sharp and bad-tasting. If a slug slithers onto a prickly adult zucchini plant, it will only get hurt, encouraging gastropods to find a tastier, smoother plant to eat.
After the zucchini fruits begin to develop, the plant becomes vulnerable again since the fruit itself is very sweet and smooth.
So, slugs will only significantly damage your zucchini plant while it is young and after it has fruited. During these times, you must keep an eye out for those little slimy pests if you want to have a fruitful harvest.
Investigate the Damage to Your Zucchini Plant
Slugs and snails leave distinct markings on plant leaves and stems, which might help you determine if they are the cause of the holes in your zucchini’s leaves.
They have mouths on the bottom of their bodies, and they scrape away plant matter from the most delicate parts of a plant’s leaves, creating a hole they can bite around.
Because of the way that their months scrape against a plant, the gaps that they leave in plants are rough and uneven. They are rarely a smooth circular shape.
However, as the plant heals from slug damage, it will seal over the missing portion of the leaf, which evens out the curves of the slug bites, creating a very smooth, round, circular shape.
Look for Slugs at Night or in Dark, Cool Places
Slugs are nocturnal creatures, so you’ll only see them actively feeding at night.
They need a cool, dark, humid environment to thrive. They are susceptible to sun damage, dehydration, and heat, so you’ll only ever spot them in cool secluded places during the daytime, which makes it difficult to eradicate them.
However, spotting slugs on zucchini is much easier than with most plants since the large, umbrella-shaped leaves of the zucchini plant provide shade while the solid below offers plenty of humidity. So, you might be able to find slugs in the soil underneath your zucchini plant, even during the day.
How to Keep Slugs off of Zucchini
Keeping slugs and snails off your zucchini plants is simple, especially since they often avoid mature zucchini plants. It should only take a month of implementing pest control measures before you can just let your zucchini grow naturally.
So, let’s go over some of the best slug control measures for zucchini plants.
All of these methods are safe for those of you who have pets or small children, as I won’t be recommending any chemical pesticides since the organic ones are cost-effective, convenient, and work just as well as chemicals—if not better.
Hand Pick the Slugs While the Zucchini Is Young
Hand-picking is the best way to get rid of slugs, although it might take a slightly creative approach.
Manually removing slugs from your zucchini plant is particularly advantageous since you won’t need to do it for too long.
Since slugs generally only threaten young zucchini seedlings and fruit, you’ll only need to protect the plant from damage while it is small and immature and when it starts producing zucchini.
Still, because slugs are nocturnal and feed at night, you’ll need to collect them after dark using a flashlight. Pull them off the plant and out of the soil using your fingers or a pair of tongs, then relocate them or drown them in soapy or salty water.
Repel and Kill Slugs With Coffee
Coffee is a complete and organic pesticide that repels and kills slugs. Caffeine from liquid coffee is toxic to them, while coarse and solid coffee grounds harm their sensitive skin.
On top of the pest-control benefits, coffee is a fantastic fertilizer for zucchini plants since it releases nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, the primary ingredients in all garden fertilizers, into the soil.
To use coffee as a pest control agent and fertilizer:
- Pour coffee grounds around the base of your zucchini plant.
- Spray the soil below the foliage with some room-temperature brewed coffee.
- Reapply the coffee treatment every time it rains to ensure that the caffeine stays potent enough to kill slugs.
Use a Citrus Fruit Trap to Collect Slugs
Slugs and snails love citrus fruits’ fragrant, sweet scent, particularly oranges and grapefruit. You can use this against them by placing half of a grapefruit or orange on the soil, with the fruit facing down, to attract and collect them.
After placing the fruit near your zucchini plant, the slugs will crawl into the fruit and gorge themselves overnight. In the morning, flip over the fruit, remove the slugs manually, dispose of them, and then replace the trap. You can use the same fruit repeatedly until all of the fruit is gone.
Tips For Protecting Zucchini from Slugs
Although the control methods above work very well for getting rid of slugs once they’ve already taken a chunk out of your zucchini plant or fruit, prevention is the best way to see success when gardening.
So, to keep your zucchini safe from slugs, you may want to:
Start All Seedlings Indoors
Young seedlings are a slug’s favorite dish, so it’s critical to start all of your seeds indoors if you want them to grow into healthy, mature, fruitful plants.
Set Traps & Remove the Slugs
You can also set traps and manually remove slugs every evening during the fruiting season. While mature zucchini plants are not attractive to slugs, zucchini fruits are. If you want to protect your harvest, set traps and use slug control measures as soon as you see signs of your first zucchini fruit.
Keep the Soil Exposed to the Sunlight
Slugs need a hiding place during the daytime, and they’ll often tuck themselves under stones, in grassy spots, underneath creeping herbs and vines, or between the boards of a raised garden bed. You’ll need to eliminate these hiding spots around your zucchini plant to keep them away.
Provide Your Zucchini With Vertical Support
Zucchini has vining and short bushy varieties. They don’t naturally climb but you can keep them off the ground by tying them up a trellis as they grow.
Keeping the foliage and fruits off the ground will protect them from slugs and other pests. It will also prevent the leaves and fruits from rotting due to the excess moisture in the soil or the splashing water when it rains or every time you water your plant.
Young zucchini plants and fruits are a favorite snack among snails and slugs, and you’ll need to protect your plant when it’s most vulnerable to damage if you want it to stay healthy.
To get rid of your slugs and snails:
- Manually pick them off of your plant at night.
- Use controls such as coffee and citrus fruits to kill and collect slugs when the plant is young or fruiting.
- Remove hiding spots such as ground covers and stones from your zucchini patch.