Slugs Eating Your Plants? Offer Them a Beer Instead

Slugs and snails love beer, but they're no match for a slug beer trap. Learn how beer will lure them away from your vegetables, flowers, and special plants like hostas.

Slug eating lettuce
(Image credit: nilapictures / Getty Images)

Are you looking for a way to save your garden plants from the ravages of slugs and snails? A slug beer trap works like magic.

Slugs and snails generally don’t give us a calm peaceful feeling. It’s not so much that they leave a slimy trail and silently sneak around at night, but the damage they can do to new tender plants, fruits, and flowers makes us want to divert them to a better place.

How to Spot Slug & Snail Damage

If you’re noticing holes in your kale, hostas, strawberries, tomatoes, and anything else growing that’s fresh and juicy, you’re probably seeing the results of stealthy night visits from slugs and snails.

Mollusks like slugs and snails enjoy moist soil and warm temperatures, so they hide underneath shady plants, mulches, and wormholes during the day. You may never spot them in the daylight, and maybe you'd rather not know that they have about 27, 000 tiny teeth.

But their destructive habits of using these rather sophisticated mouth-parts to chew plants are easy to spot, from the gaping holes to the shiny, slimy trails they leave behind. The irregular smooth-sided holes in your plants, or those that look freshly clipped off at the stems are their distinctive calling cards. They aren’t terribly picky, either. They will eat your seedlings and flowers as well as vegetable plants.

It’s useless to try eliminating slugs or their eggs by tilling the soil, and using chemical deterrents is not advised. Unless you want to go night-hunting with a bright flashlight, setting traps may be your best solution.

Slugs, Snails and Beer

A tried and true method of killing off slugs and snails in the garden is to bait them with a cup or tray of beer. They love it. They will make their way to beer, fall into the liquid, and die what we hope is a rather pleasant death. Slugs and snails are attracted to the yeasty, fermented odor of beer and even prefer it to the fresh smell of your growing plants.

Plan to use an inexpensive beer for this project, and be sure to place these traps about every square yard (1 m) in the areas where you’re seeing slug activity. These creatures don’t travel very fast, so it’s important to have a fresh beer trap nearby so they don’t need to go far from where they hang out.

Beer slug trap set between coleus plants

(Image credit: mtreasure / Getty Images)

How to Set Your Beer Slug Traps

These are the best ways we know of to set a beer trap for slugs and snails:

  • Use a container you’d otherwise recycle, such as a yogurt container. You can also cut the bottom off of a plastic water or soda bottle and use the bottom piece as a tray. Just be sure it will hold 2-3 inches of beer.
  • Place the traps in areas of the garden where slug problems are the greatest.
  • Covering the trap containers isn’t really necessary but the lid may keep you from having to change out the beer as often and will keep it from being diluted by rain. However, an open, uncovered container is just as effective.
  • If you choose to use a container with a lid, cut a few holes around the top edge of the container for the creatures to crawl through.
  • Dig a hole to hold your container. Fill in the soil around the unlidded container and leave it an inch or less (2.5 cm) above the soil level. Slugs will crawl up over the edge and leaving this lip on an open container will keep beneficial insects from accidentally falling in.
  • If your container will be covered with a lid, be sure the holes stay just above the soil level.
  • When your containers are snugly in place in the ground, pour 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm.) of beer into each.
  • Check the traps daily if possible and add beer as needed.
  • Remove dead slugs and snails and put them in the compost. Or, if you’d prefer, leave them in your yard or garden for the birds, snakes, toads, or other slug predators.

Beer Substitute

If you don't have access to cheap beer or would simply rather concoct your own substitute, here’s a formula that works just as well. Mix these ingredients and pour the liquid into your traps. You can add a touch of honey, and these measurements don’t need to be exact:

  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) yeast
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) flour
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) sugar
  • 1 cup (237 ml.) water

As your plants become established and your collection of drowned slugs and snails diminishes, you can pull up your traps and recycle the containers. Some happy gardeners like to add the deceased creatures to their compost. It's a personal choice. They will dry up and wither away fairly quickly if tossed into the garden soil.

The beer trap for slugs method really does work. You may want to celebrate your victory with a cold beer. Cheers!

Laura Miller

Laura Miller has been gardening all her life. Holding a degree in Biology, Nutrition, and Agriculture, Laura's area of expertise is vegetables, herbs, and all things edible. She lives in Ohio.