Some Unsuspected Uses For Rose Foliage
In horticultural terms, to combine slugs and roses–even mentally–is to travel from the sublime to the faintly obscene. Indeed, the two are rarely connected, for roses are one of the few plants which do not fatally fascinate slugs. The connection is this; rose leaves can remove slug slime.
Now, this may not seem like such an accomplishment, yet few cleansers can match it. How many cotton garden gloves or trouser knees have been permanently disfigured by gloops of slug slime? I am always amazed at the way slime seems to have washed out, only to magically reappear when the clothing emerges from the clothes dryer, stiff as a board where beslimed. Even more remarkable is the way slime rehydrates instantly when you next kneel in damp grass or earth, as sticky as ever. Isn’t nature miraculous?
Discovery Lurks In A Lost Hanky
Some time ago, Lindsay Smith, a lovely gardener with impeccable style, told me an intriguing story. While weeding, she had gotten seriously slug slimed, as one so often does. Naturally, she had no hankie handy, so she grabbed a handful of greenery from her weeding basket and tried to clean her hands. When her hands did, in fact, become clean and slime-free, it took her a minute to realize the significance of that fact.
It took another minute to recognize that the slime-removing foliage was some slightly spotty rose leaves. We pondered this together, wondering whether an elixir of rose leaves or rose water might be an effective slug repellent. Though I never carried out those experiments, I have often since used the rose leaf trick to get slug slime off my hands or clothing.
Suffering Sensitive Slugs
One spring, after writing a column about some interesting things to do to slugs, I received a letter from a former U.W. professor explaining that most of my bright ideas were cruel and inhumane. After saying she felt sure from my writing that I have deep respect and admiration for living things, she added that “Slugs are very advanced, sensitive creatures capable of feeling, recognition, and memory.” She went on to liken slugs’ bodies to the cornea of the eye, in terms of sensitivity to pain (or ammonia water). Having had a number of corneal accidents myself, this made me cringe.
Now, however, I was in a quandry. Naturally, deeply sensitive and respectful people like yours truly don’t set out to torture any living thing. However, I was not about to watch ten trillion field slugs destroy the beauty of my garden without lifting a finger to stop them. Am I not a part of nature? And what about my plants? Does Ligularia “Desdemona” feel no pain when being made into slug sushi? Don’t hostas mind turning into leafy lacework? Do baby chrysanthemums want to die?
The Big Chill
My learned colleague allowed that if one must off the occasional miscreant slug, it is less inhumane to clip in half or stomp (short and swift) rather than skewer (slow and painful). Her recommendation is to “drop them into a plastic sack and put them in the freezer, since they quickly lose nerve function in the cold.” Well, now, that is an intriguing thought. Except what if one forgot and blithely tossed them into a casserole thinking they were chopped mushrooms?
Perhaps it’s time to make those rose leaf experiments, grinding a few leaves in the blender with water for spraying, shredding some for scattering. I’d love to hear from readers who know more about rose leaves as slug barriers. If, however, your rose leaves are showing signs of powdery mildew or black spot, pull off the offenders and burn them (you don’t want to be spraying those diseases around the garden). Instead, try this on the funky rose (or azalea, or anything mildew-prone) leaves:
Safest Rose Spray
1 Tsp. baking soda
1/4 Tsp. Joy or similar dish soap (to make the stuff stick)
1 gallon of water
Spray both the tops and undersides of the leaves, re-applying after each rain (there’s always a catch). Lots of rosarians swear by this simple solution.
Stop Making Sense
As for the slugs, well, over time, my heart has changed. I no longer bother to bait, except in my vegetable container garden tubs. Ever since I spent time in Costa Rica, creating a series of gardeners‘ and naturalists‘ tours for EcoTeach, I have found myself unable to interfere with critters except in the mildest ways. Perhaps our respect for nature and life in all its complexity really does grow on us as we age. Perhaps as my own life spins on I am less moved to intervene with other forms of life on our shared and lovely planet. It makes no sense, but neither does life as we know it. Onward!