Gooseberry sawfly

If this isn’t creepy, I don’t know what is. Meet the gooseberry sawfly, an eating-machine that can defoliate a currant or gooseberry bush in a matter of days. 

KODIAK — Marty picked rhubarb the other day and carried the tote full of trimmed stalks to the front door. “The plants are really healthy and big this year,” he said jubilantly. “But so are the slugs.”


Maybe you’ve experienced a slug or two on your hike in Abercrombie or saw one slithering on the pavement? (Question: What was the snail doing on the highway? Answer: About one mile a day.)

All kidding aside, today we’re going to cover a couple notorious pests: Slugs and gooseberry sawflies.



Just as there are many ways to smoke salmon, there many ways to snag a slug.

You can reach for a number of solutions but the bottom line is that you need to hit slugs on several fronts. The most important defense is to simply pick them. As gross as it sounds, it works. “My goal is to reduce the breeding population,” a friend told me. 

How you pick them (wearing gloves, with chopsticks, or bare-handed) and dispose of them (pitch them in the ocean, feed them to the chickens, whatever) is up to you. But picking slugs should be your Number One effort.

If you’re squeamish about slime, then hire a bunch of kids that embrace the “ick factor.”



I’m not a fan of chemical baits such as Deadline. It can kill birds, dogs and cats. But I am a fan of Sluggo, a palletized slug bait the size, and color, of a grain of rice. Sluggo essentially a scented coating (smells great to a slug, but it’s odorless to you and me) built around a sand-grit of iron phosphate, much like a pearl cemented around a bit of sand.

Iron phosphate occurs naturally in the soil. When sprinkled on the soil, Sluggo lasts for a week or two, depending on the weather. Any bait that is not ingested by slugs, poses no harm to birds or other curious critters. It simply degrades and becomes a part of the soil. Rats, however, will scoop it up like candy. So if you have a rodent problem, you are forewarned. 

Sluggo is not cheap, however. You’re buying a brand name and, like Kleenex, it is sold under a variety of labels.

As the product literature states, Sluggo lures snails and slugs from their hiding places. When slugs ingest Sluggo, even in small amounts, it causes them to cease feeding. Enough said.

There is more than one way to bait a slug

Jeff Lowenfels, Anchorage Daily News garden columnist and organic gardener, prefers to set out tubs of beer or yeast water. Putting traps right in your garden though, is not a good idea, he says. “It only attracts and keeps slugs in your garden. Instead, put the traps three to five feet outside your garden beds.”

Let’s go to the next pest that’s reared up its, in this case, green head.



As you read this, the leaves on my red currant and gooseberry bushes are getting munched on by gooseberry sawfly larvae. And if I don’t do something about it, the shrubs will lose most, if not all, of their leaves.

The culprit is a small caterpillar, or larvae, that’s pale green, 1/4 to 3/4 of an inch long, and covered with small black spots.

At this stage in their life cycle, sawfly larvae are eating machines. Unfortunately, much of the damage occurs before we realize there’s a problem. The adult sawflies lay eggs on the underside of leaves low down in the center of the bush. That way, the larvae go unnoticed until they have eaten their way upwards, devouring the leaves as they go.

They consume the fleshy part of the leaf, carving it out and leaving the inner rib, like eating fresh corn and leaving the cob.



The sooner you dispatch the larvae, the better. Remove them by hand (I suggest gloves) or blast them with water. You can also spray them with a mixture of three tablespoons Murphy’s Oil Soap (available in grocery and hardware stores) to four cups water. Or spray them with ammonia and water, or white vinegar.

For a complete list of pest solutions, go to and type the word “pests” in the search field. 



Here is a list of things to do in the yard and garden:

1. Sharpen your lawn mower blade(s). How do you know if this needs to be done? If the tops of your grass are ragged and brown, time to sharpen. Mix lawn clippings with leaves for a fast compost.

2. Start new batches of veggie seedlings or buy them at local nurseries.

3. Visit the Saturday Farmer’s Market at the Baptist Mission. Starts at 11:00 (I think)

4. Keep fans running 24/7 in greenhouse and hoophouses.

5. Rotate hanging baskets, thin carrots, be grateful.

Want a new rhubarb recipe? Go to my blog at and type rhubarb pickles in the search bar. 

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