Slugs and snails, they’re nasty, slimy, and they can do some real damage
You go out to visit your babies and you notice some kind of weird hole in the foliage. Even worse, your new sprouts are laying limp on the ground, having been chewed down to the nubbin while you were sleeping!
Know their MO
Snails love moist conditions. They are a constant nuisance during our rainy season and if you have a pond, most likely, they will find your plants. They are most active at night and during the day they will hide out in areas that are cool and damp. Not all snails are herbivores but the ones we are targeting eat both live and decaying plant material. Total irradiation isn’t going to happen so it comes down to population control.
There are all kind of baits and brews out there. Snail bait can be purchased where ever garden supplies are sold. It’s a quick, convenient control that isn’t messy. Just sprinkle the area and be done with it. Before you decide to sprinkle, think about the other creatures that may find these little morsels tasty… dogs, cats, birds. I choose the most natural method of control. Reduce the conditions that are favorable and when I find them, I crush them (yuck!).
Reduce their habitat:
Get rid of un-necessary debris in the landscape. They will hide under pavers, rocks, bricks, and boards. If certain items can’t be removed for one reason or another, monitor them as traps. When snails are present, dispose of them.
They hide beneath groundcover and low-lying plants. By thinning these out, you provide more light and warmth to the area. Spacing plants farther apart allows more air to circulate.
Mulch retains moisture which promotes favorable conditions and it provides a place for them to hide. While your out playing in the dirt, disturb the mulch around your plantings. When you find them, dispose of them. If snails or slugs are a huge problem, you might want to plan on removing the mulch or raking up the leaves in the spring (compost it). Let the soil breath for a while and before summer, apply new mulch.
Search and Destroy:
When you find a snail, crush it. I’m not a fan of hearing a shell being crushed but it’s the surest and the safest (unless you are the snail) method of control. If you just can’t bring yourself to crush them on the spot, you can fill a container with soapy water. When you find them, drop them in the bucket. If you have kids, this would be a great family project… kinda like an easter egg hunt. The afternoon of the hunt (if it hasn’t rained) you need to water. This will help get the snails active. After dark, arm the kiddies with flashlights, rubber gloves and buckets of soapy water and turn them loose. Offer a bounty for each snail captured. A nickel for each slug or snail should keep them busy combing the landscape.
There are other natural methods of control besides crushing or drowning. You can rototill the soil. This reduces the population and it will reduce the crevices in the soil where they hide.
Encourage natural predators: Snakes, toads, frogs, beetles, birds, chickens, ducks, geese, all feed on them. Decollate Snails were also introduced as a biological agent to control the brown garden snail population.
Traps: I said we want to reduce their habitat, but in the case of a trap, you are creating a definite place for the snails to hide. You can use rolled up newspapers, boards or rocks placed on risers. Overturned or broken flowerpots are good too as they may become a home for a resident toad. Set traps in the areas where populations are high and monitor the areas during the day. When snails are present under your traps, you can handpick them and dispose of them.
Beer: If you don’t keep the trap fresh, you wind up with a brew of stinky, warm beer with dead slugs to boot. If your up for it, get a deep-ish container with a lid (margarine container) and fill it with the beer. You can also use a mixture of 1/4 – 1/2 tsp yeast, 1 cup water and 1 tsp sugar,. Sink the container into the soil leaving about an inch or so above the soil. Cut some entry holes in the container above the ground. around the areas you have in infestation. The snail is attracted to the yeast, so he falls into the container and becomes trapped.
Barriers: copper strips (bend the top edge of the strip down to form a flange) or screen. Copper seems to react with the slime and kinda shocks the snail or slug. Copper strips or screen is easily installed on raised beds. Bury about 4 ” of Screen in the ground and have about 2 inches protruding above ground. Resident population will be trapped inside barriers so monitor and handpick them. Remove low foliage from plants that may create a bridge for the snail to crawl over.
Diatomaceous earth is not effective when wet so it needs to be re-applied often. If inhaled, it can cut your lungs. Wood ashes are effective only when they are dry. Continued use can add alkalinity to soil. Cedar chips, cinders (effective when wet), pine needles (can make your soil acidic)are all materials that are uncomfortable for the snail to cross.
Salt: Remember when you were a kid? Armed with the salt shaker, snails didn’t have a chance. A little sprinkle and well, you know the rest. If you use salt, be aware that continual use can raise the salinity in soil which can affect plants.
Baits: Snails eat the bait and they immediately stop eating your plants. They die a few days later. Bait in early fall to prevent egg-laying, then late fall to try to kill any that have just hatched. Spread bait after a rain when they are most active. Don’t use baits that list Metal dehyde as an ingredient. It is poisonous to dogs, cats and wildlife. Carbaryl is another toxic ingredient in bait. Look for baits containing Iron phosphate as a more preferable ingredient. When you use bait, don’t set it out in piles. It is more easily ingested. Sprinkling is the proper application method.
Another tip worth mentioning is to check plants that you are bringing home.