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Do you want to know how to get rid of snails and slugs and the garden? Here’s what we do on our organic farm.
Snails and slugs can be very damaging to small transplants, and it’s essential to manage their populations. Persistent efforts can limit them and reduce damage to a reasonable level. Below are a few methods we use. Combining several of these approaches may help you and your garden stay one step ahead of the molluscan menaces.
What do Slugs and Snails Eat?
Slugs and snails eat everything! They love eating produce in the garden but also can thrive on decaying matter in the soil. Because snails and slugs eat such a wide range of food, it’s best to reduce their populations to control them. Here are our tips.
Reduce Hiding Places for Slugs and Snails in the Garden
When thinking about how to get rid of snails and slugs, it’s important to know that slugs and snails rest during the day in shady, damp places, then emerge at night to feed. A thorough garden clean-up to minimize potential habitat is a first step in cutting down their populations. Debris in contact with the ground, such as boards, bricks, unused flower pots, weeds, and other daytime hiding places, should be removed from the garden.
To reduce hiding places, consider thinning ivy, irises, agapanthus, lilies, ice plant, and other succulents and ground covers to increase sunlight and airflow, making the habitat warmer, drier, and less attractive as a shelter. Weed the area around tree trunks and keep grass near the garden area trimmed.
Eliminating certain hiding places may not be possible. Check for slugs and snails around low ledges on fences, areas around water meters, spaces between the boards and the soil in raised beds, and other likely habitats. When hunting amongst irises and other plants, be aware that snails react to vibration and will drop themselves into the foliage base. Slugs are more challenging to find in the daytime since they often worm their way into the soil via crevices left by plant roots or earthworms and stay hidden until after dark.
Any snails and slugs you collect should be crushed and buried, composted, or thrown in the trash. If you’re squeamish about squashing them, drop your prey into a bucket of soapy water. Do not use salt to kill your catch; salt is toxic to plants and difficult to remove from the soil once it is in there.
As you expand your efforts on how to get rid of snails and slugs, be on the lookout for snails and slugs during your hunts and while gardening. According to UC Berkeley plant pathologist Robert Raabe, “snails dig holes about an inch deep and deposit their opaque white eggs in them. Check any individual snail on the ground during the daytime. It probably is laying eggs. Dig out the eggs and allow them to dry out.”
Pest control experts William and Helga Olkowski note, “young snails remain in the nest for several days, then stay close to the area in which they hatched for a number of months. This is important in management since a large number of young snails in one area is a clue to where the snails are laying eggs.” Slugs lay clear eggs about the size of BB pellets – look for them attached to boards and other smooth surfaces.
Once you’ve identified potential hiding places, be consistent about cleaning them out. “Continue to search snail hiding places, daily if possible, until your catch becomes noticeably smaller,” writes Pam Peirce in Golden Gate Gardening. “Then continue hunts of their favorite hiding places once a week. Don’t stop handpicking; keep it as part of your ongoing control program even if you use other methods as well. It’s your most effective weapon.” Combine daytime hunts with night-time searches, when slugs and snails come out to feed – but be aware that for every slug you catch, there are likely 20 more still hiding.
Create Traps and Barriers for Slugs and Snails in the Garden
After you clean up the garden, the next step on how to get rid of snails and slugs is to use traps to concentrate slugs and snails in a few spots so that they’ll be easy to find and remove. Traps should duplicate desirable habitat, i.e., they should create dark, moist conditions for daytime hiding places. Plastic or unglazed clay flower pots placed upside down in shady spots on the uneven ground or boards raised slightly off the ground can be used to trap snails. Inverted grapefruit rinds, boards, or black plastic laid directly on the ground will lure slugs. Moistening the soil underneath will help draw your prey. Check and empty the traps every day or two; crushed or drowned prey left at the trap will attract more victims.
Gardeners report mixed success with beer-baited traps, which are more effective for slugs than snails. It’s the smell of yeast that attracts the mollusks, so if you don’t want to share your six-pack, try making your own bait: mix two tablespoons of flour, one teaspoon of sugar, and ½ teaspoon of baker’s yeast in 2 cups of warm water. Set your homemade brew or store-bought beer (go for the yeastier brands) in a shallow saucer or lid, with the rim of the container set at ground level. You can also make traps from plastic containers. It may take quite a few traps to make a dent in a large population of slugs.
Barriers of wood ash, diatomaceous earth, or cinder placed around garden beds can all inhibit slug and snail travel. The band of materials should be at least 1 inch high and 3 inches wide. Be aware that ashes and diatomaceous earth don’t work once they get wet.
Copper flashing and screening provide a more permanent barrier. A rim of copper to form a flange can be nailed to the edge of a wooden raised bed. Apparently, the slime that snails and slugs excrete produces a shock when it contacts the copper, prompting the pests to make a u-turn.
Copper screening can be used, too, to fence off slugs and snails in the garden. Bury it in the ground at least four inches deep, with two inches protruding above the soil. Note that these barriers will also trap snails and slugs inside the area you want to be protected, so keep up with handpicking efforts in the beds. If you use copper barriers, make sure to clear away any overhanging plants or other materials that could provide a bridge into the garden.
On our farm, we make fun of controlling the slug and snail populations by going out after a rain and seeing how many we can find. Be sure not to dispose of San Diego native snails, which are beneficial to the garden. They are easy to distinguish from the European snail.