Monday, 7 July 2008

How to Get Rid of Slugs and Snails


Slugs and snails! Just the thought of them munching their way through my favourite hostas and nibbling the tender shoots of my emerging perennials is enough to have me declare death and destruction on what is, essentially, just another of nature’s creations.

I wouldn’t like to see them disappear entirely – that wouldn’t be good for the birds, hedgehogs and frogs that enjoy making a meal of them. A few in the compost heap can be useful but a whole platoon of them munching their way through the vegetable patch isn’t. But like any other pest, it’s only when the balance is wrong that they drive you insane.

So now that we’ve determined that too many of the blighters can turn them into ‘the enemy’, let’s look at what deterrents there are.

If you scout around the Interweb you’ll find quite a few. Some work better than others and some just don’t work at all. Some I’d be happy to try, others I wouldn’t. Which you ultimately choose to try isn’t up to me though, so I’ll just pass on the knowledge I have and leave it to you to make your decisions.


PELLETS
Pellets contain ‘metaldehyde’ which causes the slugs to produce enormous amounts of mucus that will quickly lead to dehydration and death. Unfortunately, metaldehyde can also harm other wildlife and our pets. Even worse, if children become too curious, they can be harmful to them, too. Being blue, which is a non-food colour, they‘re not immediately attractive to wildlife and pets, however, that doesn’t mean they’ll never get inside them and young children are hardly likely to be deterred by the colour. According to the RSPB, pellets aren’t harmful to birds but that still leaves the ‘bird eats snail, cat eats bird’ problem.

I’ve used them in the past and they do work but I’d much rather manage without them.


BARK CHIPPINGS
I’ve been advised to cover my beds in bark chippings as they don’t like moving over it. Poppycock! It doesn’t work. They simply slither underneath it instead.


BROKEN EGG SHELLS
When scattered around vulnerable plants broken eggshells work for a short while but considering the amount of egg shells you’d need for there to be any real value in it, this isn’t a particularly viable idea. It’s ok for protecting one or two favourite plants but make sure the majority of shell pieces have their sharp sides up.


CRUSHED SEA SHELLS
Some garden centres sell these and I’ve been told by those who’ve tried them that they work better than egg shells as they don‘t crush down to powder anywhere near as easily and won‘t disappear in heavy rain. Useful in pots but, as with egg shells, you’d need far too many for them to be of any use as protection for plants in the ground. They’d look pretty good in a garden with a seaside theme, though.


COFFEE GROUNDS
Apparently molluscs don’t like the caffeine so coffee grounds sprinkled in a circle around target plants should stop them crossing. I’ve tried it with some success but it washes away very quickly and needs to be re-applied often. What does worry me though, is what it might be doing to other creatures like earthworms, beetles etc. If it’s so effective against slugs then could it be having some other adverse effects?


LIQUID COFFEE
Very strong liquid coffee (about the equivalent of 30 spoonfuls to a mug) sprayed on plants is said to stop slugs and snails from munching them. Well if coffee grounds work I’ve no doubt that this will have some sort of effect too but what might it do to the plants? It’s all well and good getting excited about methods of slug control but until we know that it won’t have any negative side-effects, I’d rather steer clear.


GRAVEL

Because of their thin skin, molluscs don’t like crawling over anything sharp and is
the reason broken egg shells work to an extent. Part of our garden is laid to gravel with plants around the edges and while this area definitely appears to be less attractive to the slimy visitors, a few do cross it. However, so far the hosta in the gravel is still intact whereas those in the beds have been munched so it’s definitely an improvement.


VASELINE ON RIMS OF POTS
If you’re trying to save your hostas then this one’s useless. The leaves hang down over the edges of the pots, the slugs climb on and, without ever touching the Vaseline, they’re enjoying a slap up meal. It could be useful for veg in pots though, as long as they grow upright, although not having tried it myself, I can’t say whether it’d work or not.


BEER TRAPS
A tin can filled with beer and placed in the ground should attract slugs to it that will then fall in and die through being submerged in alcohol. It does work but isn’t really useful in a garden with a big slug problem because you’d need too many traps that have to be emptied and refilled every day. If the problem’s small-scare it could be worth trying, though.


AN ORANGE OR GRAPEFRUIT

Remove the fruit from an orange or grapefruit and place upside down in your beds. Molluscs will be attracted to them and then, in the morning, you simply pick them up and dispose of them. As with beer traps, the method’s ok if you don’t have much of a slug problem but no good if you’re trying to control a whole army of munchers because you’d need to use an awful lot of fruit.


CARDBOARD STRIPS
Rather than wasting money on beer and fruit, place 6” x 12” strips of cardboard amongst your plants to make hideaways for slugs then just go out in the morning, turn them over, pick the slugs off, drop them into a container and dispose of.


REMOVING LARGE STONES, LOG PILES ETC
I’ve often heard people recommend this as slugs and snails like to hide in moist, dark places but I refuse to recommend it. Sure, you’d be removing their hidey holes but you’d also be removing the natural hiding places of beneficial creatures and having them inhabit your garden will do far more for your personal battle against slugs and snails than removing a few stones, etc. ever will.


NIGHT-TIME PATROL
Once darkness falls, go outside with a torch and hand pick the little beggars off your plants. I’m squeamish and just can’t touch slimy slugs so I usually cover my hand with a plastic bag (a previously used one, preferably) before picking them up.

If you’re vigilant with this for 3-4 nights you’ll notice the amount you find start to decline quite drastically. Once you feel you’ve got them under reasonable control, you’ll no longer have to go out every night. Once or twice a week will be enough and eventually maybe even once a fortnight. Don’t ever stop though or their numbers will be back up again before you can spit three times.


SALT
Sprinkling salt on slugs will literally dissolve them. I’m no slug lover but I have to admit that this is just too agonising to watch. Ok, so they munch my plants but they’re only doing what comes naturally to them. Do they really deserve such a tortuous death? To make any real impact on their numbers you’ll have to do as recommended above and go out every night for 3-4 nights with the salt pot at the ready. I’ve seen it work but only you know whether or not you can do it.


FIGHT NATURE WITH NATURE

The introduction of natural predators in the garden is by far the best solution, especially if combined with the night-time patrol method. If you can entice beneficial creatures like frogs, hedgehogs and thrushes into the garden, they’ll be of tremendous help.

Once you’ve got the number of molluscs under control through picking them off and disposing of them, the other creatures will ensure that those remaining are kept under control. We’ve had a family of baby blackbirds in our garden this year and believe me, the number of slugs I’ve found has been hardly worth talking about compared to a ‘normal’ year.

To make your garden attractive to them there has to be a good supply of food and water along with places for them to shelter. Hence my not advising you remove log piles, etc. Don’t expect your garden to become slug free though because your garden friendly visitors will need a food supply. It’s all about striking a balance. You put up with some slugs and the other creatures will make sure they don’t become too much of a problem.

You‘ve probably got an ample supply of food for them because, after all, it’s their food that caused the problem in the first place. Mind you, hedgehogs, frogs and thrushes are no different to you and me when it comes to getting fed up with the same old meal every day, even if the main course is juicy and mouth-watering, but most gardens have enough diversity to keep them happy. That’s assuming you haven’t been attacking every bug in sight with your chemical weapons, of course.

A wildlife pond is the best magnet for attracting beneficial creatures into the garden. It doesn’t have to be huge; just a place where frogs and newts can lay their spawn and from which other creatures can drink. An old washing up bowl sunk into the ground can be enough in a small garden.

Collecting tadpoles from natural ponds is, contrary to what some people believe, not illegal and neither is the removal of frogs and smooth newts as long as they‘re transferred to another pond and not for profit. Great crested newts are protected and mustn’t be removed from their natural habitat under any circumstances, unless under licence. So, to get your wildlife pond started, why not pop down to a local pond and fish out some taddies? Perhaps a little late now but certainly something to think of for next year. Watching tadpoles turn into tiny froglets is both fun and educational for children, too.


NEMATODES
Another natural method is the introduction of nematodes (Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita) to the garden. These are microscopic worms sold under the name of “Nemaslug”. Once in the ground, nematodes will seek out slugs and aggressively attack them so as to use their body as a place of reproduction. As sick as this sounds, they actually enter the slug’s body through a hole in its head (it’s what slugs use to breathe through) and once in residence, they release a bacteria that stop the slugs for being able to eat. They then lay their eggs and within 7-10 days the slug’s a gonner! The newly hatched nematodes will continue to feed on the dead slug’s body until they’re ready to go into the ground alone, seeking out new slugs to attack and reproduce in.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an ever continuing cycle as the nematodes are only active in the soil for about 6 weeks. Long enough, however, to protect emerging plants whilst at their most vulnerable during spring.

Nematodes find clay soil difficult to move in (which is why I’m not able to use them in this garden) and cost about £8.95 to treat an area of 40 sq metres or £18.95 for 100 sq meters from Unwins.


KEEP CHICKENS

Apparently, chickens see slugs as a delicacy to be devoured with pleasure so keeping them should help keep the numbers down. Mind you, the chickens will probably walk all over your garden beds and leave their droppings on your patio so y’know, weigh one against the other and make your own decision. All I can say is that slugs don’t lay eggs suitable for human consumption.

Any chicken keepers out their like to tell us whether this works?


YOU’VE CAUGHT ‘EM, NOW DISPOSE OF THEM

If there’s one thing that really riles me, it’s reading a magazine that contains some tip or another for catching slugs but ends with “…and then dispose of them by your preferred means”. Unless somebody tells you how to dispose of them, how can you possibly have a preferred means?

Here are some ideas that could become your ‘preferred means’.


STAMP ON THEM
Yukk! Sorry, but I hate doing this. I can handle stamping on the odd one now and then but if I’ve just picked up a piece of cardboard with 20 dirty great slugs stuck to it, I’m not about to squidge them all over my garden path! No way! It works, there’s no doubt about that, and as it’s quick it’s also a humane way of dealing with them, but it isn’t for me. You may feel differently. Do as you wish.


THROW SNAILS AT A WALL OR OTHER HARD, RIGID SURFACE
This is Richard’s preferred means of disposal. He reckons aiming them at a tree is great target practice for cricket! Oh well, each to their own, eh? I’d imagine a cricket ball weighs considerably more than snail, though. Anyway, this method doesn’t kill them outright but they will die of moisture loss, assuming they don’t become bird food, first. Speaking of which, you could always pick up the crushed snails once you’ve finished lobbing them and put them on the bird table.


FREEZE THEM
Put them in Tupperware type container in the freezer. Being cold blooded they’ll slow down and become torpid in the cold, rather like being anaesthetised before dying. Ok, slugs and snails in the freezer may not sound very nice but fishermen have been keeping maggots in the fridge for years. Freezing’s undoubtedly the most humane way of killing them if you don‘t like the stamping method but whatever you do, DON’T use a small plastic bag tied with a knot. Slugs are incredibly muscular creatures and 20-30 of them in a bag, all struggling to get out will probably cause the bag to burst with the result being… well, not very pretty!

The slimy corpses can be disposed of by dumping them in the compost heap (assuming you have one) where they’ll do as nature intended and replenish the ground once they’ve become part of the ready compost. Failing that, you’ll just have to put them in the bin I suppose.


DUMP THEM ELSEWHERE
For those who don’t like the idea of killing anything, even slugs and snails, it’s possible to gather them in a lidded bucket (do make sure it’s tight, though - they’ll lift the lid and crawl out, otherwise) and transport them to another place where they’ll again be able to enjoy their freedom.

Don’t go thinking you can just chuck ‘em over next door’s garden, though. Molluscs have a homing instinct (no, I’m not having a laugh). If you don’t believe me, try putting some nail varnish on the shells of a few snails, drop them over the wall and see how long it takes before you find them in your garden again. Evidently, to be certain that they won’t find their way home, you’ll need to transport them at least 5 miles away. Quite honestly, I can’t believe you’d need to dump them THAT far away. I mean, they’re hardly marathon runners, are they? And if there’s a busy road between you and them, well… need I say more?


For some reason people tend to dislike slugs more than snails (I’m one of them) even though they’re essentially the same creatures. It’s said that snails were an attempt by a well-meaning angel to cover up the fact that God wasn’t paying proper attention when he created slugs. The angel said “let’s give snails a little house and then everybody’ll think they’re cute and love them”. I wouldn’t go as far as to say love them but they definitely have something that slugs lack. I mean, would Brian of Magic Roundabout fame have been so popular had he been a slug?

Sharon J

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24 comments:

Richard said...

You could eat the snails.

Really.

Sharon J said...

Well I suppose you could but I'm afraid they do nothing to whet my appetite. Each to their own, though.

Frugal Trenches said...

I love snails, not to eat but I like watching them & slugs in the garden! Although once I am able to grow veggies I may have a different opinion!
My vote is chickens, sounds like a nice natural way to ensure population control!

Eco-Gites of Lenault said...

My chooks are just cottoning on to the idea that those squishy things I throw into their food bowl are in fact edible ... and they love them. Mind you they have to eat quite a few to make up for the fact that they ate my lettuce seedlings.

Vicus Scurra said...

I don't do anything to them. I have some frogs, no regular hedgehogs, (and whether I have thrush etc.). My tip is plant a hosta somewhere where you can't see it. They will destroy it and leave everything else alone.

Is there an organic control for gardening programmes on TV? I'm still mourning Geoff Hamilton.

WebSmith said...

I used Chickens. They do a great job.

The roosters also chase the raccoons and other varmints away from my Koi pond and keep the squirrels from planting pecans which have some pretty deep roots by the time you see them. They keep Scooter the cat honest too.

For some reason, they don't bother the Doves, Robins, Hummingbirds or other birds that visit.

Sharon J said...

@ Frugal Trenches. Oddly enough, I like watching snails so am not fussed about them being in the garden. I don't like slugs though. No room for chickens in my garden :(

@ Eco-Gites. Glad your chooks are liking them.

@ Vicus. Mourning Geoff Hamilton? You mean his dead? Whatever is the world coming to!

@ Websmith. Sounds like your roosters are doing a grand job. Luckily, Racoons and pecan nuts aren't things I need to worry about.

Anonymous said...

You could squish'em under a pair of strappy heels

Anonymous said...

The easiest way is to spray them with regular vinegar - they'll curl up and die while still on the plant. Vinegar isn't great for plants, but the little bit you use won't hurt them. And it won't hurt the soil.

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LC said...

What is with all the spammy comments!!! I transported the snails,... Don't know about the homing instinct but I'm hoping I walked them far enough!!

sega31098 said...

"I wouldn’t like to see them disappear entirely – that wouldn’t be good for the birds, hedgehogs and frogs that enjoy making a meal of them."

That, and the escargot industry would die. Poor France...

Gabi said...

Oh I'm so happy I found this post. I now have a bottom freezer drawer containing a tupperware full of snails. (It could have been a disaster- they were in the ziploc bag I picked them up in). Thank you! Feel so much happier that my orchids will be protected (I live in South Africa so have them outside) but the snails will die gently.