Snails and slugs are the bane of organic gardeners, basil, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces and other tasty leaves can be destroyed in one night-and their is nothing more disheartening than seeing the heads of tray seedlings fall victim to the nocturnal slippery slimes. Without the use of expensive poisons there is no simple solutions, here are a few ideas that organic gardeners can try and hopefully find the right combination that works for you.
The first thing to point out is that there are no hippy dippy solutions, slugs and snails cannot co-exist with a herb and vegetable garden, not if you want anything to eat at the end of all your hard work. It’s simple, it’s a them or us situation. Yes there are solutions below that aim to discourage them but ultimately displacement or death are the only two options.
What I have tried to do is come up with a range of solutions, some more deadly than others, no one solution will work on it own. Also as usual I tend towards low cost solutions, primarily as I have little spare money they are my preferred option, and secondly I’m not sure that the more expensive solutions are any better.
Let’s start with the soft options.
Keep a clean garden, slugs and snails love decaying leaves- indeed that is their main diet not your plants. So remove pulled weeds, fallen leaves and the like and pop on the compost pile as you go. If you have the space position the compost pile a way from your vegetable and herb,a keep a wild garden space around it. The snails and slugs will love it, but so will their predators- hedgehogs, frogs and toads.
Barriers and distractions
These solutions are designed to either discourage the beasties from going near areas or to encourage them to go to alternative spots where they can be collected and disposed of- that is destroyed or moved a long long way away. If you like snails of course you could starved them and then roasted with garlic, butter and herbs. Good with freshly baked crispy bread and a strong red wine, so I’m told.
Copper. The ultimate snail stopper. For some reason a copper band acts like an electric fence for snails and slugs, it gives them a shock and they will not cross it. Copper unfortunately is rather expensive. If you have a small space you want to protect, like a growing table in a green house, and some old copper piping you could wrap the legs in it and that would work. Probably a good idea of to give the table a good scrub down first to make sure there are not any little devils, or their eggs, inside the fence. If you have a large area, and a lot of old copper piping then you would be better to keep reading and take the piping to a reputable scrap metal dealer- it’ll get a good price and pay for all your seeds for a few years.
Salt. Salt kills snails and slugs, they won’t cross a salt wall. Sadly salt also washes into the soil with rain and can have a very negative effect of the soil. It’s not really a very practical solutions. See more on salt in the Homicidal Maniac’s section below.
Seaweed. A salty mulch. If you have the chance to live near the sea seaweed is a perfect mulch. Pile it round your plants, ensuring a little circle round the base so the seaweed doesn’t touch the stem. It will slowly dry and/or compost down. A very effective and fertile solution that keeps the roots cool and damp in summer and builds up soil fertility. The organic gardeners dream.
Sawdust and wood shavings mulch. Have been shown to act as mild deterrents. My one point would be that sawdust from chainsaws or mechanical saws that use a a vegetable oil lubricant are fine, but an oil base lubricant saturates the wood dust and would not have a good impact on your soil.
Wood Ash. Make a ring of ash from the fire- again prone to being washed away by rain- can enrich your soil when used in moderation.
Crushed egg shell. Really a solution for the green house. Snails and slugs don’t like to cross dry egg shells. Loses its effectiveness if wet.
Coffee. You don’t see many snails in Starbucks. Coffee grounds around a plant may ward off snails and slugs, equally a coffee spray can help protect plants greenery from bugs as well. I haven’t tried this as all my coffee grounds get put in with the worm food and the coffee in me.
Combined with a deterrent strategy to keep them away from your plants it is a good idea to have a distraction solution, to help reduce their numbers.
Snails and slugs like damp dark environments, spending most of the daylight hours hidden away under stones, and under ground.
False Shelters. You can fool them to hide from the daylight somewhere you can find them, a plank of wood laid down near where you have damaged plants, or an up turned plant pot both work well. Simply check every morning and remove them. You will rapidly see their numbers reduced, but never eradicated. Some will never fall for this, always returning to their preferred sleeping spot.
Citrus Peel. Another alternative is to put something down that will actively attract snails and slugs, if you make freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice then the remaining peel shells are very attractive to snails. Once again place them next to places in the garden or vegetable plot where there are signs of infestation, a couple of hours after dark, or at sun rise in the morning check them out and remove the offenders.
Homicidal Maniac Solutions- my preferred option
After suffering repeated set backs at the jaws of snails and slugs, whole trays of basil seedlings stripped of their early leaves, young cucumber plants eaten back to their stems, lettuces reduced to stubs, I have little love for snails and the like. However for kinder and more gentle readers I would suggest collecting the snails and slugs and removing them a long, long way from your garden- a road side ditch would make an ideal dumping ground for captured beasts. If of course Mrs Jones from along the way always beats you in the village show vegetable competition you could sneak over late at night and pop them over her fence- but that would be mean.
A few words on killing slugs and snails, just standing on them or crushing them anyway is not very effective. Sure you kill them but you may not kill the eggs they are carrying. A better solution is to carry a bucket of either soapy or salty water and pop any found into it to drown, this kills both the beast and any eggs it may be bearing.
Home made beer traps. Snails and slugs love the malty sell of beer, yet alcohol is a poison for them, as indeed it is for us drunken in sufficient quantities. To make a simple trap, take a plastic bottle, a liter pop or mineral water bottle works well. Cut two ’doors’ about three or four centimeters from the base and fold back- see image.
Dig in place so the ’doors; fold out flat with the ground, fill the bottom with a cheap beer, not a non-alcoholic one. Check regularly and empty and refill as necessary.
Poultry If you keep chickens, ducks or geese another solution to greatly reduce the number of snails and bugs on your land is to rotate your poultry over sections of the garden not in use in winter, the birds will pick through the soil and eat any tasty bugs, and their droppings can add to the nutrition of the soil.
Hedgehogs, frogs, toads and birds.
All these eat snails, slugs and other bugs. Rather than write a thesis on ways to attract and support these wondrous animals and birds take a look at the British Hedgehog Preservation Society’s website which is packed with information, and themRoyal Society for the Protection of Birds site, equally informative.
Night Patrols with a flashlight will always be a key part to any gardeners life, however judicious use of a number of the ideas above will greatly reduce the damage done and increase the yield from your garden.
Suggestions for Patrolling The best time I find is the grey of pre-dawn after a damp night. Secondly slugs and snails are not fast movers and they tend to eat closes to where they hide out, if you find new damage you ralast rely have to cast about more then 2-3 feet from the plant to find the culprit. Follow the slime trail. Last but not least snails and slugs seem to love the cover we put out in the garden, probably because its close to dinner and get’s watered regularly- the underside of plant pots, seeding trays, garden furniture.
All the solutions above will help with reduce the number of predators eating your plants, none of them will eradicate them. Indeed you don’t really want them all gone, they are an important part of the eco-system and provide food for many other species.