Snails & Slugs & Holes in My Veggies, Oh My!
Controlling Snails and Slugs in your Garden Beds
Soon, we’ll be planting our gardens and watching our tomatoes, peas, peppers, cucumbers, spinach and more begin to grow. Unless we’re really lucky, we’ll also see slugs and snails enjoying them, too.
Snails and slugs are mollusks and they thrive in cool, wet weather. They’re especially fond of young leaves and fruits of many spring plants like strawberries, broccoli, lettuce, and basil. However, they’re not picky and will eat anything they can find.
You can tell these pests apart by the fact that slugs are soft and slimy while snails have hard shells. They can be anywhere from 1/4” to 5 inches long. They’re hermaphrodites, meaning any adult can lay eggs and they do – up to fifty at a time! It’s been said that slugs are edible, but I’m not that brave.
The irregularly shaped holes you see in your fruits & veggies are the marks left behind by these mollusk eating machines. Typically, that’s the only way you’ll know they’re there, as they feed by night. There are ways of keeping them out, though. Hydro-Scape has solutions for control such as barriers, baits and other organic means of protecting your tender spring garden.
Make the Environment Unwelcoming
Snails and slugs love cool, wet places, remember? If you plant in full sun, your soil and garden will be too warm to be inviting. Planting in raised beds in soil amended with compost or other organic matter causes the soil to heat up, too.
Frequent cultivation near plants and avoiding mulch (which will, of course, mean more weeding) eliminates other places snails and slugs like to hide during the day. If you can, space your plants further apart; this allows for more sun exposure and more heat.
Get rid of other hiding places, such as debris, stones, and boards. However, if you put broken, old clay pots in your garden, you’ll attract toads. Toads love snails and slugs as much as snails and slugs love your fruits and veggies! Ground beetles, turtles, snakes, chickens, and geese also love snails and slugs. Be careful with the fowl, though: all that pecking and stomping might be just as bad for your garden as the pests.
Another environmental deterrent is including aromatic leafed herbs like sage, rosemary, and lavender. Plant them in high-traffic pest areas; the smell seems to drive the pests away.
Copper is the perfect blocker. Snails and slugs hate copper! Their slime interacts with it in such a way that it produces a chemical reaction that feels like an electric shock. Put copper banding at the top of containers or beds. You can also use copper mesh fencing for beds without sides. Just build the fence 4” high and you’re all set. Remove the slugs that are already there by handpicking them (using a flashlight to find them) at night before you install the copper barriers.
Less flashy (and expensive) barriers also work, though for different reasons. Sharp sand, diatomaceous earth and coffee grounds applied around your plants and beds should do the job nicely. Remember to reapply after a rain.
Snails and slugs need to find safe places away from the sun. Place a board or some upside down melon rinds near infested areas. They’ll gather there and you can trap them in the early morning. Scrape them into a bucket of soapy water to kill them.
If you’d like to give them a more (temporarily) enjoyable exit, put out beer traps for slugs. They can’t say no to the yeast found in beer and will gladly follow their taste buds to a death by drowning. You can buy commercial beer traps or make your own. Take a tub and fill it to just about an inch from the top. The thirsty slugs reach and stretch for a drink, fall in, and drown. Just clean out the trap and replenish the beer each morning.
Baits for Slugs and Snails
Doing all these things and still having a problem with snails and slugs? It’s time for baits. You can get chemical baits like metaldehyde but we recommend against it. Those baits are dangerous for dogs, cats, wildlife, and young children if eaten.
Iron phosphate is a terrific bait. Hydro-Scape carries this under the brand name Sluggo Snail and Slug Bait. It tempts the pests in with an attractant and they eat the iron phosphate. It’s a naturally occurring mineral that is safe to be around people, pets and wildlife, but kills snails and slugs in a few days.
Put out the bait after watering or if the weather is cool and wet, when the pests are really active. Spread it in the late afternoon or evening in the spots that are infested; snails and slugs often return to the same area to feed. It’s a good idea to apply it in consistently wet areas, such as around sprinklers or near downspouts. It’s still effective, but you’ll need to reapply it after a heavy rain.
Stop by your local Hydro-Scape if you have questions about controlling these pests. We’ve got the solutions you need for beautiful gardens and bountiful harvests.