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How to Deal With Snails and Slugs in the Garden Naturally and Safely

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Fiona has always been fascinated with living a more natural lifestyle. Green gardening has become a real passion for her.

Slugs and Snails are Eager to Eat the Plants in Your Garden

Slugs and snails in garden may not move very quickly, but they're agile enough to wreak destruction on your favourite plants.

Slugs and snails in garden may not move very quickly, but they're agile enough to wreak destruction on your favourite plants.

Healthy Soil Makes Plants More Resilient

While the soil itself won't prevent pests from attacking your plants, ensuring that the soil is nutritious enough for your plants will ensure that they have their best chance of fighting off attacks.

Keep your plants healthy, and they will be less likely to get "sick." It's like when you take vitamins to ward off an infection: keeping your body healthy helps to prevent the disease from taking root.

Improving Your Soil

Improving the soil naturally is a fairly simple measure; there are several means available to you. Green manure is one way that can have a two-pronged benefit; take mustard, for example; it can provide valuable shade to plants around it and will put a lot of goodness back into the soil when it is cut down and dug back in.

Green Manure

If you have a veggie garden, it is a good idea to have a couple of different beds to rotate between. For example, leave one fallow and throw in some mustard seeds, red clover, lucerne, etc., and allow them to grow for at least six weeks before cutting down, chopping up, and incorporating into the soil. (Leave the ground fallow for at least two to four weeks to allow for decomposition to get going.)

Lucerne is a great nutrient for the soil and, because of its pervasive root system, it can also help improve the texture of clay soils: it helps to aerate the soil and break up the clumps. The humble herb Yarrow is also great for improving the soil. It can be broken up and sprinkled across the compost heap to help to activate the compost.

Other Natural Options

Alternatively, you can also look at a natural foliage feeder such as worm tea (the liquid tapped off when you keep a worm farm.) Herbal teas can be very good for the soil as well.

If you can source organic seaweed inexpensively, it is simple to make a very nourishing tea. However, if you have ailing plants, make a strong Chamomile tea infusion to feed the plant. Comfrey and Rose-Scented Geraniums are other plants that you should look at as natural fertilizing agents.

How to Tell if You Have a Problem With Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails are classified as "sucking pests" as opposed to "chewing pests." When you look at the leaves of the plants, you will notice little holes in the leaf; if you look at the picture below, you will see an example of snail damage.

What does snail damage look like? As you can see, they're quite destructive.

What does snail damage look like? As you can see, they're quite destructive.

What Is Eating My Leafy Vegetables?

There is little worse than checking on your veggie patch and finding half your veggies destroyed. In my garden, snails are a particular problem. They can be extremely destructive and can munch their way through a lot of vegetation in just one evening.

My mom's way of dealing with these—stepping on them—doesn't appeal to me at all. I am also against using poisons because of two main reasons:

  • I have dogs that eat just about everything.
  • We have many birds that visit the garden, and I don't want to poison them inadvertently.
Slugs look very similar to snails in most respects.

Slugs look very similar to snails in most respects.

Protect Your Seedlings From Slugs and Snails

Because of my feelings about poisons, I had to look at alternative routes to get rid of snails. I have found that creating a barrier between the plant and the snail is the most effective route; you can't always catch all the snails before they inflict damage.

Creating a Barrier Against Slugs and Snails

This sounds more difficult than it actually is and doesn't need to cost a fortune. The following are ways in which I've stopped the snails.

  • Reuse the netting your veggies come in as a physical barrier against slugs and snails: Just slit the bag open and place it lightly over the plant. Then, dig it into the ground a little and weigh it down. This is pretty effective; it can be left on all the time but can restrict the plant's growth.
  • Upturned pots: This has proven very effective against snails and rodents but does involve more work on your part. You will need to take the pots off in the morning and put them back in place just before sundown. For me, this has been the safest way overall, but it is a bit of a pain—especially as the garden has expanded. It would help if you also got larger pots as the plants grow.
  • Using gravel or eggshells to defend your plants from slugs and snails: Eggshells are pretty effective against snails, but it may not be easy to accumulate enough if you have a large veggie garden. Gravel can work out pricey, so I hit on a shoestring option that seems to be doing quite well: kitty litter. Grab a bag of coarse kitty litter and sprinkle it generously around the whole garden or each plant. Place a strip that is about 2 inches wide; this scratches a snail's body and is thus an effective barrier.
  • I've been experimenting with rosemary as a barrier to slugs and snails: I placed a few sprigs of rosemary around the base of my gem squash and have been delighted with the results: no snail trails on the leaves anymore at all. Of course, you need quite a decent-sized sprig and would need to replace the sprigs from time to time. What I am doing is growing slips of rosemary to make a rosemary hedge for my veggie garden.
  • Use diatomaceous earth to guard against slugs and snails: Diatomaceous earth is essentially sand that's made up of the skeletons of diatoms, microscopic algae. It's loaded with nutrients but, more importantly, draws the moisture out of slugs and snails. Unfortunately, the particle edges are also very sharp, cutting the soft bodies of the pests.

Some Ideas for Beating Slugs and Snails

Veggie net bags get a new lease on life to protect against slug and snail damage.

Veggie net bags get a new lease on life to protect against slug and snail damage.

Upturned pots placed over plants at night help to protect against slugs, snails and bigger pests.

Upturned pots placed over plants at night help to protect against slugs, snails and bigger pests.

Slug and Snail Hunting and Baiting

  • Use beer bait for slugs and snails: This is fairly effective - dig a small hole in the garden, place a mug of beer in it, and the snails will be attracted to it. They fall in and can't get out again and drown. You may need a few mugs, depending on the size of the garden. This may take a little while to work.
  • Go slug and snail hunting: You can go out during the evening with a torch and physically remove the snails. Then, relocate them to an area far away from the veggie garden.
  • Set traps for slugs and snails: You can use the scraped peel of a grapefruit propped up upside down. The snails will crawl into the shelter overnight. You will need to go early the next morning to relocate them. An upside-down pot, propped up, in the same way, can also be effective.
Rosemary is great for natural pest control—plant around your veggie garden or scatter the leaves around plants that insects are attacking.

Rosemary is great for natural pest control—plant around your veggie garden or scatter the leaves around plants that insects are attacking.

Protect Your Seedlings From Rats and Rodents

Dealing with rats and rodents is more problematic. I personally wouldn't want to use poison—I have four dogs and two cats —the garden center suggested a poison that would kill rats but not harm the pets, but, frankly, I smelt a rat—that doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

I also think that rat traps are unbearably cruel and won't use these.

That said, after the damage the rats did to my veggie garden, I do believe that they deserve the death penalty; they've eaten more of my lettuce than I have.

It's quite scary how much damage they do overnight: I've planted seedlings one day only to find them completely gone the next.

One book suggested that you protect the seedlings until there were about three or four primary leaves, claiming that the rats then lose interest; my tomatoes beg to differ.

I have been religiously covering my seedlings at night with pots, and this has been quite effective. The problem is that the plants are now getting too big to do this.

I have come up with a new protective system that involves less work for me: Look at the pix below for step-by-step instructions on making your own plastic sleeves.

Make Your Own Organic Pest Spray

Make your own organic pest spray using just two simple kitchen ingredients:

  • Take a quarter of a cup of chilies and a quarter of a cup of garlic and chop them roughly. Don't remove the seeds of the chilies or peeling the garlic.
  • Place in a heat-resistant jug and pour a cup of boiling water over the chili and garlic mix. Set aside and leave to steep overnight.
  • Decant the whole mixture, chilies and garlic pieces included, into a large spray bottle. Top up with water and shake well, and you are ready to go.
  • Spray copious amounts onto your vegetable plants and unripe vegetables to deter insects, birds, and other pests.
  • I have to be honest here; this mixture does not smell pleasant at all, but it really does help to deter pests naturally, and it washes off easily.
  • Repeat after rain or at least twice a week.

Companion Planting

Companion planting can be a fantastic way to help keep your garden free of pests. The trick is to plant the right plants with the right companions to help each other. Anise is one of the best companion plants: it doesn't take up a lot of space and is great at keeping snails and slugs at bay because they cannot stand the smell. Plant in a tight circle around lettuce plants to keep them pest-free and to really help boost their growth and flavor.

There are literally hundreds of plants that act as companion plants. It is worth looking into this subject if you are a serious gardener. You do, however, need to do some research as some plants do not "like" each other and will impede growth in each other. (Fennel, for example, will stunt the growth of most vegetables.)

If you can get hold of Margaret Robert's books, these are a great place to start. I have found her book on companion planting to be a brilliant resource - what I love is that she has found these things out by trial and error over several years, so she has real practical experience.

People Also Ask

What is the difference between a snail and a slug?

A snail has a protective shell. As the snail grows, the shell expands with it to accommodate the body. A slug has no outer coating at all.

Can a snail become a slug?

Removing the shell of a snail will kill the snail, so the answer is, "No." While the two are similar, they have evolved different survival methods.

Can snails live without their shells?

Unlike hermit crabs that scavenge shells from other creatures, snails grow their own. The shell is attached to the body and protects the vital internal organs. A snail can repair small cracks or holes. If there's too much damage, however, they will die. They cannot simply find a new home as a hermit crab does.

What attracts slugs and snails?

Like all animals, slugs and snails look for three things:

  • A source of moisture
  • Some food
  • A place to hide

Decomposing plants, mulch, small weeds, and logs provide the slug with a good home. Birds are their natural predators, so they like to stay hidden from the air. However, if they find a spot where nothing disturbs them, and they're close to food, they move in.

Are slugs harmful?

They're primarily harmful to plants but not to humans. Slugs aren't toxic but may carry parasites. If you have a dog that's a little too enthusiastic about hunting and eating slugs and snails, you may find that your pooch starts to vomit.

Does salt kill slugs and snails?

Yes, it draws the moisture out of their bodies. To use this slug kill method, place a layer of salt in a large bucket with a lid.

Then go hunting for slugs and snails. Place any that you find in the bucket, seal the lid, and leave them overnight. They should be dead the next day. It's not the kindest way to kill them, but if you're at your wit's end, you might not care about that.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Fiona

What are your favourite pest-beating tips?

Fiona (author) from South Africa on June 07, 2015:

Hi Peachpurple,

It's inexpensive, more eco-friendly than sending the bottle to the landfill and effective, so give it a try when you need to.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 07, 2015:

I have never thought of using the empty bottle container. Clever

Fiona (author) from South Africa on December 24, 2013:

Hi Victoria - fortunately we don't have them here but I would look at dealing with them as rodents. Perhaps you should try cages over the top. It is a difficult one because, if they attack the garden at night, they wouldn't really see the twirly things.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on December 24, 2013:

It's very disheartening to see a lot of leaves on my squash and cucumber plant one day, and then the next day they are gone. I think my problem is an opossum that comes around now and then. I have heard that putting up those twirly things around the garden can help keep them out. I might try that. Any other tips for possums, specifically? Interesting hub!

Fiona (author) from South Africa on December 16, 2013:

You're lucky Jeanetter

jeanetter on December 16, 2013:

Very helpful - fortunately I don't have rats in my garden!

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