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

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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 won't prevent pests from attacking your plants, ensuring that the earth is nutritious enough for your plants will provide their best chance of fighting off attacks.

Keep your plants healthy; 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.

Your plants grow stronger and thrive and can better ward off attacks.

Improving Your Soil

Improving the soil naturally is a reasonably simple measure; several means are 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 them into the soil. (Leave the ground fallow for at least two to four weeks to allow for decomposition to get going.)

Lucerne is an excellent 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 activate the compost.

Other Natural Options

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

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

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

Slugs and snails are "sucking pests" instead of "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 highly destructive and 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.
  • Many birds 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 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 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. This has been the safest way for me, 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 giant 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 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 rosemary sprigs 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 twigs occasionally. 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 made up of the skeletons of diatoms, microscopic algae. It's full of 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 relatively 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 garden size. 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 following day to relocate them. An upside-down pot, propped up similarly, 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

Lethal Options

Dealing with rats and rodents is more problematic. I 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 cruel and won't use these.

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

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

Non-Lethal Ways to Deal With Rats and Rodents

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.

Use the Pots You Have

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

Make DIY Plastic Sleeve Protectors from Upcycled Soda Bottles

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

Make Your Own Organic Pest Spray

Make your 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 peel 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 mixture, chilies, and garlic pieces, 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; this mixture does not smell pleasant at all, but it does help deter pests naturally and washes off easily.
  • Repeat after rain or at least twice a week.
Marigold Tagetes, or the African Marigold, is a pretty flower that packs a punch. Its roots release pungent chemicals that repel slugs and snails.

Marigold Tagetes, or the African Marigold, is a pretty flower that packs a punch. Its roots release pungent chemicals that repel slugs and snails.

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 suitable companions to help each other.


Anise is one of the best companion plants: it doesn't take up a lot of space and is excellent 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 help boost their growth and flavor.


Rosemary sprigs or just the leaves placed in between the seedlings or planted as a hedge is also highly effective.

Marigold Tagetes

Plant these colorful little plants in early spring as an attractive and highly effective border against slugs, snails, and other insects. These colorful plants have many benefits in the garden and are worth planting.


Bulbinella here may have value as a trap crop rather than a repellent.

Other Options

There are 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.)

Snails decimate your plants

Snails decimate your plants

Plants that Repel Pests in Your Garden

The following are all useful for keeping pests out of your garden:

  • Yarrow
  • Wormwood
  • Wildeals
  • Walnut
  • Vetiver
  • Turnip
  • Thyme
  • Tea Tree
  • Tansy
  • Southernwood
  • Soapwort
  • Sesame
  • Rose Scented Geranium
  • Santolina
  • Sage
  • Rue
  • Rosemary
  • Pyrethrum
  • Petunia
  • Peppers
  • Pennyroyal
  • Oregano
  • Onions
  • Neem
  • Myrtle
  • Mugwort
  • Mint
  • Marjoram
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Lavender
  • Khakibos
  • Garlic
  • Feverfew
  • Elder
  • Costmary
  • Coriander
  • Chives
  • Catmint
  • Carnation
  • Bay
  • Basil
  • Marigold Tagetes
A snail snacking on a valuable trap crop, Bulbinella

A snail snacking on a valuable trap crop, Bulbinella

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some additional frequently asked questions:

What is the difference between a snail and a slug?

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

Can a snail become a slug?

Removing a snail's shell 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 cover 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, they move in if they find a spot where nothing disturbs them and they are close to food.

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 too enthusiastic about hunting and eating slugs and snails, you may find that your pup 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.


Summary of How to Rid Your Garden of Slugs or Snails

There are a few ways to deal with snails and slugs in the garden:

Handpicking: This is the most basic method and involves physically removing the snails and slugs from the garden. This can be done at night using a flashlight to locate them.

Barriers: Copper strips or tape can be used as barriers around garden beds, as snails and slugs do not like to crawl over copper.

Natural predators: Introduce predators, such as birds, ducks, or chickens, into the garden to help control the snail and slug population.

Organic pesticides: Beer traps, iron phosphate, or diatomaceous earth can be used as organic pesticides to control snails and slugs.

Proper watering: Snails and slugs thrive in moist environments, so proper watering techniques can help to reduce the population.

Encourage beneficial insects: ladybugs, lacewings, and ground beetles are natural predators of snails and slugs.

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!