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Dealing with Snails and Slugs Naturally and Safely

Updated on June 13, 2017
Fiona Jean Mckay profile image

Fiona is a qualified herbalist and aromatherapist. She has twenty years' experience in the field and wants to share that knowledge.

Healthy Soil Makes Healthy Plants

Whilst the soil itself will not prevent pests from attacking your plant, making sure 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".

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 that can be rotated. Leave one fallow and throw in some mustard seeds, red clover, lucerne, etc. - 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 very extensive root system, it can also help to improve the texture of clay soils - it helps to aerate the soil and break up the clumps. The humble herb Yarrow is also a great soil improver and can also 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 foliar 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 tea that is very nourishing. If you have plants that are ailing, make a strong infusion of Chamomile tea to feed the plant. Comfrey is another plant that you should look at as a natural fertilizing agent.

Pix of Snail Damage

Here is a lettuce that the snails have really been having a go at.
Here is a lettuce that the snails have really been having a go at.

So What's Eating You?

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:

  • I have dogs that eat just about everything and,
  • We have a lot of birds in the garden and I don't want to inadvertently poison them.

How to Tell if You Have a Problem With Snails

Snails are classified as a "sucking pest" as opposed to a chewing pest. When you look at the leaves of the plants, you will notice little holes on the leaf - if you look at the inset picture, you will see an example of snail damage.

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Protect your Seedlings from Snails and Slugs

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

Creating a Barrier against 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 used to pack veggies as a physical barrier - just slit the bag open and place lightly over the plant. Dig it into the ground a little and weigh it down. This is pretty effective, 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. You also need to get larger pots as the plants grow.
  • Using gravel or eggshells - Eggshells are pretty effective against snails but it can be difficult 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 around each individual 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 using Rosemary as a barrier and it is pretty effective - 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. You do 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.

Dealing with Snail Damage - Create Barriers to Protect Your Seedlings

Veggie net bags get a new lease on life to protect against snail damage
Veggie net bags get a new lease on life to protect against snail damage
Upturned pots placed over plants at night help to protect against snails and bigger pests
Upturned pots placed over plants at night help to protect against snails and bigger pests

Snail Hunting and Snail Baiting

  • Use beer bait for snails - This is something which 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 snail hunting - You can go out during the evening with a torch and physically remove the snails. Relocate them to an area far away from the veggie garden.
  • Set traps - You can use the scraped peel of a grapefruit propped up upside down. The snails will crawl into 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 a Great Companion Plant

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 two little Schnauzers, Pikkle and Peanut and a cat, Tiddles - the garden centre suggested a poison that would kill rats but not harm the pets but, frankly, I smelt a rat - that just 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 the amount of 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 3 or 4 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.

Protect your Seedlings from Pests Naturally

You will need a 2 litre soda bottle; a craft knife and string.
You will need a 2 litre soda bottle; a craft knife and string.
Cut the bottle into four pieces as shown. The top of the bottle can be used as a cloche for seedlings needing extra warmth. The bottom can be used to pour in beer as snail bait
Cut the bottle into four pieces as shown. The top of the bottle can be used as a cloche for seedlings needing extra warmth. The bottom can be used to pour in beer as snail bait
Cut the plastic cuffs created lengthwise. They will curl quite nicely into place. Place around the base of the plant, leaving a fair amoutn of space between the plant and the cuff. Tie into place loosely with string. Push into  ground a little. Done
Cut the plastic cuffs created lengthwise. They will curl quite nicely into place. Place around the base of the plant, leaving a fair amoutn of space between the plant and the cuff. Tie into place loosely with string. Push into ground a little. Done

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 chillies and a quarter of a cup of garlic and chop them roughly - you do not have to worry about deseeding the chillies or peeling the garlic.

Place in a heat resistant jug and pour a cup of boiling water over the chilli and garlic mix. Set aside and leave to steep overnight.

Decant the whole mixture, chillies 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 so that they can 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 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 are able to get hold of any 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 a number of years so she has real practical experience.


What Pests are Plaguing you?

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Submit a Comment

  • Fiona Jean Mckay profile image
    Author

    Fiona 2 years ago from South Africa

    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.

  • peachpurple profile image

    peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

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

  • Fiona Jean Mckay profile image
    Author

    Fiona 3 years ago from South Africa

    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 profile image

    Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

    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 Jean Mckay profile image
    Author

    Fiona 3 years ago from South Africa

    You're lucky Jeanetter

  • profile image

    jeanetter 3 years ago

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