Going out to check on your precious vegetable seedlings or other tender plants and finding them half eaten is very frustrating. The slippery thievery of snails and slugs during the night, especially after rain or watering, is a costly and time-consuming problem.
In order to relieve the gardener of this issue, there are numerous slug and snail baits available to purchase. These contain a poison that attracts the snails, and kills them. This may seem cruel, but we're talking about the eternal man versus beast tug-of-war. Many people choose not to use poisons for various reasons. The move towards organic gardening is very popular and snail bait does not fit well within the definitions of 'organic'. The biggest concern over use of poisonous bait is the potential to harm children and family pets. They can also kill beneficial insect life such as earthworms and beetles or birds, as well as potentially poisoning waterways or ponds when accidentally laid too close.
Fortunately there are a number of environmentally friendly options that will keep your pets safe and deal to the pests eating your plants. Conveniently, the environmentally kind methods are also cheaper than store-bought poisons. Which option you decide to employ may depend on trial and error or the situation of the garden.
Before applying any of the following treatments, first be sure to remove anything which the slugs and snails can use as a haven. They love hiding under things. Then try one or several of these tricks.
Use a barrier
Place lines of sawdust, crushed eggshell, or crushed nut shells around the plants needing protection. The sharp texture provides an effective barrier. Other uncomfortable barriers include hair, salt, and sandpaper. Crushed lime may be used, but only around plants that do not require an acidic soil. In windy areas, lighter mediums such as sawdust and hair, may tend to blow away.
Copper sheeting or wire transmits an electric pulse to the snails through the slime trail. Tack to the boxing around a bordered garden.
For individual plants – especially tender young seedlings that need a chance to develop – use a purpose made barrier. Cut the ends from a plastic container such as a milk bottle or anything that is large enough to sit comfortably around the base of your plant without damaging it. Run a line or two around the outside with an insoluble glue and then roll in or sprinkle with one of the sharp mediums mentioned above.
The benefits of a barrier include less need to dispose of dead or dying snails.
Use a snail repellant
Pungent herbs such as mint or rosemary may provide some relief if crushed or shredded and then placed around vulnerable plants.
Use friendly bait
Beer is a well-known trick for luring and killing snails. The snails love the smell of beer and once they find it, they drown in it. One would like to believe it's a happy death. However, there is a potential concern here for family pets to become drunk also. Where this is an issue, use a cover made from an ice cream container or similar. Cut a two inch piece out of the top on each side. Place the dish of beer in your garden, and then invert the container over the top and push it into the soil. Leave an inch of the prepared gaps showing. The slugs and snails can enter freely, but cats will not be able to get to the beer. This shield will not deter a dog.
Beer bait will need replacing every couple of days, or more frequently if diluted by rain or irrigation.
This is one of the least favoured options, but is very effective in reducing snail and slug populations. Slugs and snails are most active at night, so the task requires a bit of late-night hunting. Simply pluck each pest from the garden and dispose of it. It is useful to dampen the garden prior to a snail catching expedition since they need moist surfaces to enable them to travel to your garden.
With a little time and ingenuity, there are many substances available to stop losing plants to the damaging effects of slugs and snails. Before trying any of these methods consider what your plants need, and what is healthy for your pets.