Snail Damage In Your Garden
A garden is hard work. You do everything right and follow all the instructions for how to plant it and maintain it. Everything is coming together and you are starting to see new growth. Seedlings and coming up, new leaves and flowers are appearing, it seems like you are well on your way to your first real fruit and vegetable production. Then you see it. You wake up one morning and there are ragged leaves full of holes that appear to be completely shredded. Your garden is the newest victim of snail damage.
Luckily this damage is only temporary, if you address it quickly. It will take time for damaged plant material to disappear and new growth to replace it. But like all pests, once the snails are eliminated there are multiple preventative methods available to stop them from returning to your garden in the future.
Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails are quite different from other common garden pests as you can see by their slimy appearance. They are mollusks and leave slimy trails in their wake as they slide across plant leaves. This slime is actually called mucus (gross, right?) Slugs and snails produce mucus to allow themselves to move on the ground. This mucus helps them retain moisture when crossing dry surfaces and protects them from being cut by sharp objects they may cross.
Both slugs and snails are part of the same class called gastropods. Most gastropods live in water, with snails and slugs being the only ones that are also found on land. The main difference between them is that snails have shells while slugs do not. Since slugs have no shells, they are able to hide themselves better than snails by fitting underneath logs, stones or other debris on the ground. As a result, you’re probably more familiar with seeing snails since their shells are so obvious to see.
Snails seek out new, tender plant growth, making your developing garden a prime target for their feeding activity. While the damage they cause to tender growth is obvious, few people are aware that snails also eat plant roots, stems and fruits.
Since snails are nocturnal and feed at night, you may not notice their presence in your garden until you actually see snail damage on plants. Snail damage is most obvious when large, ragged holes are seen on leaves. They are especially active at feeding early in the spring when new growth is most vulnerable to their feeding. You also may see their mucus trails in your garden (hopefully before any major damage occurs.)
Cultural Practices to Discourage Snails
Before jumping into the use of repellents and pesticides, start by making adjustments to cultural practices in your garden to make it less inhabitable for slugs, snails and other pests. The use of integrated pest management is the foundation of our lawn and ornamental pest control services because remedying the source of pest problems is highly effective.
Materials such as gravel, woodchips and sand are difficult for snails to climb over, making these materials excellent protective barriers in and around your garden. Proper placement of plants in your garden and frequent trimming will eliminate many favorite hiding places for slugs and snails since during the day they prefer dark and moist locations. Remove any debris from your property such as leaves or rotting wood on the ground.
Physical removal of snails is an often overlooked method that is as natural as you can get. By hand picking snails from your plants in the early morning or evening when they are most active and you can still see them, you will immediately eliminate the direct source of snail damage. While you may not be able to remove them all, it certainly will put a dent in their population.
Many pests are attracted to landscapes with excessive moisture. By cutting back irrigation and allowing your garden to dry out more often, the plants will be less stressed and the environment will be less attractive to snails.
Another more costly method of reducing the moisture caused by irrigation would be switching to a drip irrigation system. Drip lines will limit the volume of water applied at one time and also eliminate the use of overhead irrigation which is a common cause of fungus on plants.
Natural Snail Repellents
In the battle against snails, there are many tools at your disposal. If you are expecting to eat the fruits and vegetables produced in your garden, chances are you will prefer to use natural snail repellents to avoid the use of more traditional pesticides (although we’ll talk about safe snail baits soon.) While natural products don’t last as long, they can get the job done if used properly and frequently.
Diatomaceous Earth is known by many as a great non-toxic, food grade pest control product that will certainty kill snails and slugs. Diatomaceous Earth is made from the fossilized remains of tiny acquatic organisms. Can’t get more natural than that! This product causes insects, including snails, to dry out and die. The problem is it needs to be kept dry to be effective so it doesn’t last long at all outside.
Coffee is another natural snail repellent although it is also quite temporary in natural. Coffee grounds can either be sprinkled on the ground around plants or sprayed on plants, soil and snails. If coffee doesn’t prove to be effective, at least you’ll have plenty left over to keep you awake in your snail fighting journey!
Egg shells. Yes, there is finally a use for them. Many gardeners use egg shells as a physical barrier around their landscape to deter snails and slugs. The sharp edges of egg shells will be very uncomfortable if these pests try to cross over them.
Copper is another natural snail repellent that is so effective it is actually sold in many plant nurseries. Applied as a tape around the perimeter of your garden, it will repel snails and slugs by reacting with their mucous and actually shocking the snails.
Plants that repel snails. Certain flowers and herbs are great at repelling snails. These include flowers such as hibiscus, azaleas, daylilies, and foxglove and herbs such as rosemary, mint, parsely, fennel and basil.
Molluscides. Yes, that’s a real word. Pesticides that are used against mollusks, which includes snails and slugs. Favorite baits in use by professional pest control services include the active ingredient metaldehyde.
While effective, metaldehyde is also toxic and should be used as a last resort against snails. A safer bait that we prefer to use in our clients’ gardens in West Palm Beach is Intice 10 (Boric Acid.) This boric acid based bait is also extremely effective when used in home pest control services.
Another popular bait is iron phosphate, often sold in garden centers and hardware stores. This bait causes snails to stop feeding, resulting in them starving to death. This product is approved for us in vegetable gardens and is non-toxic.
While technically not a bait, beer traps are certainly a fun tool to incorporate into your anti-snail arsenal. Get inside the mind of your enemy and put these traps in hiding spots that snails would love to find. Any container like a bucket or tuna can may be filled mostly with beer and placed in your garden. Snails are attracted to the smell of beer and will drown when the fall into your trap.