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I recently discussed how I control thrips, scale insects and even aphids. However, I think slugs and snails are just as damaging to plants, especially young foliage, and certain plants seem to attract them more than others. That being said, there aren’t many plants that slugs don’t seem to take a liking to. Unlike with other smaller garden pests which I had had success with by dealing with them at the first signs, controlling slugs and snails leans heavily toward prevention rather than treatment.
Over the years, I have tested all sorts of treatments and homemade remedies that claim to stop slugs in their tracks. I will be straight up with you, using eggs shells, horticultural grit and even copper rings and tape around the base of plants and around pots has had very limited effects. Interestingly, RHS also did a test that found the same using lettuce. The copper rings and tape seem to work to a degree, especially with pots. However, I have found much more effective methods to control slugs, and a lot of it really comes down to prevention. Egg sheds and horticultural grit, forget about them; they’re a waste of time, at least for me they have been.
I have personally had the best results by trying to prevent them and by controlling their actual populations. This means removing them using some simple tricks. Making areas less attractive for them or also introducing natural predators frogs, toads and hedgehogs. I give more information on these below. Applying an organic pesticide to slugs is also a great idea, again more information is below.
What are snails and slugs?
Slugs and snails are gastropods that emerge in spring to eat plants. They particularly love new shoots, so seedlings are a big target and plants with soft foliage. These pests are usually 3cm to 6cm long, so it’s not that difficult to see them, but they do tend to hide away. They feed on the leaves and stems of your plants, leaving them weak and unable to develop fully. Slugs and snails are usually between 3cm and 6cm long. They’re generally white, grey, yellow or black. Slugs look slimy, and snails have shells. I think we all know what slugs are so let’s move on.
How to recognise slug and snail damage
It’s fairly easy to determine that you have a slug/snail problem by what these pests leave behind. Your first clue is the large ragged holes in the leaves and stems of the plants, although other pests can cause the same damage, one example being caterpillars. It’s the long trail of white slime in the dirt or the grass that’s the real giveaway that slugs and snails are the real pests eating your plants.
The only reason they’re quite difficult to see is that they hide away during the day and come out at night.
What can you do about them?
Controlling slugs and snails is all about stopping them from having access to your plants in the first place or even better, making the habitat less than ideal for them.
Encourage predators into the garden that feed on slugs
The first thing is to create a habitat that is ideal for the predators that eat slugs but also provides the best growing condition, so your plants are healthy and more resistant to slug attacks. This means attracting birds and hedgehogs into your garden, even making a small hole so hedgehogs can pass through your garden from outside your garden. Consider planting shrubs, hedging and trees for the birds to live in, consider plants like Cotoneaster and Pyracantha that attract the birds. Finally, consider a low-maintenance wildlife pond for frogs, toads and newts to make a home in. It only needs to be a few inches deep and can be small and easy to build with a simple liner or a preformed pond liner with some pond plants in. These eat a lot of slugs on their own, but they also provide water for birds and hedgehogs. It’s all about building a wildlife-friendly environment.
Remove any hideouts that slugs might use
Slugs spend their days hiding out in the shade and away from the sun. They love hiding underneath logs, fallen debris, bricks, and anywhere that provides shade. Keep beds clean from fallen leaves, remove old bricks or logs and give them fewer places to hide.
User copper to help deter them
I mentioned earlier about copper rings and tape, well they’re worth a try for sure. Try stopping snails and slugs from reaching plants by putting copper rings around the base of plants or copper tape around the edge of pots. This has been hit and miss for me, it does seem to be effective just not 100%, sometimes they just seem to get past them.
For me, prevention has made a big difference in deterring slugs and snails in my garden. It’s amazing how effective this actually is. Next, you just need to catch and remove the slug and snails as you will always have some that find somewhere to hide and evade the predators.
Make a slug-free place for the most vulnerable plants such as seedlings
I like to grow some plants where slugs have more of a difficult time getting to the plants. I use raised beds and planters to grow vegetables as well as seedlings in a small greenhouse. This gives them a little more protection as they’re raised off the floor.
How to catch and kill slugs
Remove them by hand
The most immediate treatment to control slugs and snails is finding and removing them by hand. Yes, by hand, unless you want to use tongs of some sort. I use some latex gloves.
The best way to find slugs is by going out at night with a torch. They come out at night, and they will be out and about ready for the picking. During the day, check under rocks and pots as they often hide out there. You can do as you please with the slugs once you catch them. Some people let them go into a woodland where they belong or dispose of them.
Use slug traps
You can buy slug traps that capture the slugs and snails as they make their way to your plants. A homemade trap is to pour some beer into a can and place it sunk into the ground slightly above ground level. Place it near the base of the plants. Slugs and snails love yeast and walk into the plate to drink. They then drown there. There are plenty of slug traps you can buy that use the same principles. Slug traps are very effective. Remember to place slug traps before they get to the plants, so they don’t stop to feed on your plants before reaching the slug trap.
Try organic slug pellets
Always look for organic slug pellets that are supposed to be less harmful to other animals whether they eat the slug pellets directly or eat slugs that have eaten the pellets. I try not to use slug pellets for this reason, but I sometimes use a few slug pellets around problem plants the slugs seem to still get to.
Biological controls that contain microscopic nematodes
There is one other method that I have used on my vegetable patches and smaller flower beds that seems to have made a big difference, using nematodes. This is a bacteria that infects and kills slugs. The trick is that the soil needs to be at least 5°C or you are wasting your time. This is best applied every 6 weeks from spring when the soil is moist. These are watered on and can be purchased online and from garden centres.
Grow slug-resistant plants
Over the years, I have noticed that some plants seem to be slug resistant and the slugs dislike eating them. They include Aquilegias, Penstemon, Euphorbia, Ajuga, Cranbill geraniums, Foxgloves, Japanese Anemones, Hellebores, and Heuchera. These are all perennials that come back every year too.