Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
August, 2004
Regional Report

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Snails are becoming more and more of a problem in Western Washington. Their protective shells make them bold daytime feeders, even in the heat of summer.

Slugging it Out in the Garden

Whenever I spot a trail of glistening slime leading across a leaf or flower, I know that a slug or snail has been feasting. I'm always amazed at the amount of damage they can do in a relatively short period of time.

Slugs and snails are mollusks, more closely related to scallops and clams than insects. They range in color from greenish yellow to brown, black, white, charcoal gray, or rosy pink. Snails carry protective shells on their backs, retreating into them whenever they feel endangered. Most slugs are naked snails with no visible shells.

Controlling the Pests
The simplest way to control the amount of slugs and snails in your garden is to create an environment they don't like. Eliminating their favorite hiding places, such as coarse mulch and piles of wet leaves, is a good first step. To catch them in action, start night patrols. They're easy to find during the evening or early morning hours when they're feeding the most. Handpick and destroy any critters you find. During the day they hide, often under flowerpots or plant debris. Moving these items around will often uncover a whole community, ripe for the picking.

Keeping Them Out
You can deter slugs and snails by placing barriers in their paths, from fence-like metal enclosures to materials sprinkled on the ground around the plants you want to protect. Solid copper strips make the best barrier, giving the mollusks an electric shock when they come in contact with it. Use at least a 3-inch-wide strip and lay it along the edge of beds, wrap it around tree trunks or pots, or stand it upright like a fence. Be sure to check for slugs and snails caught inside the barrier.

Laying paths of organic substances, such as wood ash, shredded bark, sand, or diatomaceous earth, around plants also will deter most slugs and snails. They don't like crawling over these sharp materials.

If handpicking and barriers don't offer adequate control, you can try trapping the critters. Successful traps require some form of attractant to lure slugs and snails. The most widely known trap is beer. A Colorado State University study discovered that the critters' favorite beers are Kingsbury Malt Beverage (nonalcoholic), Michelob, Budweiser, Bud Light and Old Milwaukee, in that order.

Raw potato slices, lettuce, yeast, smashed slugs, or commercially prepared, wheat-based products also work well as attractants. Baits containing iron phosphate (such as Sluggo or Escar-Go) are safer for children and pets than baits containing metaldehyde, but it's still important to keep this and all other pesticides out of the reach of children and pets. I place the lure of choice on a plastic saucer and prop an aluminum pie pan up a few inches above the saucer to protect the bait from rain, pets, and curious children. I empty the trap every morning and replace the bait as needed.

Natural Predators
Fortunately there are a number of beneficial creatures, such as toads, frogs, snakes, ground beetles, and predatory snails, that love to eat slugs and snails. Even ducks, geese, and chickens can be sent on patrol to reduce slug and snail populations. You can encourage these beneficials by providing a diverse habitat in and around your garden and reducing your use of pesticides.

I use a combination of these methods to control slugs and snails in my garden. I haven't gotten the upper hand yet, but it is certainly not from lack of trying!

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