Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2007
Regional Report

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They don't come when called, sit, or stay, but some people keep garden snails as pets.

Know Thine Enemy

Recently I planted a dahlia in my little garden and within two evenings it was eaten up by snails -- actually, a snail, singular. I followed his slimy trail and found him hiding beneath a rock. He was huge! I escorted him to a vacant lot nearby.

My first personal encounter with a snail was when I was working for the City of Napa Park Department back in the 1970s. There was a circular raised bed in the front of Fuller Park where rosemary was growing, lush and rampant. Every morning, the snails were beating feet (or in this case "foot") across the lawn to the rosemary bed where they would hide and rest during the daylight hours. Every morning, my boss would do his snail dance, trying to step on as many snails as possible between the curb, where he parked his truck, and his office. I felt a little sorry for the slower snails that met doom under his big boots.

One day I picked up one of the snails from the lawn, just out of curiosity. The snail quickly tucked itself into its shell, but in a few moments its eye stalks ventured out, then its head, and finally its neck stretched out full length, obviously examining me with mutual curiosity. I held it off to my left side, and its eye stalks followed me. Then I held it at arms length off to my right side, and the same thing happened. I was tickled with my discovery and anxious to share with my fellow gardeners. They lacked my enthusiasm, figuring, no doubt, that I was consorting with the enemy. But I think snails are interesting creatures.

Snail Lore
There are over 80,000 varieties of snails worldwide, and they live on land and under water, in both fresh and salt water. Snail shells contain a lot of lime, so consequently they prefer an alkaline soil (lucky us!). Their average life expectancy is about 5 years, but in captivity, away from natural predators, they can live up to 15 years.

Snails are hermaphrodites, which means they have both male and female sexual organs; however it still takes two to tango. On damp summer nights, two snails will come together and mate, each fertilizing the other. Both parties will then lay eggs in a shallow nest of soil.

Snails hibernate in the winter, and during the dry heat of summer they are in an inactive state. They secrete mucus to form a plug over the opening in the shell to contain moisture inside the shell.

Snail racing is a popular event in England. It began in Congham, Norfolk, in 1960. The track is circular and the snails, with numbers painted on their shells, begin the race in the center of the circle. The call for the race to begin is "Ready, Set, Slow!"

According to scientists, snails have a brain and are capable of learning. Some people actually keep garden snails as pets. Children love all things creepy, and snails certainly fit the bill.

When I worked at Sunset magazine, they did a story on raising your own escargot ... to eat, naturally. The snails were kept in a box filled with cornmeal and covered with a plastic net. The snails would gorge on the cornmeal, then crawl up the sides of the box and hang upside down from the netting during the night. After a few days, the creatures were ready to be removed from their shells and cooked. Funny, I never did like escargot and especially after seeing them in bondage like that.

My appreciation of snails has not changed over these many years. I will set out bait for snails, but I can't crush them.

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