Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
November, 2009
Regional Report

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Water, milk, and juice containers provide excellent protection from snails and slugs.

Cool-Season Bad Guys: Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails may be the gardener's favorite pest to hate. They seem to be present wherever it's cool and moist, and now's the time they reappear after a summer's "vacation."

PROBLEM: Slugs and snails, which thrive in moist, cool conditions, give themselves away by their shiny, slimy, slick trails. They eat just about anything that's cool and succulent.

1. Eliminate harbors -- boards, debris on soil and around the perimeter of the garden -- or use these as attraction areas, and destroy those collected.

2. Construct a yeast-and-sugar trap (as you would for ants), or use old beer. Snails love beer, even old flat beer, but they can't handle it. Any container with sides low enough for the snails to crawl into will do. The snails will plunge into the beer, absorb too much, and be unable to leave. Dispose of the dead snails, pour in more beer, and wait for another "catch."

3. Use an iron phosphate-based bait, which is safer for pets and wildlife than metaldehyde-based baits.

4. Slugs can be "pickled" with a spray of one-half white vinegar and one-half water. Spray the soil at the base of the affected plants. When the hidden slugs emerge, spray them again to kill them. A stronger solution with more vinegar has no greater effectiveness on the slugs, but it can damage the plant's foliage. And, using too frequently will acidify the soil.

5. Sprinkle salt onto the slugs and snails -- they'll dehydrate and die. Be spare, however, since you don't want to make your soil salty.

6. Barriers of sharp sand, powdered charcoal, diatomaceous earth, ashes, or sawdust will get caught in the mucous membranes of snails and slugs who try to cross. Reapply these after rain or overhead watering, as the particles are most effective when they remain dry and separate.

7. Poultry-grade crushed oyster shells gives planting beds a dry, rough, sharp, alkaline surface which is avoided by slugs and snails. The shell powder is also good for raising the soil pH because of the high lime content.

8. Fences can be constructed of 1/4-inch hardware cloth cut into strips and attached to wooden stakes or raised bed railings. Slugs and snails can't easily crawl up the mesh; but if they do manage, they can't crawl over the tiny spikes at the top without piercing themselves.

9. Copper tape can be attached to the sides of raised beds. The snails and slugs will receive an undesirable electrical shock when their slime contacts the copper. For best results, form an outside curl to the copper tape to extend out from the top surface of the raised bed so any snails or slugs able to continue across the tape will be forced outward by gravity and drop back onto the soil.

10. Plant prostate rosemary or wormwood as repellents.

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