Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
July, 2011
Regional Report

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With their hard outer shells, snails are easy to handpick when you find them in the garden. No gloves required!

Waging War in the Garden

Gaping holes in the leaves of my plants and glistening slime trails along the soil surface are sure signs that slugs or snails have been feasting in my garden. I'm always amazed at the amount of damage they can do during their overnight forages. As soon as there is the slightest hint they may be hiding out in my garden, I carefully plan and execute my search-and-destroy missions.

Not too long ago I had only slugs to deal with, but after accepting a pass-along plant from an acquaintance, I now have a relatively healthy population of snails in my garden, as well. I remember carefully inspecting the new plant for pests and diseases before planting it in my garden, but I didn't dig into the soil around the plant where eggs might have been hiding. Big mistake!

Control Strategies
One of the best ways to control the number of slugs and snails in a garden is to create an environment they don't like. I try to eliminate their favorite hiding places, including fallen plant debris and piles of wet leaves. Terra cotta flower pots are also favorite places to hide so I inspect the undersides of each while on my garden patrol. I've also abandoned the use of low-growing groundcovers because the slugs and snails hide there during the day and ravage my plants at night.

To catch the pests in action I go on night patrols. They're easy to find at dusk or in the early morning hours when they're actively feeding. I handpick and destroy any critters I find.

I've found that laying paths of organic substances such as wood ash, shredded bark, sand, or diatomaceous earth around plants will also deter most slugs and snails. They don't like crawling over the sharp or dusty materials.

If handpicking and barriers don't offer adequate control, I trap the critters. Traps require some form of attractant to lure slugs and snails, and the most widely known attractant is beer. Slugs and snails are actually attracted to the yeast in beer, so you won't need to sacrifice your best bottled brew; any brand will do. Raw potato slices, lettuce, yeast, smashed slugs, or commercially prepared wheat-based products also work well to attract the pests. I place the lure of choice on a small plastic plate and prop an old pie pan up a few inches above the plate to protect the bait from rain. I empty the trap every morning and replace the bait as necessary.

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. You can encourage these beneficial insects by providing a diverse habitat in and around your garden. I hope you have success!

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