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Nothing compares to walking out in your garden in the morning and finding young seedlings destroyed overnight. You might have a slug and snail problem and figuring out slug and snail control methods is vital.
Slugs and snails are two garden pests that freak me out. No one likes slimy, gross pests that leave trails in their garden, but these two are just that. Not only can these pests destroy plants overnight, but they leave slimy trails throughout your garden and hide, making it hard to spot.
Once you correctly identify the pests (which is hard when you can’t see them because they’re nocturnal), you need to know natural snail and slug control options for gardeners before they eat all of your plants.
What Are Slugs?
Everyone knows what snails are; the shells on their backs make them more identifiable than other pests, but what are slugs? Slugs are one of the most common garden pests, especially here in the PNW, but they aren’t insects.
Slugs are land-dwelling mollusks more closely related to clams than the other pests you find in your garden. Slugs and snails are classified as gastropods. They slide around on a muscular foot and eat everything in their path.
When slugs infest your garden, you have a serious problem.
Snails and slugs prefer to live in climates with a lot of moisture and humidity, and their activity peaks during the wet seasons of the year. They like to live in shrubs, leaf piles, logs, or other dark locations during the day. Slugs survive freezing conditions if they find the ideal hiding spot.
Why Is Slug and Snail Control So Hard?
Dealing with slugs and snails is a challenging task, plus they have a serious ick factor. No one likes to deal with something slimy and nasty. They leave slime trails - gross!
Some species of slugs and snails are decomposers, so they like to eat decaying plant materials. The troublesome ones prefer to eat living plant materials, so they become a serious headache.
Spotting snails is easier than spotting slugs, but infestations usually go hand in hand. Since slugs don’t have shells on their backs, they feed primarily at night or on rainy days because they need protection from the harsh sunlight. If you try to find them during the day, it’s hard because they’ll hide under rocks or other dark, moist locations.
What Does Slug and Snail Damage Look Like?
Gardeners need to know what slug and snail damage look like because it’s too often misdiagnosed and blamed on other pests. That does you no good; you have to figure out the real pests in your garden.
Garden snails and slugs are nocturnal feeders, so in the morning, when you come out to your garden, you will find new damage to your plants. When you search around for the culprit, you won't find anything; they'll be tucked away, sleeping, with full bellies. That leaves you wondering what happened, and you might try spraying your garden with an insecticide when that's not the problem.
They prefer to eat young seedlings and tender-leaved plants. Here are some common signs to recognize.
- If you find nothing left of your seedlings but the mid-ribs and stumps, slugs probably found your garden.
- Look for round holes in tomatoes, strawberries, and other soft fruits.
- Check for ragged holes in the leaf edges and centers.
- Search for any slime trails on plants, walls, rocks, or mulch.
What Snails and Slugs Eat
The bad thing is that snails and slugs aren’t picky eaters. Most eat fresh and decaying matter, and if they find a tender herbaceous plant, they’ll eat it up in a heartbeat.
Some plants that they like to eat include:
That’s not all. They even like flowers and ornamental plants like marigolds, dahlia, hostas, zinnias, and sunflowers.
What Slugs and Snails Don’t Eat
Planting things that these pests don’t like should be standard practice in your garden because it helps stop them from visiting.
They don’t like heavily scented plants, like most herbs, and they also dislike plants with fuzzy or furry leaves. Some plants that you can use to deter these pests include:
10 Natural Slug and Snail Control Methods to Try
Here are some of the proven methods to control slug and snails; I won't cover some of the myths that truly don't work. You need to know how to get these pests out of your garden effectively.
- Collect Manually
Yes, collecting these pests manually is one of the best control methods, but it has the biggest ick factor. No one wants to go out and pick slimy slugs and snails off of their garden plants.
Alas, you must.
Head out in your garden at night and look for slugs and snails. The only time you’ll catch these pests at work is when it’s dark outside, so you’ll need a flashlight. I recommend wearing gloves to help with some of the icky factors.
Drop the slugs in a bucket of hot, soapy water. Removing as many of the slugs as possible will help decrease the population in your garden, especially if you do this regularly.
- Don’t Use Pesticides on Your Lawn
Too many homeowners regularly use pesticides on their lawns, but this eliminates the ground beetles and firefly larvae, which are the most common predators of newly hatched slugs. When you put pesticides on your grass, it is killing the helpful insects that control pests like slugs.
I know that lawn care is important, so switch to organic lawn care techniques.
- Trap Slugs
Laying traps for slugs is one of the best methods for slug and snail control. Place 2x4’s between the different crops at dusk, and in the following day, move the boards and find the slugs that are using these as a hiding place.
You either have to take the slugs and put them into hot, soapy water, killing them, or use scissors or a garden knife to cut the slugs in half.
- Use Wool to Control Slugs
Do you know how the scratchy texture of a wool sweater makes you feel crazy? Slugs and snails don’t like it either. They’re very texture-based; they don’t like things that are itchy or coarse.
Look for wool pellets that are made to control slugs in the garden. These pellets are made from compressed natural wool, and gardeners spread them around the base of your plants. Water well, and the pellets start to expand, forming a thick mat of wool underneath your plants.
This might seem like a strange tip for getting rid of slugs, but it works. When the pellets expand, the slugs refuse to climb over the mat. The mats even help to suppress weed growth, so it's a versatile choice.
- Try Copper Tape
Slugs and snails react to metal copper because the slime causes a mild electric shock, which sends these animals away. No one, including slugs, wants to be shocked.
Copper tape is the best way to use this control method. Spread the copper tape around the base of your plants. Another option is to place the copper tape around the top of the raise garden beds’ frames.
This method works well for container gardening as well. Some gardeners prefer to use copper mesh instead of tape because it’s reusable.
- Put Up a Slug and Snail Fence
Another method that gardeners love is setting up an electric fence for slugs. You can buy or make plans for a tiny electric slug fence that goes around raised beds, protecting the plants. These fences run on 9-volt batteries, and it shocks the slugs when they touch it.
Don’t worry about your kids or pets; these fences won’t hurt them.
- Beer Traps
The beer trap method is loved or hated; it seems to be no in-between with this method. Beer-baited traps are an effective choice.
You can use plastic traps and bait them with non-alcoholic beer; NA beer works best! The yeast attracts the slugs and snails to the beer, not the alcohol, and when they come near the traps, they fall in and drown.
One of the annoying parts of using beer traps is that they need to be emptied and re-baited every day to be effective.
- Use Organic Slug Bait
Not all slug and snail baits are the same, and traditional slug baits are poisonous to pets and other wildlife. Make sure you avoid using slug baits that contain methiocarb or metaldehyde as the active ingredient. These ingredients are toxic to mammals. All it takes is one to two teaspoons to kill a small dog!
Organic slug baits are just as effective as the traditional traps. Look for bait that uses iron phosphate as the active ingredient such as Sluggo. We know that these methods are safe and often used in certified organic farms.
Typically, gardeners sprinkle the bait over the soil surface around the vulnerable plants. When the pests eat the bait on the soil or plants, they’ll immediately stop feeding and die within a few days.
- Try Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is often included in most slug and snail control method lists, but it’s not as effective as other choices. DE is a fine powder that is sharp, and the edges cut through slug skin as they try to crawl over it.
In theory, DE sounds like a great choice, but it's no longer effective when it gets wet. So, unless you want to sprinkle it every time the soil gets wet, DE is a bad choice.
- Bring in Natural Predators
Many different predators think that these garden pests are delicious snacks, especially slugs. Encouraging these natural predators to make your garden their home is a natural slug and snail control method.
Some of the best predators to encourage to your garden include:
- Ground Beetles
How to Prevent Slugs and Snails in Your Garden
Prevention is always easier than treating a problem, so I recommend using these tricks as standard in your garden. I found that dealing with slugs and snails one of the hardest pest problems that I had, so save yourself the frustration.
- Make Your Garden Slug and Snail Unfriendly
Avoid using loose mulches that provide hiding places for slugs throughout the day. Snails and slugs love mulches like straw, hay, and wood mulches. Pick compost or leaf mold as the perfect mulch.
- Give Them a Distraction
Another way to prevent slugs or snails is to give them a distraction by creating a sacrificial bed. Plant some of their favorite plants in one area to hopefully keep them away from the crops you want to keep.
You might let these pests run wild in this garden bed or use this space as a trap to catch them.
- Use Drip Irrigation
Skip the overhead irrigation and switch to drip irrigation because it targets the root zone better and keeps the foliage dry. It is also best to avoid watering late in the day because slugs love wet conditions. Aim to water in the morning so that the soil is dry by night.
- Make Plant Collars
Creating physical barriers around your plants prevent snails and slugs from getting to your plants. Plant collars are an ideal way to guard your small seedlings. Collars made from plastic bottles or old yogurt containers work well. You can even make them out of cardboard or aluminum foil.
Gardeners focus their attention on pests like aphids and tomato hornworms, but slug and snails are two destructive pests that don’t receive enough attention. Figuring out slug and snail control methods is hard, and it starts with properly identifying their damage and using effective methods that are proven to help.
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