UC Master Gardeners

Snails and slugs can be destructive in the garden

UC Master GardenerApril 24, 2013 

Snails and slugs are primarily pests of seedlings and herbaceous plants, but they also feed on young woody plant bark and fruit. The brown garden snail is shown here on citrus fruit.

JACK KELLY CLARK — Jack Kelly Clark

Oh, the promise of spring! We’ve scoured seed racks and catalogues, carefully selecting the perfect specimens for our summer garden.

When the first green shoots appear, we lovingly water and watch over them only to come out one morning and discover our potential bounty has been decimated in one night. The silver trails left behind by the culprits are like bright, neon arrows pointing to what is now the bane of our existence — slugs and snails.

Making your garden unappealing to slugs and snails can greatly reduce their impact. These creatures will surface on foggy or rainy days, but on most days they are found hiding in fleshy plants or in shady spots such as tall grass and the underside of ledges and rocks.

Susceptible plants can be protected by eliminating hiding places or placing vulnerable plants away from such areas. Switching from overhead to drip irrigation to reduce surface moisture and selecting slug- and snail-resistant plants will create a less inviting environment for the slimy enemy.

Handpicking is a great way to eliminate these annoying pests. Venturing into the garden at night with flashlight in hand will allow you to catch them during their gluttonous attack. Traps such as boards, flower pots and even melon rinds can aid in the handpicking process. Hunt for the creatures on a daily basis until their numbers are noticeably reduced, then decrease to once a week.

Using barriers, especially those involving copper tape or foil, can also be part of your arsenal in the war against slugs and snails.

Citrus fruit is a favorite food of the pests; Bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate and hydrated lime) is another effective barrier when brushed onto trunks.

While slug and snail baits are useful in conjunction with the methods we’ve outlined, most bait on the market contains metaldehyde, which should not be used on edibles or in areas frequented by children or pets. Iron sulphate baits are a safe alternative and are available under many trade names. Check the label for the active ingredient before making your purchase. For a list of resistant plants and details on barriers and baits, please visit http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7427.html .

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