Cambrian: Opinion

Lethal methods of gopher control should be last resort

Snails and slugs are repelled by copper. Copper foil or screen wrapped around planting boxes or trunks prevents them from crossing.
Snails and slugs are repelled by copper. Copper foil or screen wrapped around planting boxes or trunks prevents them from crossing.

I may have offended a few people last month when I suggested only lethal forms of gopher control rather than subtler, more tolerant methods.

Gardening with gophers is frustrating, labor intensive and expensive. Most gardeners I know seek to exclude gophers or eliminate them from their gardens. Before attempting to eliminate them, I assume you have first tried gardening in pots, built or purchased wire baskets and placed them around roots of new plantings, and have planted gopher-resistant plants such as Euphorbia lathyrus, often called gopher spurge.

Many gardeners in Cambria have tried all of these methods of “gopher exclusion” and thrown up their hands in despair. In addition, some of us have resorted to battery-operated stakes that emit a sound that is supposed to repel underground critters as well as soil sprays that are touted as repellents. The lethal methods I outlined last month, such as poison and traps, are not for the faint of heart and must be used according to directions to protect pets and wildlife. I recommend the least drastic methods of pest control first. If that doesn’t work, then let your conscience be your guide.

Speaking of critters, another pest that will make its grand appearance in early spring is the snail.

The brown garden snail, Helix aspersa, can devour newly planted seedlings in minutes. We can blame the French for bringing them into North America in the 1850s. Unhappily, the slimy creatures, intended for escargot, escaped from importers and are routinely dealt with in landscapes across North America.

Several species of slugs (the shell-less cousin of the brown snail) also stalk our gardens. There’s the gray garden slug, the banded slug, the greenhouse slug, and, the most repugnant of all (I once stepped on one when barefooted), is the banana slug. (“Go UC Santa Cruz!”) Snails and slugs feed on decaying plant matter, succulent foliage and ripening fruit such as strawberries. Snails are adept at making their way up trees to reach avocados and citrus.

Snails and slugs glide on their muscular “foot.” The foot secretes mucus that dries to a silvery sheen. This shiny snail trail is often the only clue you will come across as you search for the critter that ate your tender lettuce. The adult brown snail lays about 80 pearly white eggs (up to six times a year) into a hole in the topsoil. While working with the soil you may come across these little nests. It’s best to destroy the eggs when you find them before they become full-grown. Remove boards, stones and debris where they hide during the day. Hunt them with a flashlight on moist evenings and damp mornings. Place copper strips around raised garden beds or pots.

Lee Oliphant’s column is special to The Cambrian. She shares her garden and chickens online at and Email her with gardening questions at cambria

Tip of the month

If you wish to use poison bait for snails, do so with caution. There are many snail bait products on the market. According to Pam Peirce, author of “Golden Gate Gardening,” the least toxic and safest bait to use to reduce snail populations is iron phosphate Sluggo. “I always prefer the least-toxic pesticide material that works, and Sluggo does work. While plain iron phosphate has not been shown to harm earthworms, the addition of EDTA (sodium ferric) has been shown to reduce their population dramatically.” Avoid Sluggo Plus. It has EDTA among its ingredients. If in doubt, look for a product that can be legally used by organic gardeners and has the Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI) logo on the packaging. The fewer ingredients, the better.