So how do you stop slugs and snails in their slimy tracks? Here we look at some of the most common solutions – as well as one or two of the more unconventional tricks.
Understanding their habits is the key to defeating them. If you know what they like and what they don’t then you can stay one step ahead at all times.
What they like…
Lettuce, peas, beans, celery and potato tubers are all favourites of slugs and snails, but they aren’t picky diners and will feast on just about any form of vegetation. However, they do have a preference for soft foliage, so it’s best to try and keep young plants out of reach.
Slugs and snails love cool, damp areas of the garden, and will lay their eggs (up to 100 at a time) in just about any dark crevice.
And what they don’t…
Slugs and snails hate salt – it dehydrates them to the point of killing them. They aren’t too fond of copper, either as it reacts with their slime and gives them something akin to an electric shock. Moisture-absorbing surfaces such as sawdust, ashes and sand are also big turn-offs.
Top tip: Instead of pouring salt directly onto slugs and snails, try mixing it with Vaseline and applying it as a paste to the rim of your pots and containers.
The easiest way to deal with slugs and snails is to simply pick them off with your fingers, place them in a tub and send them on holiday to a nearby field or hedgerow. However, you’ll have to launch your attack in the evening or at night (the only time they tend to break cover), so you’ll need a torch. If you’d rather not engage in hand to hand combat, you could always use a powerful setting on your watering hose to blast them off.
Did you know? The average garden snail has a top speed of one metre per hour. That’s fast enough to cover the length and breadth of an average UK garden in 24 hours.
If you can’t control slugs and snails by yourself, why not call in some reinforcements? Birds, toads, hedgehogs and ground beetles are all natural predators and like nothing better than a fat, juicy mollusc to munch on. Hedgehogs, in particular, have a voracious appetite for slugs and snails. The best way to encourage them into your garden is to not keep it so trim and tidy – hedgehogs like to have a good amount of cover, so you could try planting some shrubs or leaving an area of your lawn to grow long.
Gastropods will usually take refuge in dark, damp places, such as under rocks, stones and logs. Remove these from your garden and they’ll have fewer places to hide from birds and other predators.
Of course, you could use salt, but this isn’t the only way to ward off slugs and snails (nor is it the most humane). Firstly, try if you can to position your vegetable plot in a bright, sunny area where the soil will not stay wet for too long. Remember that gastropods love cool, damp conditions – create a warm, dry environment and they won’t be as likely to hang around for a free meal.
Another way to keep slugs and snails at bay is to surround plants with a moisture-absorbent material. Many gardeners find success using wool, sharp sand, sawdust and even coffee grounds.
If your garden becomes overrun with slugs and snails then you may have to resort to using pellets. These are very effective at eliminating gastropods. Many varieties are now made with wildlife-friendly, biodegradable materials.
For some reason, slugs and snails love a good, strong beer. In fact, they love it so much they’ll willingly dive straight into it and drink themselves into oblivion. So if you’re looking for a kinder way to kill the gastropods eating up your garden, fill a saucer with some beer, sink it into the soil near to your most vulnerable plants and watch as the little critters come running for your homemade slug pub.
This is one of the most effective ways of protecting your plants. Copper tape acts as a kind of electric fence, shocking slugs and snails as soon as they come into contact with it.
Gastropods tend to target soft green shoots and leaves, which makes young plants particularly vulnerable. Raising them in grow frames will improve their chances of making it to maturity, even if the frames aren’t completely sealed off.