Gardening can be a rewarding hobby. A thriving garden full of healthy plants can be a satisfying and fruitful reward for the long hours it takes to develop, but can also cause many headaches. Pests such as slugs, caterpillars and aphids can cause headaches, while overgrown gardens can even attract dangerous predators such as snakes and spiders.
Damage from slugs is estimated to cost agricultural enterprises in the state of California alone millions of dollars every year. Slugs are part of the same animal family as octopi and oysters, generally classified as molluscs.
Gliding along on a single muscular foot, slugs and snails secrete mucus to ease their glide over the ground. This leaves a glistening trail behind, making a slug menace in your garden easy to identify.
What Attracts Slugs and Snails to Your Garden?
Snails and slugs are more or less the same type of organism, with snails having evolved a hard outer shell as a defensive mechanism. Slugs and snails are most active during the night or on days with overcast weather, when the harsh light of the sun can’t dry out their mucous membranes.
During hot or dry weather, snails seal themselves away below topsoil. During cold snaps, these hardy creatures will retreat into their shells and create a thin, parchment-like membrane to protect themselves. These abilities allow snails to hibernate for up to a year at a time, making them troublesome pests to eliminate.
Snails and slugs are also hermaphrodites, meaning they are able to reproduce by themselves. This leads to an explosion of pests during the warmer seasons in which they multiply.
Slugs and snails destroy plant material by devouring them with a mouth that is ringed with tiny saw-like teeth. If you notice foliage on your plants that has been shredded or torn in circular patterns, it’s likely you have a snail or slug infestation.
There are many types of plants that will attract these creatures to your garden. Slugs and snails prefer to consume basil, beans, vegetable plants such as cabbage or lettuce, and plants such as marigold or delphinium.
Ripening fruits are also a prime target for these garden destroyers, with low hanging fruits such as strawberries commonly destroyed by slugs. Slugs will also climb citrus trees to attack limes and lemons.
Eliminating a Slug or Snail Infestation
Treating your garden for slugs or snails permanently and effectively requires tiered approach. The first factor to consider when assessing your garden for slug or snail infestations is the type of plants you’ve decided to grow.
If you live in an area that is particularly prone to pest infestation, you may want to consider selecting plants that are unappealing to snails and slugs. Californian poppy, geraniums, impatiens, lantana, and begonias are all attractive garden plants that won’t attracts slugs.
Plants that have stiff leaves or strongly scented foliage, such as lavender, sage, or rosemary are unattractive to slugs, repelling them naturally, while woody, thorny or ornamental plants can also help to keep slug numbers down.
Another important factor in keeping slugs and snails away from your garden is reducing the environmental factors that contribute to the population of these pests. By keeping your garden inhospitable to slugs, it’s less likely that it will suffer from an infestation.
Clear away any underbrush, decaying plant matter or rotting vegetable mass from your garden. These will attract slugs and provide an attractive food source if left to decay. Creating surfaces that are difficult for slugs to cross will also help minimize their presence in your garden.
Consider creating a barrier around the edge of your garden made from either gravel or wood chips. Crushed eggshells or coarse sand will also have a similar effect. To make this barrier even more effective, mix diatomaceous earth with this barrier. The diatomaceous earth will lacerate the soft bodies of both slugs and snails, fatally dehydrating them.
Interestingly, copper has a deterrent effect on snails and slugs. When slugs or snails attempt to traverse a copper surface, a reaction between the chemical composition of the mucus they secrete and the metal creates a similar effect to an electric shock, preventing the pest from moving any further.
To protect raised garden beds from slugs with copper, create a 4-6 inch wall with bands of copper buried one inch below the surface. To protect fruit trees or larger plants, wrap copper foil around the base of the stem or trunk.
Leaving a slug infestation to continue unabated in your garden will attract predators like garter snakes and small mammals, which can in turn attract larger, more dangerous snakes. Always keep your garden free of pests or detritus to ensure your garden is a safe, snake-free environment, especially in the summer months.
Poison-Free Slug and Snail Control
Most slug baits or slug poisons contain powerful molluscicidal chemicals that can be extremely toxic to both humans and pets. Dogs are especially prone to poisoning from slug bait, as the scent of the chemical used in the pellets is both appealing and addictive to canines. To prevent your pets from being harmed by these poisons, it’s best to pursue a chemical-free pest control method to deal with slugs.
Picking slugs by hand by checking your garden every morning and evening is an effective method of minimizing their numbers. By far the best and safest method for destroying slugs without the need for dangerous toxins is with diatomaceous earth.
DE won’t hurt children or pets, and destroys slugs and snails through an entirely mechanical process. For more information on treating your garden for slugs with diatomaceous earth, see our article on Natural Slug Control With Diatomaceous Earth. The best part about diatomaceous earth slug control is that it’s actually a powerful fertilizer, enhancing the growth of your plants while destroying pests.
Treating your garden for slugs doesn’t have to be frustrating. With a little forward planning and a small amount of diatomaceous earth, it’s possible to completely remove all traces of snails or slugs from your garden with absolutely no health risk at all.
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