It must be spring. Not only have green leaves started to sprout, but so have the critters that want to munch on them.
It’s prime time right now for snails and slugs, which love the cool, moist conditions we’ve been having lately. In some spots, it looks like they’re having a party. Gilroy gardeners are noticing, to their dismay, hordes of snails gliding toward tender shoots and newly opened buds.
The big question for gardeners these days is whether to use poison to eliminate snails and slugs. I would recommend against it, because there are plenty of nontoxic alternatives.
Commercial snail bait—the stuff you buy at Home Depot or OSH—uses either metaldehyde or iron phosphate. Metaldehyde is poisonous to all living creatures, yourself included, while iron phosphate only kills slugs and snails. Iron phosphate, which is the main ingredient in Sluggo Plus and other brands, is a better bet, especially if you have pets or children.
So those are the store-bought methods. There are also a great many others, from the low-cost to the completely free.
I have some gardening friends who advocate the tried-and-true, totally organic method of looking for snails and crushing them. This is free, although time-consuming.
A good time to go snail and slug hunting is in the early evening and early morning hours, when they’re most active. You can place ceramic pots upside down in problem areas; check daily and remove snails and slugs that have hidden there.
For all of you who say “ewww” to that, there are other ways. Here are a few tips:
• First, do some basic garden maintenance. Clear away leaves and debris from around your plants, till the soil to destroy their eggs, and check nooks and crannies where they like to hide, such as underneath plant containers.
• You can try planting flowers and herbs that snails and slugs don’t like, including freesia, daylilies, mint, rosemary, azaleas, fennel, cosmos, parsley, basil, foxglove, tansy and hibiscus.
• Some ordinary landscaping materials said to deter slugs and snails are rough and bumpy things, like wood chips and gravel.
• Toads and frogs will happily eat snails; you can even buy ceramic toad houses to encourage them to move into your yard.
• Powdered ginger or crushed eggshells placed around plants may also hamper snails, and eggshells have the bonus of adding calcium to the soil.
• Some people use talcum powder, lime, or wood ashes as a barrier. However, don’t let wood ash touch the plants.
• Copper is a reliable barrier to slugs and snails, which don’t like to cross it. Copper tape is available at garden centers and nurseries; you can apply it to plant containers and flower beds. Or you can use pennies for the same purpose.
And if you really need to permanently eliminate snails and slugs and not just discourage them, try these methods:
• Coffee has also been shown to repel and even kill slugs and snails, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists, who have field-tested it. Coffee can be applied around plants, on the leaves, or directly on slugs and snails.
• Diatomaceous earth spread over the soil will kill snails, slugs and other garden pests. It’s a powdered rock made up of fossilized diatoms, which have small sharp edges that damage snails’ soft bodies. It’s available at garden centers.
• Set snail traps. Dig a hole in the ground and set a shallow container (like a used cat food or tuna can) inside, so that the edges are even with the soil. Beer or grape juice is a good lure for slugs and snails, which will crawl in and drown.