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Getting Rid of Slugs and Snails the Natural Way

Spring is prime time for slugs and snails in the garden. You could use poison to eliminate them, but there are many nontoxic and natural methods as well.

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.

Ann Krueger Spivack March 10, 2011 at 07:52 PM
That's a good tip -- I'll try it. Do you know of a humane way to get rid of the field mice that are fighting for control of my garage?
Kathryn McKenzie March 11, 2011 at 12:24 AM
Hmmm ... sounds like it might be worth a future column!
Carol March 06, 2013 at 12:50 AM
My yorkie is 4 months old and he loves to eat snails we are going round n round with him I am afraid to use anything that may harm him but I'm sure eating them isn't good for him either!! I'm trying corn meal tonight, if that dont work its $95 for a extermator which I really don't want to pay any ideas???
Crystal Mickler November 08, 2013 at 12:16 PM
I used to go to the local coffee shop and ask for the used coffee grounds and sprread around the problem areas for snails. And it was free. Starbucks used to give them away also
Kim Kolwiek July 20, 2014 at 05:08 PM
will sound terrible but... I use coffee and egg shell spray around my plants (tomatos, beans, peas..) and in the evening Im hunting down all snails I can find and put them in a container filled with baking soda (this will dry the creatures out). and yes, one hunting gives me around 50 snails of a big size. Those ate so many of my plants, Im disguisted :(

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