Garden Attack – Part 2 Molluscs

This is part 2 of a 3 part series on dealing with the most common pests found in your garden and cultivation patches.

Part one detailed aphids.

Garden pests might be small but they like to make their presence known in a variety of ways!

Any attack from a garden pest can really put the dampener on growing anything ever again, but over here at Forget-me-Not Cultivation we’re not going to give up.  Sometimes there will be battles to be had in the garden, ones you just can’t ignore and if that’s the case you’ve got to be well prepared.

Fear not though – preparedness begins here.

I’ll detail the pests, and more importantly, explain a battle plan that can be used to win the war!

Slugs and Snails

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Slimy critters with their big gobs that come slinking over your best plants in the middle of the night to leave you with half eaten leaves and slime trails over your most prized ornamental flowers and veggies.

How to identify an mollusc attack 

The attack that most of us see consists of the following signs:

  • Seedlings reduced to mere stalks overnight.  In some cases the whole seedling will be eaten before you’ve even noticed the seeds have germinated
  • Ragged leaves on green lush plants showing new growth.
  • Collections of very tiny white balls (eggs) just under the surface of the soil
  • Trail lines that run over the plants leaving a slimy residue.

You’ll notice these signs from as soon as plants start showing new growth after the winter until once again the plants die back ready for the cold season.  Snails do hibernate over winter, usually in a safe hiding spot behind rocks or fallen branches, but if not taken out by predators these skillful little gastropods have been reported as live five years or more and quite often can reproduce several time in one year.  100 eggs can be laid by each snail, every time meaning there are a lot of snails in one garden!

Slugs eggs are slightly less, at 30 eggs for each cycle.  They can live up to six years and don’t tend to hibernate.   Instead they can keep secreting slime and laying eggs at temperatures as low as 5 degrees.  They spend more time than their snail friends under the ground.

How do molluscs cause issues?

In their own way slugs and snails are actually very useful because they help decompose and recycle vegetable matter but it becomes a problem when they start munching away at the plants you want to keep, not the ones you don’t.  Slugs will attack plants from beneath the soil level right the way to the very top and snails will happily munch away for hours from soil surface upwards.  Over night huge damage can be caused to seedlings, stems, and leaves.  If enough of the plant is eaten (especially shoots) it causes your plants to die quite quickly.

Both slugs and snails, while not harmful if left alone, do pose a potential problem to small children and pets if the slime from the molluscs is ingested.  The parasite lungworm lives in the slime and is life threatening to pets.

Battle plans

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While all that appears to be rather depressing reading the end is not always neigh at the stage. For one thing slugs and snails aren’t attracted to all plants in your garden.  In fact some plants will be a complete turn off but for those crops and flowers that are a particular appetizer to molluscs we need to make sure they have a fighting chance.

There are three areas to the pest battle that can be used straight away:

Prevention

There are a couple of naturally occurring materials that slugs and snails hate – crushed egg shells and wool.  This is because the pests find it physically hard (if not impossible) to ride over these materials.  Imagine adding slime to either wool or crushed egg shells and then try picking it up -the slime would act as a glue for both materials causing the slowdown and immediate stop of movement.

I have found that organic wool pellets that can be bought at any good garden retailer work extremely well as a protective barrier around the foot of my plants.

Organic slug/snail killer in the form of pellets is effective as well.  It uses ferric phosphate, an iron compound, that actually attracts the slugs and snails who eat the pellets and head away to die.   The company that sells it states it is not harmful to either pets not children however I have read that large amounts of it can cause issue and so while it could be used as a preventative measure I think it should be used wisely.

Other prevention ideas:

  • Water your plants in the morning rather than in the evening otherwise you’re giving the slugs and snails a great watery playground to ride over all night long.
  • You could just grow plants that slugs and snail dislike – here is a list.
  • keep checking on your plants (especially seedlings), and protecting them as much as physically possible in the use of plastic covers and bottles.

Control

Bearing in mind you could have anything from 200 to 1,000 slugs and snails in your garden at any one time controlling them will need to be carried out daily (when establishing new plants/seedlings), and at the optimum place and time to ensure you can collect as many as possible.  So when heading out remember these things:

  • Snails and slugs are nocturnal, so you’ll be able to pick many up after dark around your plants.
  • They like dark, damp areas to sleep in during the day – check under rocks, under pots (including the rim), in thick grass, fencing panels, and around decaying wood and you’ll have a stash of critters in no-time.
  • Check plants after watering, or if it’s been raining, because this can bring snails out early if they think it’s nice and wet for them to slide about.
  • Look up, look down, and behind –  all places in greenhouses and grow houses, it’s surprising how high snails will travel.
  • When digging over soil look for the eggs that are white and clustered.  They are very easy to spot.  Take then out of the soil and add them to your bird table.  The birds will be very pleased.
  • Encourage as many blackbirds into your garden as possible by adding nesting sites and feeding them.
  • Check all parts of the plants at night – lift up leaves and check around the soil cover.

Control can be very effective and it does help give your plants a really good fighting chance.

Collateral damage

Some plants won’t stand much of an attack from either a slug or snail, at which point you have to decide if it’s worth keeping that plant, or if it needs to be in that place?

You could also, like the aphid attack, allow the plant to be used as an exception in the hopes it will allow extra time for your other plants to become established.

While snails and slugs aren’t psychic they will tend to head to wards the easiest of plants to hunt and eat.  So if your plant is weak or in a setting that makes it easy for a slimy critter to get to, then these plants will get caught out first.

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What are your tips for dealing with slugs and snails?  Is there one plant in particular they always attack in your garden?

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7 thoughts on “Garden Attack – Part 2 Molluscs

  1. Love the smiley residue! Probably a wee typo but the slugs were probably smiling. I think I’ve tried all the tricks but none work very well. Copper is pretty good though – you can buy copper rings to put round precious plants and tape to put round pots – it sort of works so long as the slugs are not already in the soil.

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  2. I am a firm believer that slugs are slimy to enable them to crawl over brimstone (& breath sulfur) to exit Hell every night. In Vermont we had snails, which at least had the cool shell…here in Alabama, if i put my wet cup down outside for at least 45 seconds, it is covered in slugs, as is my back metal door. i would rather have just about any garden enemy then slugs. Thank you for your advice. One of the managers at a local nursery said, he’d been told putting real copper wire around the base of pots helps. I live in the copper wire house in Alabama now. Cheers. ~amy

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  3. Sprinkling sharp sand on paths and glued onto the side of pots can also deter them. Also consider the beer trap. (But that means wasting beer)

    Another bit of advice for dealing with slugs and snails is to use any birds you have in your garden. Let any bird feeders you have go empty don’t refill it right away. Leave it a day and the birds, rather than simply leaving, will scamper around your garden more than they normally would. Refill the feeder to keep them coming back and repeat. But don’t do this in winter. Birds really cannot go with out expected food in the cold.

    Also… Encourage frogs if you can. Nothing goes through a slug population like a couple of hungry frogs!

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