How to articles
How to deal with slugs and snails
No sooner have the fruits (or vegetables) of your labour appeared, so too have the slugs and snails. You can tell if you’ve got a problem by the irregularly shaped holes in the leaves and the sparkly slime trails left all across your planted beds.
But how do you deal with these hungry pests? Well, thankfully there are plenty of solutions, but first you need to find which one is causing all the damage.
Slugs or snails?
You can tell whether you’ve got slugs or snails by the type of damage and where it occurs. Both leave slime trails everywhere, but snails are really good at scaling vertical surfaces – so if you have something being demolished in a hanging basket, it’s probably a snail.
Snails are also quite fussy eaters. They tend to feast on the softer bits between the ribs of a leaf, leaving a plant skeleton behind.
Slugs, on the other hand, tend to stay around ground level and eat everything and anything. Keeled slugs are particularly annoying because they live underground and eat the roots. Common in damp soils, they’ll ruin crops of potatoes by tunnelling into them and eating out large holes.
How to get rid of them, responsibly and safely.
Slugs and snails feed at night, so you can go out with a torch and pick them off the plants under attack.
A common treatment for slugs and snails is to create a barrier around your plants that is uncomfortable for them to cross – like sharp grit or egg-shells. If you are going to try this you need to make sure the barrier is at least 5cm wide and has no gaps. And if it’s a really tasty plant, even a rough barrier won’t stop them.
Plants in pots can be protected by greasing the rim with Vaseline mixed with salt. As they slither up the side of the pot they take up the salt – which dehydrates and stops them.
Food and drink
Buried jars of beer are irresistible to slugs and snails. They usually leave plants well alone and head for the beer, falling in and drowning. Slugs also love to eat bran and will happily gorge themselves on it. The bran then swells in their stomach and they explode. It’s less effective on snails.
You can buy nematodes (microscopic creatures), which aggressively search out and attack slugs. How they deal with the pests is quite gory, but very effective.
They’re a natural, non-toxic control method that’s safe for both users and wildlife. The nematodes stay active for about six weeks so a single dose protects plants when they are emerging in the spring and are most vulnerable.
Nematodes can only be used in spring and summer when the soil is warm. They’re the best method of controlling underground keel slugs which rarely come to the surface.
Avoid using slug pellets – they can lead to hedgehog and song thrush death.
Check it’s not caterpillars. They damage leaves in a similar way – but need to be dealt with differently. If you spot tiny black balls of poo, you’ve got caterpillars. To get rid of them try either picking them off, or spraying them with a jet of water.