reduce the local slug and snail population

Five Steps I’ve Taken to Reduce the Local Slug and Snail Population

I was tickled by a story in the Telegraph this week, which reported that scientists have found snails placed within a 65 feet radius can use a ‘homing instinct’ to return to an area of ground, whilst those moved further away struggled to find their way back.

(Now we’ll have to throw the snails into the next door but one allotment, rather than just our neighbours!)

This year, I’ve been pretty lucky with snails. A stray greenhouse invader chomped a few of my pea plants, but thus far, things have been quiet. It hasn’t always been this way, however, particularly in my garden.

I tried many of the common tips, such as beer traps and eggshells, but I also attempted to look at the bigger picture and I’d like to think that I’m now seeing some rewards.

Here are steps I’ve taken which I think has reduced the number of slugs and snails slithering around my veg patch.

1. Clear Away the Weeds and Undergrowth
When we moved into our house, there were lots of scruffy, overgrown spots in the garden. They were damp, green and home to literally hundreds of snails. As soon as night fell, they all came out to play. You couldn’t take a step without a crunch underneath your foot.

It took me a few months to completely clear the garden, but doing this made the biggest difference to the resident slug and snail population. Suddenly, there weren’t anywhere near as many places for them to hide out.

2. Check Your Plants Aren’t Becoming Habitats.
A couple of years back, I put runner beans in a bed, next to a big, established (and probably well out of control) bear’s breeches. I thought the two together made quite the display, but I wasn’t counting that the bear’s was providing the same habitat as the weeds and undergrowth I’d spent so long getting rid of.

Lifting the big leaves up revealed countless slugs and snails, but by then it was too late and they’d already made a dinner out of my runner bean seedlings. The same happens with dying brassicas. The sprouts on my plot use to be a favourite hideout if I left them in the ground too long.

3. Keep the Greenhouse Tidy
Working a greenhouse is probably the only chance you have to enjoy a controlled, slug free environment. Closing the door at night when slugs and snails come out means that they have to sit outside licking their lips at your healthy seedlings, rather than enjoy munching them to pieces.

I’m not the tidiest of people, but having a greenhouse for the first time has taught me that keeping things shipshape is a must. At first, I kept boxes and toot all over the floor, which like the overgrown parts of the garden, provided refuge for slugs.

I also let the weeds grow in the soil under my potting bench, which was another big mistake. I now lay weed suppressant membrane over the soil until I’m ready to plant out.

It only takes a couple of rogues to destroy countless seedlings overnight, so I regularly check underneath pots and other equipment in the greenhouse. That’s where they’ll be hiding out.

4. Plant Out Established Seedlings
If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, you have the chance of sowing in pots and protecting delicate seedlings. This means that you can plant out seedlings when they are bigger and more capable of surviving a slug attack.

From my experience, slugs and snails are a little less willing to take on a larger plant too, much preferring the inch high, recently germinated seedlings.

5. Torchlight Pre-Bed Inspections
One of the most satisfying and effective steps in the fight against our slimy adversaries is the night time vigil. Checking the garden for slugs and snails before bed is a great way of catching them in the act and removing large numbers from the veg patch. One Sunday night, I removed 32 from just two lupin plants.

They did some damage, but they haven’t been back since. I find that in the days after a good slug hunt in damp conditions, the population reduces significantly.

I’ve just got to remember to throw them further than 65 metres.

10 thoughts on “Five Steps I’ve Taken to Reduce the Local Slug and Snail Population”

  1. Love your posts. Identify so much with the slug/snail angst… I used to use a product called Strulch on my beds of herbaceous perennials, and noticed this year that it now claims to deter slugs and snails. It’s not cheap stuff but I thought I’d give it go at that allotment – a handful round each plant when they went into the ground. A bag goes a long way. A month later and it still seems to be working – lettuces, runner beans, celery, brassicas, salad crops…. I hope I haven’t jinxed it now. I have always known it is great mulch, and now I am sold on this additional benefit to an organic minded gardener. (That, and as you say, keeping the grass mowed and the weedy corners under control.)

    regards – Tigger’s Mum

  2. Battling the slugs – mega-pests here as well, and they are the main reason why I sow everything in pots, if I sow directly it gets demolished. While I agree that keeping the garden tidy deters them, I would still advocate having some messy corners, leaves under hedges etc. as hedgehogs do desperately need these places to hide. They don’t really eat many slugs, but they need all the help we can give them, and I’m def prepared to give them some messy places, even if it’s only a big pile of branches and such stuff.

  3. I’m glad you don’t kill them. We do need more biodiversity in our gardens and allotments. Here’s a video I made of Jim Carruthers (of Scottish Natural Heritage) at Gardening Scotland earlier this month, giving a talk on How to not Garden. It’s really funny but he has some very serious points to make. I haven’t edged my lawn since.

  4. Hey Tigger’s Mum, thanks for your comment. I’ve just looked Strulch up, interesting idea. Keep in touch, I’d be interested to know if your success with it continues.

    Helen, if I had the room I’d definitely do that. My mum has a corner that she calls her meadow, where she leaves it to grow wild. The area is full of wild flowers and I love it. One day, when I’ve got an acre!!

    Phil, that film is clever. You’re right, he makes some really good points. I’d never heard of him before, but will definitely do some more googling now.

    And I might not mow the grass. 🙂

  5. I read somewhere that it’s better to water in the morning, rather than the evening, as the slugs are more active at night and , anyway, the surface water has evaporated. I’m currently battling with pigeons on the allotment. Grrr!

  6. I’d agree with that. I always used to water at night, but only do it in the morning now. To avoid them drying out quicker I use different planting methods, like planting in a recess to keep the water around the plant.

    Feel you with the pigeons. they’re not daft those things. They know immediately when you’ve put brassicas in. Its like they’ve got a brassica tracker in their brains.

  7. Slugs are a major problem at our allotment and at the moment I do tend to just kill any I find but I am thinking of trying to add a few predators to the plot.
    Indian runner ducks can be trained to eat slugs and I am going to build some hedgehog shelters to see if I can encourage our spiky friends into the area,


  8. I have one of those plastic mini greenhouses and this year I’ve tried sticking a strip of copper tape around the inside of it; so far, there haven’t been any slugs/snails climbing up and eating the seedlings. I’ve also started sticking the tape around some of my pots with salad leaves in. You can buy the tape fairly cheaply from wilkinsons.

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