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.