What is slippery and will eat up your garden? Slugs.

These days, there are posts everywhere about how to keep hungry snails out of the garden. They eat germinating plants and vegetables, ruin your border and leave your plants looking like Swiss Cheese.

For these reasons, most gardeners put every snail in the same category: an abomination to their plants. However, there are some useful slugs and snails, which eat dead plant material, unwanted weeds such as nettle, and sometimes even the eggs of the harmful slug. (See images below for more info on these snails.)

Yes, there are also snails that are harmful to gardens. A number of species are picky and like to eat your vegetables or plant borders until they are empty. If you have been working hard lately to plant and grow lettuce, strawberries, hostas and dahlias, the last thing you want is to deal with those hungry mollusks.

In order to give biodiversity a helping hand, it is important to control slugs and snails in an environmentally friendly way. The best time to start fighting snails is in the in spring when temperatures are still low and you can clear the eggs. Once the temperature rises above 5°C (41°F), the snails start mating.

If that happens and you are still bothered by slugs, try these five animal-friendly solutions to fight slugs and snails in the garden:

1. Fragrant plants
It is important to make sure there is a lot of diversity in your vegetable garden. Slugs and snails prefer one or a few crops. Having many different crops in the garden can prevent an infestation. Make sure that you protect the “attractive” plants by putting less attractive plants around them.
Many snails dislike old-fashioned plants with a strong smell. Think sage, thyme, nasturtium, marigold, geranium, lavender, foxglove, pansies, ferns and ivy. Put these species near hosta, dahlia, poppy, strawberries, delphiniums and lettuce. That way you’ll deter most snails before they even have a chance to consume these sensitive plants.

2. Help the food chain
Frogs, toads, blackbirds, starlings, magpies and hedgehogs love slugs. Give the food chain a helping hand and lure these animals to your garden. If you design your garden in a more animal friendly way, you will have much less trouble from snails. A pond, piles of leaves and branches here and there, bird’s nests, berry bushes, and mixed hedges and trees attract many of these natural enemies. Also (domestic) animals such as chickens and walking ducks and insects such as ground beetles, centipedes and spiders like to feast on snails (eggs).

3. Clean up hiding places
Snails are mollusks. This means that they thrive in moist, shady places in the garden. They like to retreat under stones, pots and in cracks. It is important to clear away leaf litter, but do not do this until early spring, once the hedgehogs’ hibernation is over.

4. Garlic water
A home-garden remedy that helps against snail invasions is garlic water. Boil two bulbs of garlic in one liter of water. Stir two tablespoons of the garlic water into one liter of tap water and spray the sensitive plants in your garden with it.

5. Obstacle course
Turn your garden into an obstacle course for snails. Sprinkle straw, sawdust, coffee grounds, spruce needles or eggshells around tender plants. The sharp or dry material discourages the critters from moving on. Also recommended: a layer of broken cocoa shells over the ground. Cocoa shells are soil improvers — they contain a lot of organic nitrogen and trace elements that are passed on to plant roots. Note: cocoa shells are toxic to dogs.

Useful snails

Common Garden Snail

The common garden snail (Cepaea nemoralis) is a useful species. It eats mainly dead leaves. Sometimes there are nettles, fungi, excrement of algae and fruit on the menu. You can recognize the garden snail by its brown, yellow or pink house with at most five dark spiral bands. The body is gray and on the head are blades.
Note: it is difficult to distinguish from the white edged garden snail, which can be recognized by a white edge along the opening of the shell.

Common Amber Snail

The common amber snail (Succinea putris), with its almost transparent house, mainly eats dead plant matter. This species loves moist places near ponds or ditches. The name of this snail species is derived from amber, a fossil resin derived from coniferous trees. The house of the snail looks like a stone, because it is so thin that sunlight shines through it.

Pond snail

The pond snail (Lymnaea stagnalis) can only be found in gardens with a pond. It feeds on rotting plant parts, algae and carrion. The critter has a sustained and efficient metabolism, because it eats its own excrement. The house of the snail is cone-shaped and the body can grow up to 6 cm (more than 2 inches) long.

This article was kindly provided by the garden magazine Buitenleven from the Netherlands. For more gardening tips, check out their website.

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