Slugs and Snails

‘Get up, sweet Slug-a-bed, and see
The Dew bespangling Herbe and Tree’.
– Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

They go quietly about their business as gardeners lie abed. A silent army on the march. Their mission is death, demolition, and destruction. Yes, it`s a war out there, choose your weapons.
There are more than 40,000 different species of snails and slugs throughout the world, and they are remarkably well adapted to survival. They may be found almost everywhere, and most of them seem to have found a way into my garden last year!
Due to the wetter than usual weather of the last few years (conditions which they love) slugs and snails have become much more of a problem, especially in the vegetable garden. Of course slugs and snails are part of the ecology of the garden, but you can have too much of a good thing! So how do we control them? What are the most effective weapons we can use?
Try to avoid using slug bait. Most slug bait’s active constituents can be fatal to dogs, birds and other animals. Instead, consider the following measures, gleaned from my gardening pals.
Old Ernie says that the most often used and most reliable method of reducing slug and snail populations is collection (and persistence!) He recommends torch/flash light search and destroy missions whilst they are out and about at night. A variation is to go on patrol with a salt shaker. Another method he uses is ‘Spot and Squash’ (Ernie goes out in the rain in gum boots and stomps on all he sees!)
Fred said he pays his kids to collect them. He pays “x” amount per dozen. However in making such a deal one must ensure that the entire garden is not annihilated in the process, and suitable penalties should be applicable for unnecessary damage. Also be a bit careful of what value you assign to “x” otherwise your wallet may suffer and you will be broke in no time, your kids will be rich, but you’ll still have plenty of slugs and snails!
One old wag said that the species of the collected snails should be identified, and if suitable fed on lettuce (or selected herbs) for a week or two, then cooked and sold as ‘escargot’!
Whilst individual methods may vary, the objective remains constant.
Another method advocated by many, is to lure the miscreants to their deaths by leaving shallow containers of beer out overnight. Empty daily. When the death rates starts to decrease you may feel comfortable leaving the baits down a bit longer but be warned, dead slugs and snails stink after a very short time.
Suggested containers include saucers, tuna cans, yoghurt and margarine containers, in brief, just about anything capable of holding beer and a slug. There seems to be considerable favour shown for containers with vertical sides – woozy slugs are less able to crawl out – and liquid filled only to a centimetre or two from the top, so once the slug gets on the plastic, there is only one way and that is down. What a way to go!
An oft mentioned problem associated with the use of beer is what to do with the carcasses and remaining beer. Suggestions include, dumping the lot into the compost, or dumping them out where the birds can get them. If you are concerned about getting inebriated birds perhaps composting or burying the carcasses might be preferable.
Other alternative lures to beer are, the remains of melon/grapefruit/lemon or orange halves turned upside down in the garden and left overnight. Next day, squash the fruit peels with the slugs still inside and dispose of thoughtfully. Damp sponges placed on the ground around plants will attract slugs. Lift and remove slugs after a day or two, dampen the sponges again and replace for the next load.
Young Dave said he had read somewhere that slugs were cannibals and will dine on their own deceased. So using a pair of scissors (he says) got a dead slug and left the carcass in the garden, returning later to dispatch those which had congregated at the feast!
I much prefer to encourage the beasties natural enemies.
Hedgehogs are good slug and snail predators if they can be attracted to the garden by providing winter shelter (piles of leaves etc). The blackbird and the song thrush also find a slug or a snail a tasty snack, and they can be encouraged to frequent your garden by feeding.
If you are a sensitive soul, perhaps you would prefer deterrence to slaughter.
Barriers are said to be effective as a deterrent to protect vulnerable plants. These include crushed egg shells, wood ash, soot, coarse sand, sawdust, and garden lime. Sprinkle these substances around the circumference of the plants. Cayenne pepper, ground ginger, and slivers of garlic, any of these sprinkled around susceptible plants are said to repel slugs and snails.
Pea gravel used as a mulch and/or placed around individual plants is also an effective deterrent, as is old sandpaper cut into circles (cut a slit to the centre and another little circle at the centre to accommodate the plant stem). Place around the plant, rough side up. The bottoms of plastic soft drink or pop bottles placed over plants will exclude the beasts and prevent damage to tender young plants.
Many plants, once they have had a good healthy start, can cope with the attacks of slugs and snails, and some plants are indeed avoided by them. But there are quite a few plants in the flower and vegetable garden which need our protection from the depredations of these slimy critters.
Choose your weapons !