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Garden Pests: How to Get Rid of Slugs and Snails in the Garden

Updated on May 29, 2019
Bills Place profile image

Billy Haynes is a content writer and founder of HD Writing Co. A practiced gardener, Billy's articles often focus on gardening techniques.

Do you have a garden slug or snail issue? For new gardeners, these gastropods may be challenging to identify as they typically come out at night to feed. This article will cover ways to identify if your plants have been victimized by garden slugs (or garden snails) and ways to get rid of garden slugs through barriers, traps, and other organic methods.

How to Identify Garden Snails or Garden Slugs on Plants

The first step in treating an issue is a correct diagnosis. Sometimes this can be a very simple step, even for beginner gardeners, other times it can take knowing what to look for. For instance, if you walk the garden a sunrise, you may catch the garden slugs or snails slithering away, or still feeding. Other times, you must identify the damage left behind.

Garden Slug vs Snail

They look similar, with one exception: a shell or no shell. If it doesn’t have a shell, it’s a slug. If it has a shell, it’s a snail.

Signs of snails or slugs on plants include:

  • Leaves or flowers with large, ragged holes
  • Slime left on soil or leaves
  • Damage occurs in early spring, prior to other types of insect activity
  • Seedlings are gone, with only stems left
  • Edges of leaves have a scalloped bite pattern

Plant Damages

The first, and most common sign will be damage left to your plants. This can be upsetting for any gardener, but the earlier it’s caught the better. Below is an image of what your plants could look like at first. Although, without taking action slugs can (and will) turn your plants into stems. Especially seedlings.

When are Slugs and Snails Most Active?

This is a good question, and one that will help with treating them efficiently too. They are most active during the night, particularly on wet and cloudy days. Their peak season includes spring, start of summer, and fall.

Where Do Slugs and Snails Hide?

If you have a large infestation, you may want to start removing things away from the garden they hide under. Some of these things include:

  • Yard debris
  • Dirt clods
  • Low plants
  • Leaves on the ground
  • Planting pods
  • Other dark, wet locations

Although, both are great at climbing. Snails can easily climb trees and cause damage, while slugs can borrow into the ground following plant roots. So, to ensure plant safety the following methods for getting rid of garden snails and slugs will still be needed.

How to Get Rid of Garden Slugs and Snails?

What is Slug Bait?

These are products which lure these annoying gastropods in using iron phosphate. It attracts them, they feed, and causes them to stop feeding until they die (3-6 days later).

What is a Slug Trap?

Like other forms of traps, but designed to contain slugs. They come in different styles, but essentially combines a bait with a trap to contain them.

How to Create a Slug Barrier?

A slug barrier is simply a term that refers to something that the slug (or snail) is unable to physically cross. These methods are great if you’re looking for an organic snail repellent.


1. Picking Slugs Off by Hand

This is the easiest method, but only works when you can actually see them in or around the garden. Unless you’re looking during the night or very early morning, this is less likely to be a long-term approach.

2. Homemade “Hiding Place” Style Slug Traps

If you’re not a fan of spending money on commercial products, you can lay wood between your plants. Then during the day, lift it and see if you have “caught” any using it for shelter. Then, discard as you desire (be it by death or relocation).

You can use other items, such as containers or pots as well, leaving them propped up so they can gain access to the darkness.

Remember, slugs and snails are great climbers, so you don’t need to place things in the ground for them to climb into – as this can result in trapping beneficial insects too.

3. Natural Predators are Friends, not Enemies

Everything has a natural predator, even slugs. For example, lightening bugs lay larva, and before transitioning into the lightening bug kids love catching, they’re known as glowworms. These eat slugs for breakfast (kind of literally).

Toads also eat them, so don’t freak out and run them out your yard.

4. Citrus

Citrus is a natural bait and organic method for luring slugs or snails into a trap. Grapefruit or orange peels placed in traps or simply to another area outside the garden can be effective. Check each morning to discard of any pests and repeat using fresh peels or citrus oils.

5. Beer Bait Trap

If you’re not looking to relocate them and just want them gone, use beer. Place a container in the ground, with some beer in it (an inch or so should work). The gastropods will fall in, unable to climb out they’ll drown.

Many put the rim at ground level, which may be most effective. However, as mentioned above this can result in beneficial insects being killed off as well.

If you have a large infestation you may find losing some Beneficial’s worth gaining control over. Otherwise, leave the rim a couple inches above ground.

6. Egg Shell Slug Barrier

If you want to go with a natural slug repellent, this is the most common approach. Plus, it’s all organic! You simply have to remember and save your eggshells after making omelets. Crush them and make an eggshell wall around the problem area. They will cut slugs that attempt to cross, so they typically avoid self-mutilation…

For best practice, you should rinse eggshells off and bake them for 10-15 minutes on low heat (200-250 degrees). This will remove or kill any potential bacteria. Additionally, it reduces the rotten egg smell when you save them for later use (and makes them MUCH easier to crush).

7.Toss Sand Around the Garden

Sand is a very coarse particle; at a microscopic level they are simply shards. Not a very fun experience for snails. Simply toss some around plants, or increase the barrier’s defense by adding a sand wall to your eggshell fort.

Bonus benefit: Sand can help retain moisture and improve soil.

8. Diatomaceous Earth (D.E.) powder

If you’re not searching for an all organic approach, D.E. works similar to sand, being the shape of shards at a microscopic level. However, not only can it be a snail repellent, it can offer defense against many other common garden pests.

However, diatomaceous Earth may also kill or repel some beneficial’s. Therefore, it’s recommended only in extreme cases.

9. Used Coffee Grounds

Used coffee grounds is another common household item that acts as a great repellent that helps improve soil and plants. It keeps snails, slugs and other things away that do not care for the smell.

It is beneficial to plants, soil, even the worms aerating the ground under your garden. Left over grounds and be composted too.

Note: Used coffee grounds have a neutral PH, meaning it will not change your PH level. Avoid using fresh grounds as this can have a drastic impact on PH levels.

10. Pay Attention or Avoid Favorites

One way to help reduce the issue is to avoid planting things slugs or snails like to feast on to begin with. Although, this is not an ideal approach because it includes a ton of plants, including:

  • Cabbage
  • Beans
  • Lettuce
  • Basil
  • Strawberries
  • Marigolds

Of course, there are various other fruits, flowers and vegetables that could make this list as well.

11. Not All Snails are Equals

Did you know, there are predatory snails that eat other gastropods? Yep! The European Decollate Snail will feast upon your garden snails. Just look to see if they are available in your area yet. Of course, there’s always Amazon.

12. Copper?

The reason there’s a question mark on this on is, it’s an open-ended theory or folklore. Basically, the concept is that copper “shocks” or more likely just irritates a slug due to a chemical reaction.

Any type of copper should work to create a barrier.

13. Vinegar or Ammonia Spray

Using either of these as the base, mixed with equal parts water can be used in a spray bottle. Spray around the yard, garden, or directly on the slugs. Vinegar is a mild acid that quickly kills them. Although, while Ammonia isn’t an acid, it still does the trick.

Note: Avoid spraying plants as it is harmful to them and you’ll kill the plant.

14. Garlic or Salt

Both of these will fix the issue too. Salt works to dehydrate them, while garlic has shown signs of being a natural repellent. You can make sprays from these as well, but again avoid directly spraying plants as it can dry them out too.

15. Epsom Salt

Simply sprinkle this through the garden and it will help to deter any garden slugs or snails, while providing nutrients to the plants and soil by increasing magnesium levels.

Slugs in the House? Try These Organic Slug Control Methods

Treating the garden is one thing, but when you’re starting to find slugs in the house, you begin trying to keep them out the house. This can require a different approach. You may have animals, children with allergies, or other elements to consider. Therefore, the following are a few safe ways to treat slugs entering the home.


Destroying Slime Trails

Like ants, they often follow the scent (in this case, slime) of other slugs. This gives them a trail to follow directly into the house, and why it is the first thing to clean up if possible.

Organic Commercial Baits

Escar-Go and Sluggo are two of the leading options here. They use iron phosphate to attract and kill slugs by causing them to stop eating and die off. These two products are also completely safe for humans, pets. birds, fish, even beneficial insects you may want. Therefore, it’s also safe for the garden.

Pick Up & Go

Finally, the quickest and cheapest approach is simply picking them up (with or without gloves), and putting them somewhere else.

Are There Poisonous Snails?

Yes, but not in the garden. The garden snail is not poisonous and harmless to touch. In fact, some people even eat them, known as escargot. But, because snails consume harmful chemicals like snail bait and pesticides, they must first be prepared to remove them (as they are poisonous).

The Cone Snail

Not only are cone snails poisonous, they are among the most poisonous creatures in the world. They’re a marine species and a major threat to humans, but their venom is for paralyzing fish.

Using appendages that come out their shell, they harpoon their victims (usually fish), paralyzing the fish in seconds. Because the barbed design hooks them, keeps it from getting away.

When humans go diving, they may pick them up because their shells are very pretty, then in self-defense it lashes out and stings. The symptoms can vary depending on the person and how much venom was released.

Because of the toxin’s chemical design there is no antivenom, meaning all doctors can do is treat symptoms and hope the body survive the poison’s course. There are more than 600 species of Cone snails, each having a unique toxin. Furthermore, there are some that have been found to inject a combination of 100 various toxins.

Symptoms of a Cone Snail Sting

  • Local swelling
  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Difficult breathing
  • Nausea
  • Paralysis
  • Sometimes, death

Therefore, the next time you go diving and see a snail in the water – take in it’s beauty from afar and avoid picking it up.

How to Prepare Snails for Escargot?

The process is simple, let the snails crawl around a container with corn meal for 3+ days. The cornmeal absorbs any poisonous elements from the outside of the snail.

After ensuring the snails are no longer poisonous, the snails are ready to be cleaned and prepared for cooking. Once you’ve done it a few times, it usually takes 30 seconds or less to clean and prepare each snail. On average, a suggested serving size is 4 to 7 snails.

There is an endless number of escargot recipes available, the next step is choosing which one to try first. Here is a link to get you started on escargot recipes.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Billy Haynes

Comments

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    • Bills Place profile imageAUTHOR

      Billy Haynes 

      3 months ago from Paragould, AR

      Much of ours is clay as well, so I fully understand. Thanks for reading. :)

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      3 months ago from the short journey

      A great read here with loads of interesting information on slugs and snails. Gulp on the poisonous ones, but thanks for new info on dealing with garden ones. I love the idea of sand being a deterrent because much of our property is clay.

    • Jennifer Jorgenson profile image

      Jennifer Jorgenson 

      3 months ago

      Sounds good friend!

    • Bills Place profile imageAUTHOR

      Billy Haynes 

      3 months ago from Paragould, AR

      Jennifer,

      I wasn't a coffee drinker until my mid-20s, now it's a must. lol

      If I get around to trying it soon, I'll try an remember to let you know how it is.

    • Jennifer Jorgenson profile image

      Jennifer Jorgenson 

      3 months ago

      I've always been curious about the root as a coffee substitute too. I'm not a coffee drinker so I haven't tried it but I keep trying to talk our housemate into it - lol.

    • Bills Place profile imageAUTHOR

      Billy Haynes 

      3 months ago from Paragould, AR

      Jennifer,

      That's more than I could handle these days!

      I haven't had the dandelion greens yet. Slowly trying new things though. I'm kind of curious about using dandelion roots for a coffee alternative too, but I don't have enough around the yard yet to dig up for drying roots. I keep blowing those seeds around though!

      I've wondered, but haven't had time to research if dehydrating the dandelion roots and leaves would retain the nutritional benefits for later use (such as teas, or ground up to use in cooking, etc.). That would make it easier to throw some in various dishes too.

    • Jennifer Jorgenson profile image

      Jennifer Jorgenson 

      3 months ago

      We have 10 cats. 2 we intentionally adopted and 8 that are the result of people not spaying or neutering their animals.

      I haven't had dandelion tea but I definitely have had clover tea. In fact red clover (like most weeds) is highly nutritious and it's also beneficial to the female hormonal system. Dandelion greens can be quite bitter though. I always mix them with other greens to make them more palatable. I've also added dandelion greens to quiches before. There are so many ways to use dandelions in food. I haven't made fritters with the flowers yet, but it's definitely a goal!

    • Bills Place profile imageAUTHOR

      Billy Haynes 

      3 months ago from Paragould, AR

      Jennifer,

      I remember having many cats as a kid (nearly 30!) Now we've got one and it won't stop meowing (keeps going into heat). It's a love/hate relationship at this point.

      That's a lot of wildlife, luckily I don't think we have any bears around, but have been told outside of town people have seen coyotes, and we have deer, raccoons, and skunks. However, I've only seen 1 wild fox my whole 25 years being here, strangely it was downtown?

      Well, it's been really hard to get my girlfriend to try eating the dandelions and clovers. I think the thought of it being "a weed from the yard" has something to do with it...

      Have you ever had dandelion or clover tea?

    • Jennifer Jorgenson profile image

      Jennifer Jorgenson 

      3 months ago

      We have cats, many many cats. Lol but we also live in the forest so there's foxes, skunks, raccoons, deer, coyotes, moutain lions, bears, etc.

      I've have had a challenging time with compost piles as well. I agree I just don't think mine got hot enough.

      Yes! Who doesn't love free food!

    • Bills Place profile imageAUTHOR

      Billy Haynes 

      3 months ago from Paragould, AR

      Jennifer,

      What type of animals do you have?

      I'm glad you were positive in your response. I've lost count of how many people in gardening groups on Facebook have negative and sometimes very rude responses when hearing I still use Miricle Grow on occasion.

      Last fall I started trying to test out a compost pile, but I thinks something went wrong. It never felt hot as I read it should. It's finally breaking down, about 7 months later. Just started a 2nd pile (try, try again). ^_^

      I did stop putting pesticides in the lawn though, especially now that I've learned you can actually eat dandelions & white clovers. Free food! lol

    • Jennifer Jorgenson profile image

      Jennifer Jorgenson 

      3 months ago

      Exactly! We have animals too.

      I know just what you mean, it's a process. I'm at the point now in my organic journey where you couldn't pay me to use miracle grow but when I first started, I didn't know anything about it.

      I think the best way to approach it is to do what you're doing. Just start somewhere - and as you learn more you can add in what works for you and your situation.

      :)

    • Bills Place profile imageAUTHOR

      Billy Haynes 

      3 months ago from Paragould, AR

      Jennifer,

      Thanks for stopping by to read. I have animals and strays that adventure in the yard, don't want to spread stuff that would harm them (of us).

      I used chemicals my first year gardening and it was easier, but last year I decided to go semi-organic, eventually maybe I'll know enough to be full organic (I still use Miracle Grow, etc.). :)

    • Jennifer Jorgenson profile image

      Jennifer Jorgenson 

      3 months ago

      Fabulous article! Very informative and thorough. Im definitely going to be trying some of these methods this year. I love that you didn't just suggest using poison and instead gave multiple natural and organic options! Thanks for sharing this!

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