Snails and slugs can be bad news for your garden, as they consume many different types of vegetation. Without proper maintenance, the presence of these small creatures can lead to disappointing results. With the right knowledge and awareness, you can learn how to avoid the negative impacts of snails and slugs and see how they may even benefit your garden from time to time instead.
Snails and slugs can destroy much of what you plant in your garden–including flowers, seedlings, fruits and vegetables, and foliage. That said, they can also be helpful when it comes to weather prediction, cleaning up dead plant debris, and providing extra fertilization for your soil.
Snails and slugs are often seen as the “bad guys” when it comes to garden maintenance and growth. The livelihood of gardens is often compromised due to these little critters. While they can be quite a nuisance, it is important to be aware of the positive aspects they can also bring. Knowing both the good and bad with having snails and slugs in your garden can provide for a much more positive experience overall.
Are Snails and Slugs Bad for Gardens?
Snails and slugs are mollusks (meaning they are in the same invertebrate phylum as muscles and octopuses) that, despite their slow movement, are quick eaters. This means if they enter your garden, they will likely start consuming much of the vegetation you planted right away. Even within the span of 24 to 48 hours, a large percentage of your produce can be destroyed.
What They Eat
Snails and slugs eat a variety of different plants, fruits, and vegetables. They also consume seedlings, which can be especially tricky to deal with for garden owners, as the little mollusks can sometimes even devour a whole row of seedlings before they sprout.
“They consume living plants, decaying plant matter, fruit, and young plant bark, and are particularly fond of the succulent foliage and flowers of seedlings and herbaceous plants – basil, beans, cabbage, dahlia, lettuce, marigolds, and many other vegetable plants.”
[Source: Garden Bad Guys — Snails and Slugs]
Snails and slugs also chomp on ripened fruits such as strawberries, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. Though they may be more likely to consume such fruits closer to the ground, they are also avid tree climbers and can get to where the food is if need be.
Because snails and slugs have such a plentiful diet, they may very well dabble into much of what you are growing in your garden. Now imagine if there were a handful of these little critters in your backyard.
They Reproduce Quickly
Snails and slugs are hermaphrodites, meaning that they have both male and female reproductive organs. Since they have the ability to produce offspring asexually, seeing one of these mollusks solo does not necessarily mean you are off the hook when it comes to pest control.
With a few snails or slugs around, and the right weather conditions for reproduction (generally milder temperatures, ideally with higher humidity levels), it is not uncommon to see a drastic increase in their numbers over time.
With a major increase in the snail and slug population, damage control in your garden may become more difficult.
Slug and Snail Regulation & Prevention
When you have a snail and slug population living in your garden, or if you are worried about that happening, it is important to know the steps you can take to regulate and control the situation.
These pests are most active at night and at dawn before the sun rises. When the sun comes out, they take cover from the direct light and heat.
Below is a list of possible ways to get rid of snails and slugs in your garden:
- Use natural insect sprays
- Set up beer container traps
- Hand-pick them off
- Create hiding place traps (areas that are dark and moist; they will likely collect there)
- Place empty grapefruit halves around the garden (they will collect inside of them)
- Place empty eggshells around the garden (the sharp edges can hurt their bodies, so they will try to avoid them)
- Attract other animals that prey on these pests (such as birds)
- Place pieces of cardboard on the bare soil and pick off the snails/slugs from the bottom of them in the mornings
Though these are all effective methods of getting rid of these little critters, I would advise utilizing ideas that do not cause harm or pain to them. They are beings, after all, and are just trying to eat and survive as we all do. Do what you must – it is your garden – but prevention and deterrence are gentle ways of getting the same results.
Some of the regulatory methods listed above can certainly be used as preventative measures as well. There are a few other options available though when it comes to stopping snails and slugs from rampaging your garden:
- Get rid of some of the moist soil and debris (that snails and slugs love) in early springtime
- Water the plants only when necessary so as to avoid creating more damp places for them to gather
- Place copper tape or a copper powder lining around the perimeter
Aside from this information, below is a list of the likes and dislikes of slugs specifically, which can help you to identify and create more ways to prevent them from frolicking in your garden.
We know that slugs feel right at home in humidity, moderate temperatures, and dark places to hide. They are not fond of dry areas that are cold, hot, or windy. They shy away from sunlight, salt, and being openly exposed.
For a more detailed list of what attracts and repels snails, see Oregon State University’s Slug Activity Predictor.
Can Snails and Slugs be Useful in a Garden?
Even though snails and slugs can be bad news for gardens, they can actually provide some benefits as well. For gardeners, it is good to know the positive side to having these pesky little creatures around. For instance:
- Snails and slugs may be able to help us predict the weather.
- They are good scavengers when it comes to picking up plant and vegetation debris,
- Their feces provide rich fertilization for the soil.
Predicting the Weather
Snails and slugs have been known to move around their environments in different ways, depending on what the weather is like or may be like in the future. When they climb trees, it sometimes means that warm weather is on its way.
When they dig deep burrows into the soil in the summertime, it can mean that an impending drought is coming. When they dig into the soil in the fall, it can mean that winter weather is approaching.
We don’t often hear that one relies on his or her slimy garden pests to get the weather forecast, but it can still be beneficial. For people who live out in the countryside, for example, sometimes relying on the signs and behaviors of animals nearby can be helpful. In general, with today’s shift in climate change and the fluctuations that have come along with that, paying more attention to the animals and nature around has been helpful for some.
Dead foliage and debris in gardens are a treat for snails and slugs. They may go for the old debris before consuming the living plants. This is a good thing for garden owners who do not always rake garden waste, as not only will the pests help clear up the mess, but they will be busy consuming the dead foliage rather than the alive and healthy plants.
Of course, once the dead debris is cleared by the snails and slugs, they will continue to move onto the other parts of the garden, so the “clean up” period should be monitored before the rest of your garden is affected.
Fertilizer is a very important part of garden maintenance. While snails and slugs may demolish the plants themselves, their waste actually provides necessary minerals and nitrogen-rich plant food for the soil to thrive on. Having a few around in times when you would like to enrich the soil quality to produce healthier plants may not be a bad idea.
Again, the key is to maintain and control your garden so that you can produce the best results possible. It is important to make sure that the number of snails and slugs in your garden does not get out of hand, but it is also okay to have a few around, so long as they are being monitored and removed if and when necessary.