On the snail trail

For decades gardeners have tried many ways to rid their gardens of snails and slugs - but every year they appear again! Try these organic methods for deterring these creatures from your garden...

Despite the size of slugs and snails, their trail of devastation can be great. By familiarising yourself with the habits and needs of these creatures, you can easily control them without having to resort to toxic measures.

The body of snails and slugs has a high water content. To prevent water evaporation, their bodies are wrapped in a coat of mucous. Just behind their mouth they have a special slime gland which secretes the mucous on which they glide over the ground. They must protect themselves from the sun and hide in damp, poorly ventilated areas to retain their body moisture.

Follow these measures for snail and slug control:

  • Keep your soil's pH level balanced by applying good compost.
  • Avoid planting too closely as this results in poor ventilation and damp conditions.
  • When preparing your soil for planting or mulching, always rake the ground fine and even, as this will deprive them of hiding places - the soil clumps also provide ideal places for the snails to lay their eggs. Hoe the top layer of the ground on a regular basis to make life for snail and slugs uncomfortable. In this manner you also may come across a clutch of white pearl-like snail eggs.
  • Mulching is part of good soil management. However, in a garden where there is an invasion of snails and slugs due to reasons beyond the gardener's control, remove the mulch until the situation is under control. To reduce the loss of moisture of the soil, regularly hoe the soil in the upper 2cm region and rake even. Hoeing brakes down the fine channels through which the moisture is drawn up by capillary action. When mulching, only use a very thin layer of shredded, dried organic matter. 

The best materials for mulching are:

  • Whole comfrey leaves - the rough texture is uncomfortable to glide over.
  • Sawdust - place a thick ring around vulnerable plants as this slows down the movement of snails.
  • Clean river sand (on clay soils only), crushed eggshells or lime. The latter two naturally balance acid soil conditions.
  • Coarse peanut shells.
  • Untreated pine bark for flowerbeds.
  • Run a pathway of coarse gravel around your vegetable patch. The rough uneven material will deter many snails.
  • Interplant with parsley, sage, basil, lavender, mint, because snails dislike the scent.
  • Grow the odd lettuce plant as bait to distract snails from your main crops. You can also bait them with a mixture of bran, cat pellets and water, from which you can collect them easily.
  • If you harvest your cabbages or carrots, do not leave the 'holes' open and the residues lying around.

Change your soil management and the snail and slug population will balance itself to a tolerable level. After all, snails and slugs are an importance food source for many garden creatures such as toads, mice, hedgehogs and lizards. They are also relished by birds such as the Cape robin, olive thrush, hadedah and coucal.

Beer trap

Sink a bowl into the soil, where the soil is at the same level as the brim, and fill the bowl with beer. According to most sources, snails will be attracted to the beer and find a boozy end.

Although they love your butter lettuce, snails also eat decaying matter, leaf mould and fungi, thus forming an important part of the environment. Slugs are effective scavengers, feeding on insects, worms and even snail eggs. The slimy mucous of both snails and slugs contains enzymes which are beneficial to the soil.



Some recommended control methods include:

  • Encourage natural predators, or keep a few chickens and a duck or two.
  • Monitor damp shady areas in your garden. Lift and check bushy plants regularly, especially clumps like agapanthus and ivy.
  • Place barriers across pathways used by snails, such as wood ash, crushed eggshells or sawdust.
  • Sprinkle tobacco dust around plants.
  • Nothing beats good old hand picking - the best time to do this is at night. Alternatively, rub fat or lard on cabbage leaves to trap them in daylight.

Try to avoid poisons as they can cause ill effects in other creatures as well.

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