Slugs and Snails - Who Loves Them?
Frogs, toads, thrushes, centipedes, ground beetles, hedgehogs and my chickens can manage a few! However, my chickens only eat small slugs, while thrushes generally only eat snails, frogs and toads and cannot keep up with the supply. Also, if badgers live in a habitat, hedgehogs tend not to - and so the slug and snail population rises further, especially in wet weather.
So what to do about them? Firstly, be aware that some slugs such as the ‘leopard slug’ are actually good for the garden as they busy themselves decomposing plant materials and as such can often be found near cool compost heaps. Secondly, identify the foe - they eat by ‘rasping’ the vegetation - leaving irregular shaped holes or dramatically stripping stems on tender young vegetation and seedlings. They also find mature plants, potato tubers, and spring bulb flowers very tasty.
Snails often hibernate in winter, but slugs can function all the year round. They proliferate by laying spherical, opalescent white eggs 5mm in diameter in cool compost, under leaves, stones and just below the soil surface.
So, to reduce their numbers:
- Encourage mollusc eating wildlife - install wildlife ponds/water features and plant a diverse range of flora.
- Check and remove molluscs from the places they like to hide - under stones, and amongst leaves; bear in mind if you tidy to reduce their hiding places, you are removing your garden’s ‘friends’ hiding places too (centipedes, lacewings, ladybirds).
- If you really feel desperate, using slug pellets can help protect very young plants - one pellet per square metre is all that is required though as molluscs have a very strong sense of smell. Using them sparingly reduces the risk of birds, ground beetles and animals ingesting them too.
- Grow plants in protected areas until they are big enough to cope when planted out.
- Use physical barriers such as gravel, egg shells, sheep’s wool or copper bands.
- Hand pick them on damp evenings.
- Plant planting companions which deter them.
- Grow non-susceptible plants.
- Bait them or give them beer!
- Lastly, use parasitic nematodes that may be available to buy in some countries (ask a nurseryman). Nematodes enter the slugs bodies and parasitise them, killing within a few days. Apply to the soil when soil temperatures are 5-20 degrees C.
Most importantly, start slug and snail control late summer or early spring - in England many experts recommend Valentines Day!!
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