How to free your garden of slugs and snails
The persistent rain has brought slugs and snails out in their droves. Hannah Stephenson looks at ways to contain these pests which thrive in warm, wet weather
There's no doubt about it - slugs and snails are having a field day thanks to all the rain we've had, eating bedding plants, chomping on vegetables and munching their way through gardens nationwide.
The more vigilant among us have been doing morning and evening patrols, picking off the slippery suckers before they wreak havoc with our prized plants and suitably disposing of them.
As slugs and snails are particularly rampant in my area, I have resorted to putting young leafy plants, which these pests love, in pots and either placing the pots on metal stands which slugs have trouble in climbing, or putting copper strips around the pots to deter them.
The copper contains a minute electrical charge to deter the slug or snail. But even these have limited effectiveness and some still manage to reach the plants.
"Slugs and snails are likely to be breeding more successfully this year," says Andrew Salisbury, senior entomologist with the RHS.
"They will take advantage of any warm, wet weather to breed and often you find slug and snail eggs in damp and sheltered situations. The eggs are in groups a few millimetres across, spherical in shape and opaque white and you will need to dispose of them."
Don't throw slugs and snails over the neighbour's fence or into your garden refuse trug, he advises, because they will just escape and return to your plants.
The only way to get rid of them effectively (the squeamish perhaps shouldn't read on) is to do it with a pair of secateurs or plop them into a bag and bin them.
"I've seen figures that there are 15,000 slugs a year in an average garden," he adds. That's a lot of secateur work.
They will travel great distances for a tasty morsel. Salisbury has seen evidence of slug damage on really tall clematis and on magnolia flowers - they will go up and down a tree in a night, he says.
Even now, the most effective method of reducing these slimy pests is to use slug pellets, he says.
There are many types on the market, some of which are organic, but you'll need to re-apply them regularly in rainy weather, when they will break down quickly.
Alternatively, invest in a nematode biological control, a parasitic worm which works its way into the soil and will kill slugs underground, but may not be so effective on snails which tend to remain on the surface.
Nematode controls are available from mail order biological control suppliers and come as a powder which dilutes into water. The nematodes penetrate the slugs' body and release bacteria to kill the slugs, and should last around six weeks.
Beer traps and copper tapes around pots may help to some extent, but they won't eliminate the problem.
"You will never totally eliminate slug and snail damage in weather like this," he concludes, "but you can try to reduce the risk."
Encourage predators such as hedgehogs, frogs and toads into your garden by leaving a patch of wild area or installing a pond.
You can also encourage snail-eating birds such as thrushes into your garden by planting shrubs and trees which bear berries and create a nesting area.
Some slugs spend a lot of their time below soil level, feeding on bulbs, tubers including potatoes and roots. Snails are much less active in winter, but slugs will feed whatever the weather.
You could also plant sacrificial crops such as lettuce, which slugs love, to distract them from the crops you really value.
If you don't want an endless battle with these slimy creatures, the best solution is to plant species which they don't like, such as hardy cranesbill geraniums, hydrangea, pinks, hebes, potentilla, lavatera and plants with hairy or narrow leaves, or succulent types such as sedum.
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