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Gardening with Laurie: Snail bait, beer among snail deterrents

By By Laurie Garretson
May 17, 2012 at 12:17 a.m.


I think most gardeners will agree that milder winters are easier for us than cold winters. Covering and moving tender plants when temperatures drop low can be such a chore. Most of us enjoyed gardening this past winter. If we can call it a winter. It was really more spring-like.

I don't remember a night that we had to worry about our plants. Unfortunately, those mild temperatures were enjoyed by all types of insects and pests, as well.

Many types of insects and other pests seem to have really proliferated during the past winter months. One of these pests showing up in very large numbers in most landscapes is the brown garden snail.

Believe it or not this little mollusk was first brought to America by some French man that wanted to introduce it to Americans as a food source. Ever heard of escargot?

Unfortunately snails can not be contained like cattle, chickens or pigs. It didn't take long before the little rascals had set out on their own. They easily found their way into many parts of the world by tagging along on all kinds of imported and exported plants.

Snails and slugs are similar creatures except that slugs lack the spiral shell. They both move along on a body part called a foot. This foot constantly secretes mucus that allows them to slowly glide along. It's this mucus that dries up and leaves a silvery trail that can first alert us gardeners to their presents.

Brown garden snails lay eggs in holes they dig in the soil. Usually, they lay between 80 to 120 eggs at a time, laying five to six times a year. It takes about two years for a snail to mature.

Snails and slugs feed on a wide variety of plants and decaying plant matter. They are especially fond of seedlings and succulent type plants. Snails generally do not like lantanas, geraniums, impatiens, begonias, lavender, rosemary and sage.

Snails are most active at night and on cloudy damp days. During sunny days they will be found resting in shady spots out of the bright light.

The best preventative for snail infestations is a combination of things. First, try to eliminate shady areas where snails could hang out during the day. This means shady spots near planting areas where snails have been spotted before.

Try to eliminate any low-growing branches close to the ground, weedy areas, thick-growing ground covers and other sheltering spots. By reducing their favorite hiding areas you should reduce the number of snails that survive. Any survivors will be easier to locate and to eliminate.

Try to plant susceptible plants away from the most common areas you tend to find snails. A drip irrigation system is favorable to a sprinkler. Sprinklers cause humidity and moist surfaces, both conditions that are very inviting to snails.

Using a snail bait in conjunction with the other tips should help to lessen your snail population. Baits include conventional types which are usually metaldehyde-based products and Sluggo products that are made from iron phosphate. Sluggo products are usually recommended as a safer alternative.

More natural deterrents include beer traps, human or animal hair, coffee grounds, ground egg shells and oatmeal. And, of course, the most reliable method of all, under a shoe and apply pressure.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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