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Gardening with Laurie: Snails, the good the bad and the ugly

By By Laurie Garretson
May 9, 2013 at 12:09 a.m.


One of a gardeners' most unwanted little creatures to find in their gardens is the brown garden snail. This slimy little mollusk can do considerable damage to many of our beautiful plants and vegetables. After the recent rain we've had, the snail population seems to have exploded. That's mainly because snails love moist and cool areas.

Our common brown garden snail first came to America from France in the 1850s as a food. Later, different varieties of snails became more prevalent in the U.S. as they were brought in along with different fruits and vegetables on cargo ships.

Each female snail will lay about 80 pearly white eggs in a small hole she makes in the ground about six times a year. It can take up to two years for a snail to mature.

During times of drought or cold weather, brown snails will seal off their shell opening with a parchment like membrane. Sometimes they will then attach themselves to a wall, fence or tree trunk.

There are baits, Sluggo, for example, that will safely help the problem, yet will not harm pets. You can also easily collect snails by irrigating an infested area during the afternoon hours.

After dark, take a bucket of soapy water and a flashlight and go on a snail hunt. A five to 10 percent mix of ammonia mixed with water can also be used to spray on each snail. Then there's the foot on top of snail, and apply pressure method. It's always effective - just be sure to do it with shoes on.

If these methods don't seem to work, you can always call in the snail killers, otherwise known as decollate snails. Yes, there are beneficial snails, actually most snail varieties are good rather than bad.

Most of us have decollate snails in our gardens, unfortunately just not in large numbers. Decollate snails are the snails with the ice cream cone shaped shells.

Decollate snails feed mostly at night, as do their cousins the brown snails. The decollate snails will also eat snail eggs, and when brown snails and their eggs are hard to find, the decollates will eat decayed organic matter.

Decollates chew into and consume the fleshy part of brown snails. They prefer the smaller sized brown snails. You will have to help them out by collecting and disposing of the larger-sized, brown snails.

Decollates will not climb or cross open areas such as driveways or sidewalks. Since they do not climb, they will not likely be affected by baits put out on raised platforms or on driveways or open areas.

Decollates are slow workers, so be patient, and you will begin to notice a decline in your brown snail population. As the decollate population grows, simply relocate some of them to areas where they are needed. When relocating them have some crushed brown snails waiting there for them to eat on.

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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