Controlling slugs and snails

You’re unlikely to rid your garden completely of these troublesome pests but you can limit the damage by controlling their numbers.

Slugs and snails can cause havoc in a garden, especially among seedlings and bedding plants. Succulent perennials such as hostas, delphiniums and ligu-larias are also frequently eaten.

All snails are troublesome, while the most destructive of the slugs are the light brown field slug and the small black garden slug. The large black slug rarely causes much damage.

Apart from a half-eaten – or entirely missing – plant, often the only evidence of these pests is a telltale silvery slime trail. Slugs and snails venture out at night and in wet daytime conditions.

Normally during the day they take shelter in dark, dank places such as under stones, logs and dense low-growing plants, in rubbish piles, under fallen leaves or on the inside rims of containers.

Getting rid of them

It’s almost impossible to rid your garden entirely of slugs and snails, but you can limit the damage by controlling their numbers.

There are chemical methods, biological controls, or you can choose from a variety of homespun remedies. A combination of methods is probably the best bet. The occasional short, sharp shock treatment – with an all-out attack on different fronts – can protect young spring growth and is likely to be cheaper, easier and safer than long-term use of chemicals over the entire garden.

Chemical means include pellets and crystals, liquid solutions and impregnated tape. Follow manu-facturers’ instructions precisely. If possible, apply on warm, humid nights when slugs and snails are most active. Wet the ground if it’s dry – this encourages the pests to come out. Don’t water for a couple of days after applying bait as you’ll wash it away. Biological controls, for slugs only, involve the use of nematodes -small parasitic worms that feed on the pests – which are supplied in a sachet. Add the nematodes to a bucket of water and pour the water over the soil. Other non-chemical remedies combine common sense with cunning. The pests are barred from reaching plants or are trapped and then destroyed.

Two to avoid: the old remedy of a beer trap also drowns garden allies, such as ground beetles. And don’t count on protection from bark mulch – the pests find it a perfect refuge.

Winter precautions An effective alternative to trapping slugs and snails is to minimize their breeding and overwintering sites, and their summer daytime retreats. Much of this work can be done in winter. Clear away and burn all debris from beds and borders, in-cluding decaying vegetation, fallen leaves and wood. Dig the soil to expose eggs to fatal frosts, cold winds or hot sun; hungry birds will also pick them off. Adult slugs and snails deprived of cool daytime shelter die or migrate to another garden.

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