LSU AgCenter: Helpful tips for controlling cold-weather snails and slugs

Snails and slugs are a common pest to a variety of landscape plantings and they enjoy eating many of the cool season bedding plants and vegetables in our gardens this time of year.

Snails and slugs belong to the mollusk family (the same as oysters) and crawl along over a thin layer of slime that they produce to ease their way.

They eat holes in low growing leaves, flowers and vegetable fruits and are most active at night or on cloudy days. Snails and slugs typically feed in beds that are irrigated on a regular basis.  The presence of slime trails – which look like reflective, silver lines – indicate snails and/or slugs are present.  These slime trails may occur on concrete, pot sides or plant foliage.

Controlling snails and slugs requires perseverance and it is best to use several techniques.  The goal should be aimed at keeping the population low enough to prevent an unacceptable amount of damage.  The main strategies would involve baits, traps, hand picking and encouraging predators to eat them.Available baits are generally found in the form of pellets or meal.  The chemicals in baits are toxic to snails and slugs and will need to be applied according to label direction to be effective.  More common and safer products are ones that contain iron phosphate such as “Sluggo.”Beer traps are useful in monitoring and reducing the population of snails and slugs.

To make a beer trap, sink a small plastic bowl up to its rim in the ground and fill it half full of beer.  Any kind will do, but is should be fresh. Set the traps in areas where snails and slugs have been causing damage. Empty and reset the traps daily until you stop catching them.  If you see holes in leaves and put out beer traps in the area but don’t catch any snails or slugs, then the damage is more likely due to caterpillars.

Hand-picking is done at night with a flashlight and is not for the squeamish. It helps to wear latex gloves or to use kitchen tongs to pick up the slimy creatures.  Put them in a plastic bag, add a little salt then seal and throw them away.

Several types of barriers will keep snails and slugs out of planting beds.  The easiest to maintain are those made with copper flashing and screen.  Copper barriers are effective because the copper reacts with the slime that the snails and slugs secrete, causing a disruption in their nervous system similar to an electric shock.

Finally, toads are excellent predators of snails and slugs and can consume large quantities of them.  You can attract toads and keep them in your garden by providing a water source such as a water garden, as well as cover for the toads to hide under during the day.  Gardens with active population of hungry toads rarely have major problems with snails or slugs.Rene’ Schmit is the LSU AgCenter County Agent for St. Charles Parish and can be reached at (985) 785-4473.


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