Pest watch

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Slugs and snails must be spring’s most despicable garden pests. Sarah O’Neil considers her options.

The garden is a dangerous place for young seedlings. The biggest threat comes from terrible creatures with their hearts set on devouring our precious seedlings.  Slugs and snails, with their slimy icky bodies are no friend in the garden.

There are many ways of keeping your plants safe from these pests.  Some are a guaranteed success, others have been tried and tested and shown to be mostly reliable and some are hit and miss at best.

Personally I don’t want to risk my crop on something that may not work, so I always reach for the little blue pellets – namely Yates Blitzem.  To prevent the chickens or other animals from eating them or my seedlings, I put wire netting around my crop.  If you are concerned about other creatures, put pellets in an upturned ice cream container with little doorways cut into it and remove the dead snail bodies first thing each morning.  There are also pellets available that are safer for pets and wildlife.  Try Tui Quash Slug & Snail Stoppa.

If you want to try something more natural, there are alternative methods that have varying degrees of success.

  • Hunting and gathering:  This is best done at night with a torch as this is when slugs and snails are most active.  Depending on how brave you are determines what you do with them once you catch them.  If you aren’t too squeamish you can squish them quickly and firmly so they don’t see it coming; or you can take them somewhere else.  I wouldn’t recommend over the fence as the neighbours won’t be pleased and I have heard of a study where the snails were marked and taken away from the garden at varying distances and many actually came back.  Chickens also love slugs for breakfast.
  • Planking:  Put a plank down in the garden for them to hide under after a hard night of eating your plants and all you need to do is lift the plank in the morning and pick them off and dispose of them as you will.
  • Beer:  Slugs and snails love a good party and are drawn to beer like moths to a flame.  Take an old margarine container and bury it in your garden so it is level with the surface and fill it with beer and wait.  In the morning the container will be filled with so many drowned slugs that seems like the party had been advertised on Facebook!
  • Crushed eggshells:  This is a very common technique as the theory is the slugs and snail’s soft bellies get all torn up on the sharp edges and they don’t like the way it feels, however I have seen pictures of snails crawling over razor blades so I’m not completely convinced about this one.
  • Copper:  By wrapping a 5cm strip of copper around your pot, raised bed or plant, when the slug and snail slime comes in contact with the copper an electrical charge is created and they get a zap.  This appears to have mixed results as once the copper oxidises it isn’t as effective and slugs and snails are quite cunning and will find a way around or over it.
  • Salt:  Sprinkling salt about can kill them quickly, however use it sparingly as you can make your soil hostile for your plants.
  • Coffee grounds:  Many people swear by coffee grounds as a way of deterring slugs and snails, and caffeine has proven to be toxic to them, however there is uncertainty how effective this actually is with used coffee grounds.  They do make fabulous mulch and will make your plants happy if they survive being eaten.
  • Wool:  The latest thing overseas for keeping slugs away is sheep wool pellets that apparently irritate the slug and have the added benefit of providing slow release nutrients to the growing plants.

Whatever method you chose, it is most satisfying to see your plants grow past the vulnerable stage and give you beautiful flowers or something delicious to eat.  Don’t let these pests prevent you from reaping the rewards of your hard work in the garden. 


Look for these products, tips and advice at a Go Gardening Store near you.