Pests in Gardens and Landscapes: Quick Tips

Snails and Slugs

Published   4/24

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Board trap.

Use a board that is raised off the ground about an inch to trap snails daily.

Slugs and their damage.

Slugs and their damage.

Slugs and their damage.

Brown garden snail.

Snails and slugs are among the most despised garden pests. These slimy mollusks emerge from hiding at night and chew holes in leaves and flowers of many garden plants and fruit. Snails and slugs are similar in structure and biology, except slugs lack an external spiral shell. Management requires vigilance and a combination of practices that includes eliminating moisture and hiding spots, trapping, exclusion, and handpicking. Baits can be helpful but by themselves don't provide adequate control in areas that contain plenty of shelter, food, and moisture.

How do you know snails and slugs are causing damage?

  • Because they feed at night and hide during the day, you might not observe these pests at first. Go out at night or in the early morning to view them in action.
  • Other pests can cause holes in leaves, flowers, and fruit. Look for the shiny slime trails snails and slugs leave behind.

What can be done to reduce snails and slugs?

  • Remove shady, cool places where they may hide during the daytime such as weeds, wooden boards, stones, or flowerpots.
  • Plant your garden in the sunniest spot possible.
  • Reduce moisture by switching to drip irrigation or by running sprinklers in the morning rather than later in the day.
  • Install a copper barrier around gardens. Use a 4- to 6- inch-wide band of copper, buried an inch below the soil and bent over at the top or attached around the edge of a raised bed.
  • Consider plants such as impatiens, geraniums, lantana, nasturtiums, and other plants with stiff leaves and highly scented foliage such as sage, rosemary, and lavender since they may be less appetizing to snails.

How do I trap snails and slugs?

  • Handpick from plants at night or from fence ledges, undersides of decks, and meter boxes.
  • Build a trap using a board raised off the ground by 1-inch runners. As mollusks collect under the board, scrape them off and destroy daily.
  • Bury beer traps at ground level in your garden to catch snails and slugs. Check traps daily.

What about pesticides?

  • Pesticide baits alone will not provide long term control. You must also remove sources of shelter, food, and moisture.
  • Iron phosphate baits are safer for use around dogs, children, and wildlife.
  • Ferric sodium EDTA works similar to iron phosphate but can kill snails and slugs faster.
  • Metaldehyde baits have been available for years; but they can be poisonous to dogs and birds. Metaldehyde also loses its effectiveness rapidly in sunlight and after rain or irrigation.
  • Irrigate before applying bait and apply in the evening on warm days when mollusks are active.
  • Scatter, don't pile, bait around sprinklers and in moist, protected areas where mollusks travel. Always read pesticide labels before applying the product.

Read more about Snails and Slugs.

Minimize the use of pesticides that pollute our waterways. Use nonchemical alternatives or less toxic pesticide products whenever possible. Read product labels carefully and follow instructions on proper use, storage, and disposal.

Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
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