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How to Control Damage from Snails and Slugs

Snail and Slug Damage 

Slugs and snails are closely related to the same group as clams—mollusks. They may be easy to catch, but they are difficult to find during the day. Snails and slugs come out at night and feed on ornamental plants in your yard causing damage and making your landscape plants less attractive. Their feeding is identified by "holes" in the leaf tissue and silvery slime trails left on the leaves. Slugs and snails feed on citrus trees, hostas, marigolds and other flowers, dichondra, strawberries, and other vegetation. Once they have become established in an area, they can be very difficult to eradicate. It makes more sense to attempt a "‘reduce and control" approach, than to go for a complete "wipe-out" of the slimy little sliders. 

Controlling Snails and Slugs 

It is best to use a combination of control methods for your yard care. Slugs and snails need high humidity to survive. Reduce their population by trying to manage their living conditions. As you space the plants in your garden, leave enough room to allow good airflow between them. This will reduce the moisture in the area and reduce the slug and snail habitat. Selectively prune plants that are holding in moisture. Mulches and other organic materials are beneficial around plantings because it holds in moisture. If you are having a problem with slugs or snails though, you may wish to reduce or eliminate the mulch. It can increase humidity and provide daytime hiding places for the slugs and snails. You will have to be the judge of which is the bigger problem, plant damage from slugs and snails, or moisture loss from the soil because of a lack of mulch. It is a good idea to remove other forms of organic matter that can become a home for them. Over-ripe fruit, especially strawberries, or leaf clutter from falling leaves, are the perfect habitats for slugs and snails. Keep fruit picked and leaves cleaned up to avoid this situation. 

Snail and Slug Control Products 

There are several commercially available molluscicides. These are sold as Bug-Geta, Deadline, and Corry’s Slug and Snail Death. The active ingredient, metaldehyde, is labeled for garden use. There is, also, a yard care product called Mesurol, but it is labeled for ornamental plantings and not for garden use. Metaldehyde is an irritant. When the slug or snail either has ingested or been exposed to the product, an intense irritation occurs. The natural reaction to the irritation by the slug or snail is to produce large amounts of mucus. It will eventually die from the loss of moisture. Take special care when using this, or any pest control product, in your yard and always read the label directions. Sunlight will rapidly breakdown metaldehyde, therefore it is best to apply it in the late afternoon or early evening. In addition, slugs and snails can recover from the effects of the material, so avoid watering before or after the treatment. 

Natural Methods for Controlling Snails and Slugs 

Salt and wood ashes have some chilling effects on snails and slugs. Those yard care products really are not good for the garden, so it is not advisable to use them. Using copper strips as a barrier against snails and slugs is highly effective. The copper reacts with the mucus, creating an electrical charge, which gives them a "hot belly." Other barriers, such as diatomaceous earth, are mildly effective. Home made traps of old fruit rinds or crumpled newspapers will attract many of the creatures as they seek refuge from the sunlight. Place the fruit rind or moistened crumpled newspaper in the area in the evening. The next morning, you can either throw the "trap" away, or you can shake it out on the ground and do the "slimy slug stomp." 

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