Snails and slugs are very common in Florida due to our warm wet weather. We even have invasive snails, namely the Giant African Land Snail, which are a hazard to Florida’s very important agriculture-based industries.
In this blog we’ll look at snails and slugs, what they are, how they affect your garden, and what you can do about them.
What Exactly Are Snails & Slugs?
Before we can tell you about controlling them, you need to know what these mostly-nocturnal creatures are.
Snails are not insects, they are actually mollusks. They are related to conch, oysters, clams, and scallops!
A group of snails is called a “rout”, and for the most part, snails feed on decaying matter like dead leaves, on fungi, and soil particles, and those are beneficial snails. Only a few feed on live plants and are considered “pests”. Some snails even feed on other snails – like the rosy wolf snails which are snail predators!
Identifying the snails before you indiscriminately kill them is a good idea – as you could accidentally kill snails that are helping you while trying to target the ones who are feasting on your plants.
Slugs are also mollusks, though they are shell-less. That is the main difference between them in a physical sense.
A group of slugs is called a “cornucopia” (and I will never think of those Thanksgiving decor staples in the same way again!). Their food sources are similar to snails, as are their feeding habits. There are very few carnivorous slugs, but they do exist.
Want to know more about slugs? There’s a great article from the UF Entomology Department here.
What does damage from snails and slugs look like?
For the snails that do love live plants, here’s some images of snail and/or slug damage (they look relatively the same!) so that you can help diagnose in your own yard.
Snails can eat the centers of leaves and leave these strangely-shaped irregular holes in leaves.
Snails can also eat the edges of leaves, like in these collards. This damage looks a lot like other insects such as lubbers and caterpillars, so you can’t make a judgement based just on this.
This pattern of “eating” is indicative of slugs. From what I’ve seen they prefer the bits of leaf between the ribs of the leaves.
You will often see a slime trail in and around your plants or nearby hard surfaces when there are snails and/or slugs about. They create this slime to help avoid damaging the tissues that make up their “foot”, the muscular surface that contracts and expands rhythmically allowing them to glide across surfaces.
So what can I do to keep snails and slugs away from my prized plants?
We definitely have a game plan to help you with snails and slugs. Here’s our tips!
1) Identify your culprit
The only way to rid yourself of any pests bothering your garden is to know what pests you have.
It’s also important to know what beneficial insects you have present to help control the pests.
For snails and slugs, you’ll need to go out very early in the morning to catch them. The best telltale sign of either snails or slugs, when you don’t see the actual critter, is a slime trail that may be present on concrete, on the sides of containers your plants live in, or on leaves and stems.
Look around in your mulch, underneath pots or bricks or logs or other debris. You may find your elusive slugs and snails there.
Take a picture and use the internet to identify your creature! Learning about them is a great way to find out if you actually need to remove them or not.
2) Water less if at all possible.
One thing snails and slugs require is a warm, wet environment. In a dry area, these land mollosks dessicate (lose all their water) and they will make a run for more moist areas.
Overhead watering is the main culprit, especially if the watering is done in the evening and the wetness is allowed to sit, unevaporated, overnight. This is the ideal environment for many pests, including snails and slugs. Water in the mornings and/or the early afternoon so that your environment has time to dry in the heat of the sun before dark.
3) Remove debris where they can hide.
Piles of logs, leaves, mulch, etc., are all places that snails and slugs like to go during the day. Additionally, slugs can burrow under planting pots and pavers and such to hide out until nightfall.
Removing piled debris, and checking under pots and pavers is helpful to ensure they’re not in the area.
I found a snail or slug that is a pest, what do I do?
There are some simple pest management solutions that you can try that are non-chemical.
You can get a thick piece of cardboard and lay it on the ground, and wet it very well to get it soaked. Then, each day when you go out to water or weed, look underneath the cardboard and remove any slugs or snails (or eggs!) that you find there.
You can build an easy trap for slugs and snails. Get a plastic cup, or any kind of wide mouth cup or jar that you don’t mind not reusing (a great way to recycle containers!). Sink the cup/jar into the ground so that the lip is even with the soil. In the evening before dark, fill the container with about a cup of beer. Slugs and snails will be attracted by the sugars and yeast and will fall into the container and not be able to get out. The next morning, remove the cup, dump the critters into a place they won’t escape and/or dispatch them quickly.
Remember that these traps will attract even good mollusks, so if your trap catches a good critter and it’s still alive, you might want to put it back into the environment!
Of course, the easiest way to rid yourself of pests is to hand-pick them. Since snails and slugs are nocturnal for the most part, you’ll need to go out in the very early morning, and a flashlight is helpful.
You’ll get to witness your mollusks at work in your garden. Again, identify them before you remove them! They might be doing GOOD work for you!
There is a category of pesticide called “molluscicides” out there, but they’re getting harder and harder to procure. It’s because these chemicals are harmful to lots of other creatures, such as beneficial insect, fungi, and even sometimes pets and humans.
Many of these chemicals are labeled as “bait” that have a toxic substance added to them which attract and then kill your snails and slugs. Here is an example. They are indiscriminate mollusk pesticides, so they’ll kill any snails and slugs that come in contact with it.
It’s important to use these minimally to avoid damaging the rest of the environment for other creatures.
Some folks say that Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is helpful, but there’s no scientific research that confirms this. The same with hydrated lime and Sulphur powders, which have the additional problem of changing the pH of your local soil.
So, have you had snails or slugs invading your garden? What was your experience? Tell me about it!
Until next time, Keep Growing!