© Christine Gebeneter/Greenpeace

Everybody knows those little not invited guests in our gardens. Snails and their relatives – slugs. How to get rid of them?

Especially with some warm and wet weather periods they show up en masse and feed themselves from the lettuce and vegetables, which we would actually like to eat ourselves. What to do about these little creatures, who are crucial for our ecosystem, but simply annoying in our gardens? We collected some useful tips and give away the secrets we use in our own private gardens to give you some inspiration. None of them create costs and we hope can help you gain better understanding for living in harmony with your snails :)

© Christine Gebeneter/Greenpeace

Let's start with precautionary measures, which you can put in place for immediate prevention.

  • Re-arrange your watering schedule: Slugs love moisture and are most active during night. Change your watering patterns to watering very early in the morning instead of in the evening. Note: watering while bright sunshine is not recommended, droplets can function as a magnifying lens and might burn the leaves.
  • Embrace biodiversity and create an environment to attract snail eaters: thrushes, magpies, crows, starlings, blackbirds, but also hedgehogs, beetles, centipedes, shrews, frogs and toads, lizards, ring snakes and blind worms love to eat snails. So do some insects (e.g. beetles, fireflies, dragonfly larvae), some spiders and arachnids (like the longlegs).
  • Snails find it difficult to move on dry soil. Repeatedly dig the first soil layer to dry more on the surface.
  • Provide obstacles that snails will not get over easily, including grit or shell grit, pine needles, crushed egg shells, sawdust, chaff, wood ash, lava grit, dolomite, coffee grounds (the more caffeine, the better the effect). We have had good experiences with a combination of them.
  • Protect young plants by using a sharp plastic fence around them, such as a plastic bottle or a pot without bottom, so that snails, which especially love juicy, young plants can't harm them before they get strong enough.
  • You can also plant flowers around your vegetable plots, which either push snails away, because they don't like them (e.g. garden lobelia, nasturtium, savory, mint or chamomile), or which serve as “snail food” to distract them from your lettuce. Especially with flowers from the tagetes family we have observed good results, as snails simply eat them before reaching the lettuce hidden behind.

© Christine Gebeneter/Greenpeace

Collecting the snails is also a very effective approach:

  • Check garden waste and mulch regularly: snails like to hide below and you can easily catch them under shelters such as laid down roof tiles, flower pots, cabbage leaves, pumpkin halves, half citrus peels, rhubarb leaves, boards, stones... anything which provides them a place to hide during the day. As they are active at night, they'll show up in the evening, so that's the best time to pick. The same counts for humid weather.
  • We don't appreciate the often found recommendation of beer cups burrowed in the ground, because also beetles and other beneficial insects may drown as well and in fact also snails serve as important food for others, so we find it better to not drown or kill them, but rather create an ecosystem in your garden where predators feel welcome as well ;)

What do you do with the snails you collected instead?

  • You can bring them to a more remote piece of land somewhere in your neighborhood. Far enough for them to not return.
  • Chicken and ducks love to eat snails.
  • As mentioned we don't like the idea of killing slugs, but if you have dead snails, put them in your compost or simply in your garden, as they can attract predators such as hedgehogs, thrushes and beetles, whose number and/or activity may then increase so they actively hunt for living snails and you don't have to kill them.

Overall we think it's crucial to understand and appreciate the importance of intact ecosystems where snails play a crucial role. They might be a bit annoying if they eat your lettuce, but on the other hand they themselves serve as food for frogs and hedgehogs, which we all welcome. This view on what happens in your garden and observing how nature creates its own space in its very own time is an art form. This also counts for not removing spider nets in your tomatoes, as spiders eat aphids and in this way pests don't become serious threats but are simply the tiny link in the chain of biodiversity in your own backyard or on your balcony.

Christiane and Christine are passionate gardeners and try to incorporate permaculture ideas in their daily lives. Christiane Huxdorff works as an ecological farming campaigner with Greenpeace Germany and Christine Gebeneter is coordinating the communication of the European ecological farming campaign from the Netherlands. Their private gardens, one located in the north of Germany, the other one in the Netherlands, are following the same unifying idea: observe and learn to understand how natural systems work and support them to flourish.

In addition to our own experiences, we have included some online sources for further information.

Please see also www.velt.nu/slakken and https://www.nabu.de/umwelt-und-ressourcen/oekologisch-leben/balkon-und-garten/gartentipps/00546.html if you want to read more about natural snail prevention (in German and Dutch).