Organic Snail Control
|Credits: Genevieve Schmidt & Ester the Chicken|
Question from Tressa:
I love your month by month gardening book and have read it almost cover to cover.
My problem is armies (literally of snails) I live in Claremont, Ca. (new Pomona not San Diego) in the foothills and have snail attracting ground covers which I can’t easily remove. I have tried every organic method – my favorite was trays of beer which everything but the snails liked. I can pick buckets of snails every time I water. Sluggo works somewhat, but everything is eaten up. the only thing that really works is deadline or something other strong poison which I don’t want to use. do you have any suggestions?
Answer from Pat:
I am very familiar with Claremont, California and wonder if you live in Padua Hills? I graduated from Scripps College after four memorable years and a great college experience. (I was an English and Art Major.) My husband whom I married on graduation day, and I later lived in Claremont for a couple of years, during which I returned to Scripps as the Teaching Assistant in Freshman Humanities. (The History, Religion, Literature, Art, and Culture of the Ancient World, a double-credit course.)
I agree that organic controls for snails are not totally successful, whereas Deadline is highly successful, but I hasten to say I’m with you. I don’t use it any more. A few years ago before I returned to my roots and became so totally organic as I am today, I used to put one drop of Deadline on the base of every cymbidium flower spike as soon as it had grown tall, just before the buds opened. (Cymbidium blooms are a magnet for snails.) Also I climbed around in my large drifts of clivia (Clivia miniata) and put one drop of Deadline at the base of every bloom stem before the flowers opened. Dogs and cats did not come into contact with the Deadline since it was deep within the leaves, not in a place frequented by animals, but by doing this once every year in late February or early March, my snail problem was largely solved for the entire year. Since snails love cymbidium and clivia blooms better than almost any other plant, they acted like a traps, attracting snails from the entire garden. Deadline cut them off at the pass. Getting them early is what counts.
People who have an orange grove have an opportunity to use the trees as an organic trap. In areas of seasonal frosts every year, such as where you live, the snails on orange trees all congregate in winter in the center of the tree. If you have an orange tree yourself, just take a look in the crotches of the branches in the middle of the tree in December or January. This is where the snails go to hibernate, protected from freezing by the foliage surrounding them and by each others shells. Sometimes there will be fifty or a hundred snails or more all congregated together in the center of the tree. It is not a pleasant or easy job, but go in there wearing gloves and carrying a large sack, pull them off the tree, bag them, smash them, and send them to the dump and snail problems on orange trees are done for the year.
I do, however, have another suggestion of an organic control that really works, but I am not sure if you are going to like it, and that is ducks. Ducks eat slugs and snails by the thousands and then you would collect the eggs. (I find the eggs too strong for my taste, however.) But ducks are messy and they do want a bit of a pond to splash around in. Slightly less good as slug and snail control but almost equal to ducks at eating slugs and snails, and a lot less messy and noisy, are chickens. These days you can even purchase an inexpensive, ready-made, moveable chicken coop designed for moving around on a lawn, but why not on ground cover? Or make your own enclosure out of chicken wire. You would just move it around on your ground cover and the chickens would clean up the snails and give you simply delicious, nutritious eggs in return. If your ground cover is inside a fenced yard you let the chickens run free.
People these days are learning that chickens make very nice family pets. Children love them but so do grownups. When you are home you can let them out and they gladly clean up all the pests in the garden and give you delicious eggs to eat yourself and share with friends. Many good types are appropriate for family use. Rock Cornish hens are among the most popular right now but there are some other incredibly beautiful ones besides these and you can have lovely green and blue eggs from Araucana chickens if you want. If you introduce the chickens as chicks and keep them penned at first, smart dogs and cats will learn they are part of your pack. (Or at least they should. Only a very dumb dog won’t learn this, and unfortunately years ago I owned such a dog and lived on a farm so that dog had to go.) Also the coops with tops on them can protect your chickens during the daytime from hawks and such that might attack if you aren’t home. At night lock them into a compact but stoutly made chicken house so they are safe from foxes and coyotes. Chickens come home by themselves in the evening, since they can’t see at night. Kids love them and you will too.
Keeping a few hens is fun and is all the rage right now among organic gardeners and with people who believe in eating healthy homegrown food. There are many books on keeping a few back-yard chickens and there’s loads of free and helpful information on the internet. You might even find helpful club in your area of chicken owners.