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How do you evict slugs and snails from your garden?

There are nearly 130 species of slugs and snails in the UK and many are garden pests that can quickly wreak havoc. So how do you keep them off your prized plants?

Like most people, I loved last week’s heatwave. After months of freezing weather, not only did I shed some layers, but I also managed to have a good go at my garden. It also meant that the slugs and snails that usually lay siege to all 35 foot of it called something of a ceasefire.

Of course, I fully expected this reprieve to be temporary – and it was. Being north-east facing and surrounded by trees on all corners, my garden is often damp and prone to attack.

In the past, I’ve planted a whole bed of delphiniums, lupins, hollyhocks and foxgloves, expecting it to grow in to a beautiful cottage-style garden. Sadly, the following day, the foxgloves were the only thing still standing – albeit distinctly nibbled.

I’ve also seen clematis, rudbeckia, runner beans and pots of hostas decimated. I’ve even had a hydrangea stripped of its leaves – and that’s a plant said not to be particularly palatable to these pesky pests.

On the defence

After providing slugs and snails with a few too many expensive meals, I’ve since made a point of protecting my plants.

With a neighbourhood full of cats and owning one myself, I’m conscious of using pellets containing metaldehyde, so have experimented with other methods over the years.

These have included rubbing Vaseline along the rim of pots, setting beer traps, using eggshells and shingle, and removing them by hand.

All have had varying degrees of success, so I was interested to know what slug and snail controls Which? Gardening recommends.

Slug and snail solutions

After years of testing different methods in both lab and field trials, it has found that slug and snail bait pellets or the biological control Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita (a microscopic parasitic worm and natural enemy of slugs) are the most effective slug and snail controls.

If, like me, you’re conscious of poisoning cats or other wildlife, use organic slug pellets made from ferric phosphate. The biological control, meanwhile, comes in powder form that you dilute and water on your garden.

Do you have a problem with slugs and snails in your garden? What controls have you used to deal with them?

Which? Gardening now has a new Facebook group, where you can chat with the team, go behind the scenes of our gardening trials, and share tips and photos with other group members. Click here to join.

You can also get one-to-one gardening advice by emailing one of the team at gardeninghelp@which.co.uk or heading to its online Helpdesk.

What slug and snail controls do you use?

Remove them by hand (22%, 302 Votes)

Chemical slug pellets (metaldehyde) (17%, 243 Votes)

Nothing (15%, 216 Votes)

Organic slug pellets (ferric phosphate) (12%, 169 Votes)

Homemade physical barriers (soot, eggshells, coffee grounds etc.) (10%, 144 Votes)

Copper rings (9%, 124 Votes)

Beer traps (7%, 96 Votes)

Harsh language (5%, 68 Votes)

Mats or tapes (2%, 33 Votes)

Total Voters: 868

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I try to avoid growing plants that are likely to be damaged by slugs.

When I was a child, a hedgehog used to visit the garden daily and then one day my father found the hedgehog dead. My father said that it had probably been poisoned by slug pellets. Chemicals pesticides (and fungicides etc) are not specific to what they are sold for. My father started to use beer traps and used home-brewed beer in them.


Gives the chemical details and effects for ferric phosphate. Seems OK stuff but apparently the adding of ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid could be a problem. I am not aware if it is allowed in the UK or is in some but not others of the organic brands.

EU standards are generally higher than the US and it would be nice to know if the problem outlined here has been addressed for EU sales.

Wikipedia :
” Controversial Use as Organic Pesticide

Iron phosphate containing slug baits are fairly new in the garden and their danger is not yet fully researched or understood.[9]

In the United States, unlisted addition of EDTA (ethylene-diamine-tetraacetic acid) to Iron phosphate containing products (such as Sluggo) greatly increases the toxicity.[10]

Pellets containing iron phosphate plus chelating agents are consumed by earthworms and other invertebrates.[11] The iron EDTA complex formed by the reaction of ferric EDTA with hydroxide ions, and the potential for EDTA to leach heavy metals from soil into groundwater, makes its use in organic gardening questionable.[12]

A 2006 review of these products by the Swiss organic certification organisation (FiBL) discovered the EDTA content and stated products were likely to be no safer than the metaldehyde baits.[13] According to a 2012 petition to remove ferric phosphate (III) from a list of accepted organic ingredients, it “appears that all of the ferric phosphate slug and snail baits currently marketed in the U.S. contain EDTA in their formulations.[14]”

Ferric phosphate (iron III phosphate) should never been approved as an organic pesticide in my view. Iron III compounds are incredibly insoluble but add EDTA or even citric acid and that makes them soluble and potent, and is harmful to beneficial organisms.

At present, only safe way of dealing with slugs and snails is to to remove them by hand or use nematodes – see Bessie_mp’s post and the organic gardening link you have given. Nematodes are an example of biological control using a natural predator.

The Environment Agency is very concerned by use of metaldehyde and methiocarb by farmers and growers. They need to be because the safety of our drinking water is threatened by modern agricultural practices. The majority of slug pellets sold to the public contain metaldehyde.

Whether used commercially or in the garden, metaldehyde is not just harmful to slugs but all forms of wildlife: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2013/jul/10/slug-pesticides-metaldehyde-drinking-water

Our wildlife has also suffered through loss of habitat – hedgerows and meadows for example. Perhaps we could be encourage to reserve part of our garden as a wilderness in the hope that some wildlife might find refuge and develop there. Perhaps there needs to be continuity between gardens to create a linked band of nature-friendly uncultivated growth.

I’d like to think preserving habitats were higher up the agenda when considering building, planting forests, and allowing HS2 to remove many acres of ancient woodland.

This only works well where soil is uncultivated and nutritionally poor, as in wildflower meadows, otherwise you land up with a mass of nettles etc. There’s also the neighbours to consider. Leaving fallen leaves and branches below trees is helpful to beetles and other wee beasties and will not upset the neighbours.

Avoiding use of gardening chemicals such as slug killers is something we can all do. Birds can feed on poisoned slugs and feed them to their young.

There is plenty of legislation to protect the environment, mostly driven by the EU. I’m seriously concerned that our departure from the EU might result in a decline in protection for our natural environment.

You can grow wild-life friendly plants, let grass grow, a patch of nettles is good for some butterflies, piles of old wood can give hedgehogs a home, leave a hole in fences for pathways……

Rather than lose a lot of young plants that will feed me during the year I use a little slug and snail killer carefully and judiciously. Agricultural use seems to be the main problem; suggestions as to how the crops we want to be “Made in Britain” can be protected in other ways?

Agricultural use of metaldehyde is indeed the main problem and the Environment Agency and BASIS farm inspectors do alert the industry about best practice to safeguard the environment and those who work with hazardous chemicals: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/metaldehyde-advice-for-autumn-crops

If you are an organic gardener : gardenorganic.org.uk/slugs-and-snails

For the past couple of years I have been using slug nematodes, a natural slug killer that doesn’t harm animals or birds. This needs to be reapplied about every 3 months from spring to autumn and i have found to be very effective. When slugs are active they somehow manage to get into my kitchen too, which I HATE, but their presence reminds me when the next nematode application is due!

I see that 6% of voters in Mel’s poll would use harsh language against slugs and snails. I presume that the rest know that these ghastlypods don’t have ears.

Is “bl**dy things” harsh language? Better than slug pellets that can harm wildlife.

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I think the purpose of harsh language is meant to provide relief, so it does not really matter what is said, though it might amuse the neighbours.

Snails can travel a considerable distance even if they move sluggishly, and it appears that they need to be propelled or taken about 20 metres to discourage them from returning: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/10834071/Throwing-snails-20-metres-away-may-save-your-plants.html

One of my dogs is deaf but he can tell you’re annoyed because of your body language. Maybe they think it’s the same with slugs? πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

We don’t have a problem with slugs, thank goodness! I wouldn’t know how to get rid of them if we did.

Slugs have rights too, you know, and abusing them should not be tolerated. Snails have learned to develop a thick skin, but shouting at them shows a loss of control. Perhaps discussing your garden with them in a constructive way might be better, asking them to eat your weeds, and in exchange planting a little restaurant for them to relax in?

Or you could act disgracefully and scatter some slug pellets to protect your affected plants until they can stand on their own feet. I know I will be branded a pariah for this confession, as when using glyphosate once a year on my gravel drive, but I have some redeeming features (or so mrs r tells me). 🐌🐌🐌

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We play bowls and, like golfers and no doubt in some other sports, we urge the inanimate objects to reach the desired destination by talking to them, and even shouting at them when it looks promising – “goooo onnnnnn”, bennnnnd”, “get in there”, often followed by”stupid wood”. Strangely, such commands often work so I cannot discount the cause and effect.

Malcolm – One way of avoiding the need for weedkiller on gravel drives is to use a permeable membrane (e.g. geotextile) that allows rain water to pass through but prevents weeds becoming rooted. Any weeds that do grow are easily removed. I did this at my previous home and it worked well.

I like that, duncan.
When I was little our next door neighbour used to go round his garden with a pair of scissors, despatching slugs. But eliminate them? Never. With 20 000 slugs in an average garden you’re not going to win – particularly when you consider the illegal immigrants from next door.

This might be of use if you’ve the time to spare.

It’s a lovely day here, and warmer than yesterday. Unfortunately, as I type, I look out over my half-cut lawn and guilt is overcoming sloth, so I’m off to cut it.

Not digging up my drive to do that, wavechange, but thanks. My drive is a limestone scalpings base, bitumen treated, topped with pea shingle. As nature does, it builds habitats for plants to grow in such infertile surroundings and the roots spread among the stones so you disturb them when you hand weed, generating a better habitat and a looser surface. I’m afraid it takes long enough to handweed the rest of my garden, where I do not use any weedkiller ( exception – on specific plants I will use spot weedkiller; glyphosate brushed onto brambles and convolvulus, for example. Mixed with wallpaper paste seems quite successful, but I haven’t tried that yet).

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Duncan, for all you know all the slugs in your garden may already be under NSA control, sneaking about to spy on you…

…or they may have been putin your garden by…..?

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Wreak havoc, not wreck havoc, sorry, Melanie.

I don’t do anything to the slugs. Off topic, but more of a problem is cats who frequently s**t in the “garden” (2 square meters off the street, no fence). Cat repellent pellets don’t work, neither does orange peel/spray. Stick stuck upright into the ground do work, but I need to put in more. I have just bought a type of Ajuga I hope will eventually provide good cover over bare soil. This autumn I will also gather horse chesnut husks (I wish I’d thought about it before now) and scatter them about, hoping to make walking on them unpleasant but not harmful, and they will provide mulch too.

One of my friends uses solar powered cat repellants. They don’t seem to work.

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Off topic bit: I made a battery powered cat repellant as a youngster which seemed to work quite well. It comprised an emitter coupled oscillator with a huge overwind on the transformer and a four-stage Cockrtoft-Walton multiplier coupled (via a 100M resistor) to a metal plate on an insulator.

On topic bit: We rate single use slug pubs – effectively biodegradeable plastic bags with a little beer in set in ground dimples strategically.

Perhaps landlords of pubs could give their customers bottles of waste beer from their drip trays for use in slug pubs, but HMRC might not approve.

With a 100M resistor, hopefully no cats were electrocuted. πŸ™‚ I can’t imagine it was very effective in damp weather.

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Roger’s oscillator and Cockcroft-Walton multiplier is to produce a high voltage, rather than act as an ultrasonic repeller.

Now what can we do with electronics to deal with snails and slugs to remain on-topic. πŸ™‚

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The 100M resistor would preserve its nine lives I reckon.

We must be able to devise an electronic slug deterrent.

The main pests in my garden are foxes. When we laid a lawn last year, the foxes immediately dug huge chunks of it up, and for no apparent reason. Sorry bit off topic… clearly still quite affected by it!

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Our bowling green used to be dug up by foxes. Shallow conical holes. One greenkeeper suggested they were after crane fly lavae (the precursors to Jaggybagglers as a friend of ours called them). We installed electronic fox deterrents and whether or not they worked I don’t know but the fox(es) stopped visiting.

I like foxes. We used to have one visit us and eat what we put out for it. One day a visitor was standing at the front door, stopped speaking, looked down and there was the fox by his leg. Unfortunately we saw it a week or two later in the gutter having been hit. I think it did well before that out of the rest of our neighbours.

I often use recent Convos as subjects for discussion with friends and people I meet in pubs etc. A friend told me he grows a a variety of food, until recently at an allotment but now in his garden at home. Thinking of this Convo, I asked him how he coped with slugs. He said he surrounds vulnerable plants with salt, but does not have much of a problem with slugs.

nicholas ouroussoff says:
23 August 2018

I depend on hungry thrushes. I have found as many as six broken, empty shells in the morning.

They have various favourite bits of stone on which they bash the snails to break the shells.