A delightful bonus of the run of glorious good weather we have experienced over the past couple of months has been that there are noticeably fewer snails and slugs around than usual at this time of year. But this is all about to change. With rain forecast for the next week, they will be making up for lost time and roaming our borders in search of delicious juicy young leaves, stems and - most upsetting of all - flowers.
You can save yourself horticultural heartache by filling your garden with plants that have little or no appeal for these slimy invaders - in my experience Verbena bonariensis, euphorbias, hellebores, lavender, rosemary, japanese anemones, hydrangeas, aquilegias, astrantia, Alchemilla mollis and ferns all fall into this category.
This is my preferred approach and I’ve always tended to steer clear of plants they make a beeline for - hostas, delphiniums, dahlias, zinnias and other choice varieties… until last year, when I fell in love with lupins, which score very highly on their list of favourite foods, so now I have to be more vigilant than ever.
Methods for dealing with these greedy gastropods vary - at the risk of sounding slightly sanctimonious, I prefer to garden organically as I don't like the idea of slug pellets (not even the ones that claim to be safe for use around children and pets) that introduce harmful chemicals into the food chain for hedgehogs, newts, toads and some birds such as song thrushes who, like the French, enjoy snacking on the slimy creatures. Some harder-hearted gardeners don’t think twice about dispatching them with a quick, violent end – crushing them underfoot with a forceful stamp or even snipping slugs in half with secateurs. Ouch. Others condemn them to a lingering death in a bucket of water laced heavily with salt or washing-up liquid.
But it doesn’t have to be this way… there are a variety of natural and far less gruesome solutions. Beer traps - or slug pubs - involve sinking a small bowl or jar into the soil so the rim is level with the surface and filling it with beer. Slugs and snails are attracted to the smell of the yeast and start slurping, eventually toppling in and drowning in a state of blissful inebriation. Turns out, they are discerning creatures as a friend once found that a beer which markets itself as being reassuringly expensive, did in fact attract far more slimy imbibers than the cheaper alternatives.
A more retro remedy is to place the empty halves of a grapefruit upside down and out of sight in a choice spot and then check regularly for slugs sheltering underneath. Nematodes are another option - microscopic worms that target and destroy slugs below ground. Supplied in packets, you mix them with water and apply to the ground using a watering can.
A friend deploys a combination of coffee grounds and crushed clean eggshells to create circles on the soil around her prized hostas and finds the gritty texture is enough to stop the slippery characters in their tracks. Copper - in the form of collar-like rings placed around the base of a plant or bands of tape run along the outside of pots or raised beds - is a recognised deterrent as the slug slime reacts with the metal, giving a mild electric shock. And sheep-wool pellets can be sprinkled around plants as they create a surface too hairy and rough to slither across comfortably.
However, while being far more environmentally friendly, none of these is guaranteed 100% effective. I find the best technique is to collect up snails and slugs in the cool of the early morning and the late evening, particularly on damp days when conditions are perfect for slimy meanderings. Rather than disposing of them in a terminal fashion, instead I relocate them on a large area of wasteground I pass on my way to work - snails have a homing instinct of up to 20 metres so will find their way back into your garden if you just lob them over the fence - which has plenty of grass but no floral displays to devour so seems a good solution to me.
After the first rain for weeks, this evening under cover of darkness they will be sliding across the damp soil heading straight for favourite plants but I, too, will be heading out - for a slug and snail safari. Along with other keen gardeners across the country, armed with a torch and bucket, I will be looking under leaves and pots and in hidden corners where they love to lurk and gathering them up. Odd as it might sound this activity is curiously addictive - and well within lockdown guidelines for nocturnal outings. Happy hunting!
This article was originally published on House & Garden UK