Snails are some of the most familiar garden visitors. You are most likely to see them out and about in your garden after it rains, or at night. You’ll know they’ve been around when you see their silvery trails on patios and pots.
Snails don’t just stay on the ground though – they can climb too. You may often see them clinging to branches in trees.
In this article, we’ll look at what garden snails eat, and how this can cause problems. I want to show you that you don’t need to reach for the chemicals to solve your snail problem though – there are other things you can do.
What Kinds of Animals Are Snails?
Snails are gastropods. They are soft-bodied molluscs that have a single ‘foot’ which they crawl about on. They have two sets of tentacles – the taller ones are stalks for the snail’s eyes, the shorter ones are closer to the ground and act as feelers.
What Do Snails Like to Eat?
They use their raspy tongues to eat a wide variety of plants including leaves, stems and flowers. Some of these plants are things we wish snails wouldn’t eat, like our vegetables or flower seedlings. Snails are particularly active when plants are young in the spring. They enjoy eating soft new shoots.
You’ll probably recognise the common garden snail, Cornu aspersum, with its mottled greyish-brown shell – to me, it has almost a tortoiseshell pattern.
You may have seen other types of snail too with cream, yellow, brown, white or even red stripes. These are known as banded snails (Cepaea species). Banded snails are thought to be much less damaging to plants in your garden.
Most slugs and snails are omnivores — they can eat nearly everything.
How Can You Stop Snails Eating Your Plants?
The truth is, it is difficult to stop snails eating your plants. It is definitely not possible to eradicate snails from your garden without killing off everything else at the same time.
From many years of gardening experience, I can tell you that many of the ‘fixes’ out there do not stop snails from going where they want. The way to deal with them is to learn to live with them, and there are lots of things you can do to protect your plants.
Move Snails Away from Your Garden
This seems very obvious, and it is. If you seem to be overrun with snails, go out at night with a torch and collect them into a bucket. Take them somewhere away from your garden, perhaps to a patch of waste ground or grass verge. In my opinion, it is not necessary to kill them.
Grow Your Vegetables in Raised Beds and Pots
When I grow vegetables in containers, I seem to have a lot less trouble from snails. It works even better when the pots are on a patio surrounded by a bit of gravel or other sharp material. It just means you have more barriers for the snails to overcome. I often find that they don’t bother. Or, if they do, they can easily be seen and picked off the sides of pots and put somewhere else. Netting secured all the way around your veg adds another layer of protection.
Other Natural Barriers to Stop Snails
Eggshells, bark chippings, copper and wool pellets have all been suggested as useful barriers to stop snails reaching your plants. It’s thought that snails (and slugs) don’t like to crawl over rough surfaces or things they don’t like the taste of. I haven’t found that any of these work on the ground in my garden.
I’ve found that having an area of gravel or grit between your veg and the rest of your garden is more useful. And keeping the plants off the ground, in a raised bed or container, as I said above, at least helps you to spot the snails when they are making a beeline for the plants.
Grow Plants That Snails Don’t Eat
Another great way to tackle a snail problem is to grow things they don’t like. There are lots of great plants that are not attractive to snails.
I’ve included a list of my favourite flowering plants that snails don’t seem to eat, below.
- Bear’s breeches
- Bleeding heart
- Elephant’s ears
- Geraniums and pelargoniums
- Granny bonnets (Aquilegia)
- Greater masterwort
- Goldenrod (Solidago)
- Houseleeks (Sempervivums)
- Japanese anemones
- Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla Mollis)
- London pride (Saxifraga)
- Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
- Michaelmas daisies
- Obedient plant
- Spurge (Euphorbia)
- Stonecrop (ice plant, Sedum spectabile)
Do Nematodes Work on Snails?
The short answer is no. Nematodes are microscopic creatures that infect slugs with a bacteria that kills them. You use them by watering them into the soil. Slugs come into contact with them because they spend a lot of time in and under the soil surface. So nematodes will help if you have a slug problem, but not so much for snails because snails do not spend time in the soil as slugs do. Nematodes only affect molluscs and are harmless to other wildlife.
What about Chemicals That Kill Snails?
In my opinion, using slug and snail killers is a waste of effort. It can actually be damaging because the slugs and snails will return and you risk killing off other wildlife that is helpful in your garden.
Snails Can Be Useful
As well as eating plants, snails eat other organic matter too and help to recycle nutrients in your garden. They eat rotting leaves, dung and even other slugs and snails, which is a little gruesome! They are helpful in another way too – they are food for other animals.
Which Animals Eat Snails?
Making your garden wildlife-friendly will help to control the snail population. Frogs, toads, hedgehogs, slow worms, ground beetles and some birds all eat snails. So it makes sense to invite these creatures to your patch.
There are many ways you can do this. Put up bird feeders and nest boxes. Build a pond. Make sure you have gaps under your fences for hedgehogs to pass from garden to garden. You can even buy hedgehog homes now. Leaving areas of grass to grow long will encourage wildlife, and building a log pile gives creatures somewhere to shelter.
The more you can get wildlife to come to your garden, the more you will get a natural balance where slugs and snails become food for larger animals and less of a problem on your plants.