When they can’t find much else to consume, they will eat dirt. Snails have to feed on foods that have large amounts of calcium to keep their shell hard and protective like it should be. With their thousands of tiny teeth, snails can gnaw through limestone, eating the little bits of chalk in the rock. Snails have very poor vision and they can’t hear, so they find their food with their powerful sense of smell. They eat more before winter, storing fat for their hibernation. They hibernate when food sources are low in spring, and during summer droughts.
Hermaphroditic, every snail lays dozens of batches of eggs, in pockets of cool moist shaded soil. The number of eggs in each clutch varies from 10 to 170! They reproduce constantly, can live up to FIVE years. Yes. Our common garden snail, the grand grandparent of thousands. Though chickens and ducks like them, geese don’t. They don’t live all over the US – none in Wisconsin or New Jersey. Sigh. The French love snails, have almost hunted them to extinction. New 2011 research shows snails can survive passage through a bird’s digestive tract, and the scientists conclude that land snails could potentially be dispersed through bird predation. No, NO!
Snails in Your Veggie Garden – Nature’s Time Table
It is said pests attack unhealthy plants in unhealthy soil. That’s true. But it is also true they love fresh prime veggie leaves and fruit in terrific soil! Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty, unless you are, of having unhealthy soil. If your soil and plants need more care to be vibrant, get to it! I notice snails eat plants that are finishing their lifespan. I see snails eating the older leaves of my plants grown for their leaves – lettuces and chard. And they love winter cabbages! Older plants and leaves are just past their peak, starting to subtly decay, getting softer. Snails have tiny teeth and it’s easier for them to eat what’s soft and tender. That’s also why they mow new tender baby sprouts, or plump soft over-watered plants! So be knowing a finishing plant is coming to the end of its time. Be preparing to plant something new there, that round is done. Harvest your lettuces and chard more frequently, before that turning point, for peak flavor and robust crunchiness! Stay ahead of the snails. Speaking of which, garden snails are the fastest species; they can move about 55 yards per hour, half a football field!
Irregular holes with smooth edges in your plant leaves and silvery slime trails are giveaways.
- Bet this works for snails too: Research in Switzerland found that slug damage to lettuce plots that were watered in the morning was 5 times less than slug damage to plots that were watered in the evening. Use drip rather than overhead sprinklers.
- Reduce habitat, especially in shady areas. Weed. Clear away mulch and fallen debris, especially under shrubs. It’s a natural food source of decaying matter. Remove ground cover, ivy, nasturtium. Boards.
- Convert shady areas to a rock garden, perhaps. It’s drier and less attractive.
- Turn the top 6” of soil to expose eggs, and slugs too, to weather and birds.
- Hand picking is doable if you are persistent. Not my choice. Yuk.
- Sluggo/EscarGo, or a cheaper house brand of the same, which is iron phosphate, interrupts the snail’s digestive process. It’s not toxic to children, pets or birds, and when it breaks down, it adds iron to the soil, a mineral that’s necessary for healthy plant growth. If you do use it, kill the critters off early in the year before they lay eggs, and you will be slug/snail free for most of the rest of the year! Irrigate, apply in late afternoon or evening. Sprinkle moist and protected locations where they hang out, or scatter along areas that snails and slugs cross to get from sheltered areas to the garden.
- Beer also works — snails are attracted to yeast, so they will drink and die! But it depends on which beer you use!!! Facts here! UC Davis says this system is not very effective per the time it takes. It attracts snails only within a few feet. More details at UC Davis IPM page.
- If you have a small area, or for certain special plants, copper strips on pots and raised beds are effective; the copper sets up a galvanic shock that deters snails, but only if you keep the copper polished, and its pricey!
- Rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, sage, wormwood, mints, tansy, oak leaves, needles from conifers and seaweed will repel slugs. Snails don’t like those scents, and they’ll stay away. Clearly, some of these would need to be regularly replenished or replaced to keep the scent strong enough to do the job.
Ultimate revenge, raise and eat your snails! Here’s how San Francisco snail lover, Italian Victor Yool, does it! You purify them first….