Snails, which belong to the Mollusca phylum, are a land-based variation of the mollusc (clams and shellfish are examples of water-based mollusks). As useful as snails are in building up soil quality, adding nutrients to soil through their digestive and excretory processes, they are pests in the garden, eating the leaves of plants.
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Why Snails are Attracted to Gardens
Snails need a moist, warm environment to breed and thrive. Temperatures less than 53° Fahrenheit, paired with low humidity and dry soil, inhibit snail activity. Understandably, then, snails engage in a great deal of breeding during the wetter spring and fall seasons. A well-tended garden is moist more months of the year than other areas of your property, due to regular watering and irrigation, keeping soil wet even through otherwise dry summer months.
Additionally, snails enjoy nibbling the leaves of plants, particularly newer, tender leaves of just-budding plants. A garden is a cornucopia for the hungry snail. Lastly, snails prefer burrowing under debris to escape direct sunlight and heat, making mulch or rock piles in the garden a haven.
Indications of Snail Presence
A gardener can tell if snails are present due to the appearance of partially eaten leaves. Namely, the leaves will have an irregular, shredded appearance and will be dotted with ragged holes. Another telltale sign of snails are trails of slime that snails leave behind. These slime trails are most likely found in the morning, as most snail feeding occurs at night.
Putting a deterrent barrier around your garden is one way to reduce snail infestation. Snails are generally repulsed by wood ashes and lime. Pouring a line of either around the perimeter of your garden will help keep them out. With a lime barrier, keep in mind that it will only work as long as it's dry and may negatively affect the pH of your soil.
Copper screening or wire also works to repel snails, as they experience slight electrical shocks when their bodies come into contact with the metal.
Slug and snail baits
Bait traps are another way to control snail populations. For the safety of wildlife and pets, though, use a non-toxic solution. Snail bait traps containing metaldehyde as a poison are effective, but will also poison and possibly kill any other animal that eats the bait. Less-toxic snail bait traps containing iron phosphate are widely used, too. Iron phosphate is a naturally occurring fertiliser that's toxic to snails, but not larger animals with more complex digestive systems.
The use of decollate snails is a novel, non-toxic approach to the control of snail populations. Decollate snail, also known as Rumina decollata, were introduced to the United States in 1860, via Mediterranean merchant ships. Unlike common brown garden snails, decollate snails have no interest in eating the fresh leaves of growing plants. Rather, they prefer to feed on garden snail eggs and newly hatched garden snails at night, as well as decaying vegetation.
These snails have a lifespan of about two years, lay about 200 eggs per year and do not migrate. A typical garden bed will require one to two decollate snails per square foot of garden space.
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