In cartoons, snails are almost always depicted as lazy creatures that eat leaves and fruit all day. This begs the question: are snails good for plants, or must they be eliminated at once? Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer to this question. Good snails exist, but so do bad snails.
In general, snails (and their close cousins, slugs) maintain the natural balance of the ecosystem. They mostly eat fallen garden debris and already decomposing vegetation, both of which we surely won’t miss. On the other hand, they’re also quite fond of tender foliage and young, leafy crops, as indicated by the irregularly shaped holes they leave on leaves and fruit. Some snails even carry diseases harmful to humans.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about garden snails. Should you keep them or kill them? Let’s find out.
What Are Good Snails and Bad Snails
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There are as many as 43,000 species of snails, a fact that’s quite frankly mind-blowing! Thankfully, most snail species are good rather than bad.
For instance, decollate snails, a medium-sized predatory land snail, rarely feed on live plants and instead target harmful slugs and brown snails.
Brown snails, on the other hand, are the complete opposite. Unfortunately, these slimy little mollusks are what most of us have in our gardens. Brown snails can cause a considerable amount of damage to our garden plants. The same is said with the Cornu Aspersum, AKA the common garden snail. These snails feed on both living and dead plant material.
Snails are strong climbers. While they don’t do a lot of damage at ground level, they can certainly slither their way up fruit trees and munch on our precious fruit just as they’re turning ripe. They can also chew through leaves and even strip the bark off of young trees.
As such, most homeowners employ quick elimination tactics to get rid of snails in their gardens as soon as they spot them.
Unless they’re decollated snails, it’s best to keep the snail population in your garden down. Garden snails and brown snails carry potentially deadly snail-borne parasitic diseases, including clonorchiasis, angiostrongyliasis, opisthorchiasis, and more.
Freshwater snails kill over 200,000 people on an annual basis, making them one of the deadliest animals on earth. These deadly snails are mostly found in ponds, rivers, and lakes, but they also exist in home gardens—particularly those with water sources.
How to Effectively Control and Eliminate Snails In Your Garden
In small numbers, snails aren’t threats. In fact, they can be quite useful to your garden’s ecosystem. But in large numbers, they can quickly cause a lot of damage to your plants and vegetables. This is why you should always control your backyard’s snail population. It’s either them or your plants!
Luckily, snails are relatively easy to kill. Here are some of the best ways to control and eliminate these slimy creatures from your garden:
1. Sprinkle Salt
One of the easiest and fastest ways to get rid of snails is to use salt. Salt is a snail’s kryptonite; when it comes in contact with salt, it very quickly dries out and dies of dehydration.
Sprinkle salt around your garden, particularly on the rims of potted plants. Reapply whenever you water your plants or when it rains.
Keep in mind that plants are quite sensitive to sodium, and may die if large amounts are absorbed. As such, always make sure not to apply more than what’s necessary.
2. Lay Down Grit
In this method, you’ll have to sprinkle a generous amount of diatomaceous earth, a powder-like product made of aquatic organisms, on your plot.
Diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic way to eliminate garden nasties, including bugs, insects, and other harmful creatures.
When a snail comes in contact with the gritty substance, it’ll cut and dehydrate its body, eventually killing it. If you don’t have diatomaceous earth to hand, use sand or crushed eggshells instead. While not as effective as diatomaceous earth, they can injure snails enough to reduce their numbers.
3. Trap Them With Beer
Snails love beer—not because it’s sweet or alcoholic, but because it contains yeast. This is why beer traps are so effective.
In a shallow container, pour about half a can of stale beer. Place the bowl into your planter and leave it for a night or two. The scent of fermented yeast will call to a snail’s senses, and as they follow it, they’ll fall into the container and drown.
Check the bowl every day and replace the beer as necessary.
4. Create Barriers
Copper wire and Vaseline barriers are believed to repel snails.
Copper is a great barrier because it naturally disrupts the normal function of their enzymes and skin. Petroleum jelly, while not as dangerous, prevents snails from gripping onto the rim of your flower container.
Place a wire made of copper around the perimeter of your planter. You can find this in any hardware store and online. If you’re using petroleum jelly, apply a thin layer of Vaseline around the rim of your potted plants to prevent them from climbing onto them.
5. Introduce Predators
Remember our friend the decollate snail? Decollate snails are natural predators, primarily feeding on brown garden snails. Use them to kill the ‘bad’ snails munching on your plants and vegetables. You can also add several harmless garden snakes, like the garter snake, to snack on brown snails. The same is said with frogs and toads.
6. Spray Neem Oil
Neem oil is extremely toxic to snails. When sprayed on snails (as well as caterpillars, thrips, whiteflies, and no-see-ums), they die on contact. Neem oil also has the added benefit of protecting your veggies from fungi. More importantly, it doesn’t harm beneficial insects like bees, earthworms, and ladybugs.
So, are snails good for plants? For the most part, NO! In large numbers, snails can easily terrorize gardens and ruin harvests. The easiest way to get rid of garden snails is with the help of diatomaceous earth, neem oil, and salt. You can use a more forceful method by introducing predators into your garden. Good luck!