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How to Get Rid of Slugs and Snails in the Garden

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An uncontrolled slug and snail problem can decimate a crop overnight. Organic slug control options eliminate these pests naturally for a healthy garden.

More on natural pest control here.

snail in a shell crawling across concrete

The slug and snail problem is one that most gardeners are aware of, but here in Hawaii they’re an exceptional problem. Not only do they damage crops, they transmit something called rat lung disease. It’s a rare* disease and one that is still being studied, but the general consensus is that accidental ingestion of tiny slugs (ick!) is bad, as is ingesting raw produce that’s been slimed by slugs.

I’ve been working on a “slug protocol” that will rid the garden of these slimy pests without the added risk of poisons.

What do slugs and snails eat?

Slugs and snails are pretty indiscriminate feeders. Their preferences may vary a bit by species, but generally speaking they eat plant material. And that means your garden. They’re especially attracted to young, tender seedlings, but they’ll climb up larger plants to reach the desirable bits. Fresh tomatoes and strawberries will fall prey to uncontrolled slugs, ruining a bountiful harvest overnight. They’ll dine on other things like lichen and mushrooms, too.

5 Ways to save your crop with organic slug and snail control

While it doesn’t eliminate the pests, I start by growing my lettuce in containers – often hanging containers – to keep slugs off the salad greens we eat raw.

Control slug and snail infestations by hand picking them

I’ve started going on weekly slug and snail hunts. (Psst! Hey, who’s the nut job out there in pajamas wearing a headlamp??) No, it’s not glamorous. In fact, it’s pretty gross.

But since I’ve implemented this plan I’ve seen a huge reduction in how many slugs I catch in a night. I go out after dark with the aforementioned headlamp (PJs optional), a container with about an inch of either vinegar or salt in the bottom, and wooden chopsticks. As I spot slugs, I use the chopsticks to pick them up and drop them in the container.

When I first started this little organic slug control program, I’d pull 30-40 slugs out of the yard in half an hour. Now, it’s more like 10-12. Plus? Picking up slimy slugs with chopsticks is great practice for my next Chinese dining experience.

An uncontrolled slug and snail problem can decimate a crop overnight. Organic slug control options eliminate these pests naturally for a healthy garden.

Can you spot three slugs? The one in the center is about 3″ long.

Clean up

I’ve noticed that there are certain kinds of plant debris that really attracts slugs. The pink hibiscus blossoms seen above are like a 5-star buffet to my slugs, so I’ve taken to piling them in one place and waiting for the pests to move in.

I’ve had success with eggplant, too. I understand a cut potato or citrus will draw them in as well, but you’ll likely need to experiment to see what draws slugs in your garden. Once the slugs have congregated on the materials, I use the chopsticks to remove them, leaving the bait behind. If you’re more squeamish you could pick up the entire slug covered mess and toss it.

Stop their life cycle

I keep my eyes open for eggs when I’m working in the yard. If I can eliminate the slugs before they hatch, all the better. I usually find them when I’m weeding in an area with lots of debris. Slugs and snails lay their eggs in dark, moist places. Look for them under boards, stacked materials, or in and around your potting area.

Related: 7 Organic Pest Control Methods

An egg mass. Gross. Organic slug control options eliminate these pests naturally for a healthy garden.

This mass of slug eggs is almost as big as a ping pong ball.

Get ducky for organic slug control

I brought home some ducks earlier this year, and they are great at organic slug control, even right in the garden. So far they haven’t done any damage to the garden crops, but I’ve definitely noticed a reduction in slugs and other pests. Here’s how to get started with ducks at your place.

big brown slug on green grass

Use natural snail bait

I use Worry Free Slug and Snail Bait on a limited basis, right around the perimeter of my vegetable garden. This particular bait is made of iron phosphate and is considered safe around pets and children. Once a snail or slug ingests the bait, the iron phosphate causes changes in the pests that make them stop feeding.

Within a day or two of sprinkling the bait, I start seeing dry, dead slugs on the ground. The product I’m using comes in a cardboard box, though it looks like the company has switched to plastic. Sluggo is another iron phosphate slug bait that comes with less plastic in the packaging.

Diatomaceous earth is another option for reducing their numbers.

What hasn’t worked

  • Chickens. My girls won’t touch ’em. Or at least most of them. There seems to be one variety of slug that they find delicious, but they turn their beaks up at the rest.
  • Beer. Throw an organic slug control party and one or two might show up, but I have much more success with my slug hunting method.
  • Most physical barriers. I’ve yet to find anything that a slug won’t crawl over to get dinner, though crushed eggshells can deter them.

*Rat lung disease is (so far) only found in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Originally published in August 2012; this post has been updated. 

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

39 comments… add one
  • The Pocket Farmer Aug 23, 2012, 12:37 am

    Have you tried a salt perimeter? I used to do that with a snail problem I had in California.

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 23, 2012, 6:48 am

      I’ve not tried salt. Did it work for you? Rock salt or table salt?

    • LeAnn Apr 12, 2015, 8:59 am

      It is easy to get too many salts built up in the soil.

  • Attainable Sustainable Aug 23, 2012, 6:51 am

    No! Rock salt or table salt? I’ll have to see if I could try that – my garden is kind of squeezed in between other plantings and I’d be concerned that the salt would kill plants, too.

  • SoniaR Aug 23, 2012, 7:34 am

    Kris, that is almost the same method I use…I don’t go out at night, but usually just as dawn is breaking.  I have a plastic gallon milk jug that I cut the top off but leave the handle and instead of vinegar and or salt, I use Clorox (kills them instantly on impact) and I do use the chopsticks…for a while, I’ll go out every morning for several days…then I can wait several days before going back out and start my cycle over.  I find it is a sure fire method to control them.  
     
    As you say, the beer doesn’t work and we don’t have chickens so not sure if they would eat them, but I know that some chickens will.  I guess it might depend on the type of slugs.
     

    • silverfox Jul 3, 2013, 7:52 am

      ducks will eat slugs! they love them 😉

      • Kris Bordessa Jul 3, 2013, 7:55 am

        I will have ducks when I’m able to move on out of this neighborhood!

  • AprilG Aug 23, 2012, 1:02 pm

    Oh that turned my stomach (said the girl who has no problem eviscerating a chicken). That picture was disgusting. What about diatomaceous earth? Egg shells? I’ve not dealt with slugs but they gross. me. out.

  • Carl Langan Aug 24, 2012, 5:43 pm

    Hello again, Carl from Waikoloa here, I’ve learned about rat lungworm since moving here, and have been very diligent about cleaning my produce that’ll be consumed raw.

    Seeing your post reminded me of when I visited my in-laws in Tokyo last summer. They have a nice little garden outside their home, and at night the same thing would occur. Hoards of small slugs infiltrating everywhere. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this trick, but my mother in-law put out small ceramic bowl and filled it with some beer (the cheap stuff). She heard it works to attract them, so she decided to give it a go. I can’t tell you how many were in that bowl the next morning. It was unreal. Give it a try. It’s very easy, not messy at all, and def won’t harm your other plants (unless the slugs get drunk and rowdy, and tip over the bowl). If you decide to use a finer brew, just pour in half, sit down in a lawn chair and peer at the stars as you enjoy the rest of it (pajamas optional). Hope this helps!

  • Carl Langan Aug 24, 2012, 5:45 pm

    *a* small ceramic bowl

  • Carl Langan Aug 24, 2012, 8:17 pm

    Lol, lesson learned. Should have read to the bottom of your post. Beer’s not been successful for you.

  • Alexandra Aug 29, 2012, 11:15 am

    I hate slugs and do have them in my garden. I had never seen a mass of slug eggs and will know what to look for so thanks.  Could you do a post on snails??  I have them, too, and would love to get rid of them. 

    • Attainable Sustainable Aug 29, 2012, 1:23 pm

      Snails and slugs are pretty interchangeable as far as combating them. At least in my experience. I need to get a picture of the garden slugs we have here. They look more like water snails. 

  • LyssaLuv Sep 4, 2012, 11:21 am

    My biggest problem has been the horned tomato worm this year. They are obviously hatching in batches. I get rid of them, they are gone for a good bit, and then they are back. Boo! I’m thankful to have not dealt with the slugs.

    • Attainable Sustainable Sep 4, 2012, 1:29 pm

      Are you hand picking? That’s how I’ve handled those, too! It’s like a treasure hunt… 😉

    • Doug Jul 24, 2015, 4:33 am

      for horned tomato worms, plant marigolds alongside the tomatoes. I used to have serious hornworm problems on my tomatoes. The only time i’ve seen a hornworm n the last 3 years i when the marigold next to a tomato plant died. It really works!

  • The Pocket Farmer Sep 6, 2012, 2:05 am

    Sorry, I missed the updates on this post. I used table salt. Maybe you could put in on newspaper or something, but still build a “moat” of salt that the slugs have to cross. When I did this with snails, I used to find piles of shells right at the line of defense. Worked amazingly well!

  • Balconygarden Sep 24, 2012, 12:01 pm

    In the days before my city life, I had a big vegetable garden in the lush climbes of the Adelaide Hills. We found sawdust works very well as a physical barrier. (but we also succeeded with beer). Too much salt in your garden will effect the ph and draw water away from your plants. But sawdust provides a rough surface that the slugs can’t navigate over for some reason. Good luck.

  • Marcia May 11, 2013, 11:18 am

    I hunt them in the early morning with a kettle of hot water.

  • Holly @ Your Gardening Friend Oct 31, 2013, 3:57 pm

    Wow! The spotted slug in the photo is huge!

    I remember seeing a lot of slugs as a child where we lived, but I rarely ever see them at our house (only 1.5 hours away from my childhood home). Weird. I think we use to put table salt on them, but that was just a couple times and just when we saw them on the patio or sidewalk.

    You mentioned wearing your PJs and a head flashlight. That’s funny. I’ve also been known to where a head flashlight when I’ve had to water our garden super early in the morning before heading to work. Only once though. Before long, because of the light I had bugs all around my face. 🙂 IF I had thought to use the red light on the head flashlight that might have solved that problem.

    (I’ll be sure to share this post with Your Gardening Friend readers. THANKS for the tips.)

  • Tim Smith Jan 27, 2014, 8:04 am

    I’ve had great success with beer.  I put out a few shallow tiny bowls (1-2in tall sides) and fill them about 3/4 in with beer.  Come back in a few days and there will be 10 dead ones in there.  I put about a 1/2 dozen of these around the garden in my problem spots.

  • Lori Walker Feb 14, 2014, 2:55 pm

    Thanks for the tips. Anyone ever try fireplace ash circleing plants? Thought I might try, works like a charm to chase off ant hills.

  • Lavende May 1, 2014, 8:14 pm

    I’m so surprised that chickens won’t touch them!  Very interesting.
    A row of pennies worked well for my snails – I’m assuming its on your list of physical barriers you’ve tried?  If not, it might be worth a shot!

  • Angela May 9, 2014, 5:45 pm

    Have you tried coffee grounds? I get them free from the coffee shop and sprinkle it generously over the dirt. I have been doing this for several years and since I started I rarely find any slugs. It’s free so worth a try, may work for you too.
    I don’t like to use chemicals so I also add ladybugs and praying mantis to the garden each spring when the aphids appear and they do a great job of keeping pests at bay.

  • paula Jun 14, 2014, 12:32 pm

    i have tried the copper tape on the top edges of my raised gardens this year …so far so good , works well it seems ….and wood ash on the ground around their fav things slows them down quite a bit ….in my experience 🙂

  • Angelina Jun 17, 2014, 10:47 am

    Aloha,  Thanks for the great suggestions.  Rat Lung Disease is in Hawaii- people have become terribly ill from it on the Big Island, from their garden greens. Some were in a coma and they may have permanent problems.  

  • Barbara Jul 5, 2014, 8:24 pm

    I save my eggshells – I crush them and sprinkle around base of plant, they won’t cross it – Works!! I do not use straw so not know if work with that. Farmer told me DE works with the straw. 

  • Madalyn Kade Dixon Apr 11, 2015, 3:47 pm

    We get some pretty good sized buggers here in Oregon! Got up to use the loo in the wee hours and my bare foot found something slimy in my slipper…ewww! I’ll go out “snailing” in the early am, no need to go out in the dark, they’re still cruising around until the dew starts to dry up. Start with a bucket with a little salt water and after a few snails and slugs die in it, it gets really potently toxic.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 11, 2015, 4:09 pm

      My slug story: My husband and I went camping years ago at a friend’s “camp” where they had old spring “bedsteads” set up under the stars. I woke in the morning to find my hair all matted, so asked my husband to have a look. Yep, a slug had crawled into bed with me and I smashed it into my head as I slept. It took my husband and least an hour with a fine-tooth comb to get all the slug out. Hard with me shouting “OH MY GOSH THIS IS SO GROSS!” the whole time. 😉

      • Carol L Nov 5, 2017, 5:41 pm

        I have another story, that is just as, if not more, gross: When I was in primary school, probably 5th grade, I had a friend who’s mom used to leave the clean clothing on a covered porch. My friend got some underwear, and put it on only to find awhile later something crawling around on her ‘nether’ area…yup, you guessed it, slugs!!! EEEEWWWWWW!!!!!
        I’m 64 now, and can STILL remember her and her slug problem like it was yesterday.( I can still see her porch and Darcy squirming from the nasty things!)

        • Kris Bordessa Nov 14, 2017, 7:58 am

          OH my word.

  • Carla Apr 18, 2015, 1:17 pm

    Yep. had pretty much the same experience. Have to pick them or if they are on the lawn stomp them. I tried the other ways…and stuff like copper and barriers may work some, but they can go UNDER into my raised beds and they hide in the edges…I can’t tear my beds apart every year just to find them. I think the eggshells might help a bit, but they gradually give way with the rain and it is hard to keep any barriers intact. I can imagine rough sawdust might be a help, but I think it also acidifys the soil eventually and it is already pretty acid here. The pet safe chemical helps a lot too sprinkled around the beds. Beer only attracted the neighbors. I have also had some luck with laying down a board or newspaper over a lettuce leaf or something to get them to congregate. That works sometimes and helps round them up for their dunking. In a yard and good sized garden with no “edges” like we have here things like pennies are too much to imagine doing…although they might work for a pot or two. My chickens won’t eat them either. I hate the slugs. It really is too bad they aren’t edible as no one would ever go hungry!

  • Breanne Apr 17, 2016, 4:58 pm

    Salt can harm grass and surrounding plants however copper will not and kills slugs just like salt does. I have heard of folks placing copper tubing around the perimeter of their garden to keep out slugs and snails with great success! At least it’s not something you continually have to re-apply.

    • Carol L Jul 9, 2017, 11:23 am

      Those using copper: don’t you worry about copper toxicity building up in the soil/plants using it? I would think that it would cause soil issues just like using salt. Maybe I’m wrong. Something to think about.
      Nice post. Thank you.

  • Terry Nov 17, 2016, 5:50 am

    They seem to dislike Epsom salts!!

  • mia Nov 20, 2016, 12:56 am

    Have you tried crushed egg shells? It works pretty well in my garden.

  • Amy Hoffman Mar 17, 2017, 5:59 am

    I use a cut apple slice near my eggplant and cucumber plants. They hover over the pallet slice and feed and stay away from my plants. I also sprinkle diacramaetus earth (probably mispelled) around the base of the plants. No problems.

  • Carol L Feb 17, 2020, 6:26 am

    Also, about the copper: I would worry about thieves. Copper is really expensive, and there have been incidents where thieves will strip electrical copper off of anything, including going into the smaller electrical power plants, stripping the wire and causing blackouts…Also taking it from the underground areas similar to the water mains….the city has begun placing huge concrete dividers over those to prevent the theft. Metal salvage places have helped this issue, as they will accept any metal for recycling and it can get pretty profitable.

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