Many gardeners who have community garden plots or home gardens on the ground floor would have encountered slugs and snails gnawing at their plants, or worse, denuding them. The presence of these gastropods is a recurring event in my garden and I’ve looked at different ways on how to get rid of slugs and snails from my property in Singapore. The snails I usually find are the African Land Snail, Luminescent Land Snail, Humphrey’s Land Snail and Allopeas Snail but we do have a diverse number of snails in Singapore.
My former flock of chickens would eat the smaller snails and slugs but my current resident flock turn their beaks up at them. So I’ve had to explore other ways of dealing with them that don’t involve slug or snail pellets, something which I’m not terribly fond of because I don’t like the use of poisons in my garden or the likelihood of making my chickens or any wildlife sick.
So which is the best way to get rid of slugs and snails?
Aside from pellets, other tactics that gardeners swear by include copper tape, beer traps/pub, wool pellets, diatomaceous earth, coffee grounds, brambles, and using a plank as a lure, where they can be found and dealt with later. This is a good time to mention that crushed egg shells are not as effective as once thought, because gardeners have found that snails and slugs just crawl over it.
There are however, non-chemical, humane strategies that you can consider, either through preventing or by baiting/trapping, and then relocating. They may come across as the enemy but they are ecologically beneficial. Their diet consists of fungi and rotting leaves and other vegetation, and as detritivores and some say decomposers, they help in breaking down plant waste, cycling nutrients back to the soil. While they are not particularly welcome to our vegetable garden especially, we don’t need to use a take no prisoners approach.
Are snail pellets safe for cats, dogs, birds and vegetables?
There are a couple types of snail pellets commonly found on the market. They contain Metaldehyde or Iron phosphate and many want to know if it is dangerous for cats, dogs, birds, wildlife and vegetables.
Metaldehyde pellets have existed for a long time and are still easily available in Singapore nurseries. It is highly toxic to animals, not advisable for use around edible plants and it has been reported that once it leaches into waterways, it is difficult to fully remove chemical residues. Overall this is harmful to pets, wildlife and vegetables and not a good idea in my opinion.
Iron phosphate pellets are said to be a safer option compared to Metaldehyde, and safer for cats, dogs, birds and other wildlife, but it can still kill earthworms. Also, it is important to note that dogs get sick after consuming lots of iron. Also, you are exposing yourself to it if it gets on your skin or if you accidentally breathe it in.
But an even safer alternative is not to use these snail pellets altogether. There has been talk about how a caffeine solution is effective but unfortunately this can also kill beneficial insects which your plants need. While it is natural and of organic origin, it is hostile to the ecosystem and I would not recommend it.
Why a beer trap is not a good idea
It’s not the beer itself but the yeast in the beverage which attracts them. In fact, it is so effective that several gardeners warn how its smell may attract even more of them to your garden. Rather than giving yourself even more problems and being unnecessarily cruel, why not try other methods?
Organic slug and snail control
While they have a terrible reputation for decimating plants and need to be kept away from our precious plants, we can take a more ecological approach. This will be better for the garden, the environment, and better for us. Here are some methods you can consider.
If you have a good amount of space in your garden or community garden and regulations permit, you can consider chickens and ducks, or building a pond to attract natural predators like frogs and toads, although a moist environment will also do for toads. In Singapore, you can adopt your chickens and ducks from Backyard Chickens Singapore and Chickenese telegram pages.
One common management method overseas is the use of parasitic nematodes, which can be mail ordered, but this is service is not yet available in Singapore. Other animals that eat slugs and snails include shrews and squirrels. Shrews are quite useful to have around, while not everyone appreciates squirrels, especially if it is an invasive species like the Finlayson’s squirrel.
To prevent slugs and snails from wreaking damage to your plants, you can start with some simple housekeeping techniques. Don’t create habitats that are conducive to them among your prized edible or ornamental plants, and use barriers and repellents.
They like moist environments, and in places with a tropical climate like Singapore, that’s not hard to find. They also like hiding spots like bricks with holes, the underside of plant pots, and underneath planks. Knowing this, we can cover brick holes with sand or small stones, occasionally check the undersides of pots. Make sure you don’t leave pots or planks lying around your vegetable patch.
Aside from this, you can also consider barriers and repellents. Knowing what snails avoid will help you protect your plants.
Slug and snail barriers and repellents
Which barriers and repellents work well? According to SlugHelp, slug collars, copper tape, wool pellets, and snail repellent paint work. The site also suggests growing plants that they do not like, such as ones from the Aster (daisy) family. Other gardeners have suggested the use of brambles on garden bed edges to deter them from entering.
For a thorough read on organic slug and snail control, I would recommend SlugHelp as a valuable resource on all things snails and slugs. Alexander even tests out different natural repellents and has videos showing its efficacy.
How to naturally bait slugs and snails
A couple of year’s back I unwittingly introduced Allopeas snails to my Vegepod through soil or compost contaminated with its eggs. What followed was a lengthy exercise of trying to remove them. Prior to that, I had a batch of these same snails which came with the vermicompost bin that was set up for me. I had to remove each one of them by hand.
However after finding out that they are drawn to rotting vegetation it was easier for me to bait them using vegetables leaves, or spent corn cobs left over after being devoured by my chickens. By doing this, I could remove many snails from the vegepod at one go. I had to repeat this process of course, and I would also do nightly garden patrols to gradually thin out the snail population.
Slugs and snails are also drawn to grapefruit skin, orange skin, banana peel, lettuce and carrots. The latter is used by snail caviar farmers to get snails to mate and lay eggs. Attract them with the fore-mentioned fruit peels and vegetables and leave an upturned orchid pot, or a claypot with an entrance nearby for it to hide in. In the day-time, you can turn over the pot to collect the trespassers.
Certain plants seem to attract them more than others. I find myself having to raise my Basil, Drimiopsis and Monstera Adansonii off the ground, and needing to more protection to plants with succulent leaves. Knowing this, I decided to use decoy plants to bait them away from my prized plants.
Personally, I like the idea of decoy plants. You can have many standalone plants, or have an entire area of sacrificial plants. These are my top three recommendations of decoy plants in Singapore. They are fast growing, easy to care for and can be found on Carousell.
1. Mother of Thousands, Bryophyllum Daigremontiana
Native to Madagascar, this succulent doesn’t require much care. It is prolific at forming plantlets at the tips of its leaves and self sows readily. From taking just two plants from my neighbour’s overgrown patch, I now have more than I know what to do with.
2. Malabar spinach, Basella Alba
Also known as Ceylon spinach, this climbing plant is native to Southeast Asia, and therefore thrives in our hot and humid climate. While it looks like spinach and is named as such, this annual is not a true spinach. It is fast growing and self seeds so I rarely ever have to sow seeds for the next season.
3. Longevity spinach, Gynura procumbens
Also known as Leaves of the Gods, Longevity spinach is touted as an amazing medicinal plant which lowers blood sugar level, cholesterol, blood pressure and reduces inflammation. It is a hardy perennial that can be propagated through stem cuttings.
What to do with caught slugs and snails
You can free them by leaving it in the park, or as an acquaintance of mine does, keep it as pets. However I do not recommend eating them as land snails can be a host to parasites.
Have you got any preferred methods to get rid of slugs and snails? Leave a comment below to let me know!