For most vegetable gardeners, slugs are a sworn enemy. They can decimate crops of lettuces and brassicas, munching through the leaves until little is left.
So, it’s understandable that keeping them out of your garden is preferable.
Unfortunately, snails are often unfairly lumped in with slugs and seen as something that should be eradicated. In reality, the damage they cause is usually fairly minimal.
But do they provide any benefits? Should we be rethinking how we see these little critters?
Read on to find out!
- Benefits of Snails in the Garden
- Supporting the Natural Balance of Your Garden
- So, What Can You Do to Keep the Peace?
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Benefits of Snails in the Garden
The primary benefits of snails in the garden, center around the fact that they are part of the natural ecosystem and have a role to play in keeping everything in balance.
Us humans are pretty arrogant when it comes to deciding what should be allowed to live, and what should be designated a pest and eradicated.
Often our efforts to ‘control’ one species, leads to an imbalance in the numbers of other species. This chain reaction can result in other animals becoming labeled as pests while others become threatened.
The best policy is always to try and support the natural balance of the environment and its ecosystems. And snails are a natural part of that ecosystem.
Benefits of Snails in the Garden Include:
- Snails are decomposers. They love munching on dead and decaying leaves and plants. (In fact, most snails prefer dead vegetation to living!) By helping to break down dead vegetation, they create fertilizer for the soil, aiding plant health through supporting soil health.
- Some snails feed on the eggs of slugs and other snails, helping to keep their numbers in check.
- Snails are a food source for a number of animals including frogs, toads, newts, blackbirds, thrushes and hedgehogs.
- Snails may also feed on dead slugs, and animal excrement, again helping with decomposition.
- Some gardening folklore exists surrounding snails as weather forecasters… I’ll leave it up to you to decide how much stock you want to place in this. But next time you see snails slithering up a tree trunk, you might wonder whether there is some hot weather on the way.
Though they’re definitely less attractive and more damaging, slugs also play a role in the ecosystem. The benefits of slugs in the garden are actually very similar to snails.
They provide a food source for many animals higher up the food chain and they help to decompose decaying organic matter, creating fertilizer.
But, unlike slugs, snails don’t actually cause much damage.
The benefits may not blow you away, but snails are certainly not a cause for concern the way slugs might be, and there should be no reason to control their numbers unless something is very wrong in the balance of your garden’s ecosystem.
So, let’s talk about how to support that balance.
Supporting the Natural Balance of Your Garden
In the world of permaculture, there is no such thing as ‘too many slugs’, just ‘not enough ducks’ to eat them.
While keeping ducks in your garden as a means of slug and snail control is likely not a viable option, this sentiment highlights the fact that an abundance of slugs and snails represents an imbalance in your garden ecosystem.
Ironically, this imbalance could, in part, be caused by pest management strategies such as slug pellets which are also fatal to the very animals who feed on slugs and snails and would otherwise be helping to keep their numbers down.
Interestingly, the presence of snails may be seen differently in different places. In some parts of the world, for example, Germany, you can mail order certain species of snails to deliberately introduce into your garden for the benefits they bring.
I urge you to not immediately condemn snails to death simply because in some instances they could become a pest.
So, What Can You Do to Keep the Peace?
Encourage Predatory Animals to Your Garden
This is a surefire way of keeping slugs and snails in check.
Building a small wildlife pond and putting out bird feeders are ways of doing this that help to support these animals when conditions are tough in the winter as well.
Keep Things Tidy, but Not Too Tidy
f you’re of the opinion that a well-maintained garden looks like you’ve gone over the lawn with a vacuum cleaner, you might be in for some trouble.
Fallen leaves break down to feed the soil as well as snails (meaning less work for you as you won’t need to fertilize!). A little bit of debris also creates homes for wildlife such as snails, insects, and the predatory animals that will eat said snails and insects.
Having a garden that is too perfectly manicured means there are limited places for animals to form their homes and find food sources.
On the other hand, a completely overgrown garden will provide ample places to call home and find food so may not be the best option if you’re trying to limit slug and snail numbers. So again, it comes down to balance.
Keep Things Light, Airy and Not Too Wet
Snails love dark and wet. As with the above point, you want to keep some snail-friendly habitat, but you can easily avoid their numbers growing if you keep your garden from getting too soggy.
Using drip feed irrigation rather than a sprinkler might help to target water where you want it without wetting a large area of foliage (which snails would prefer). Using a soaker hose is the best way of doing this.
Practice Companion Planting
Snails have a preference for some plants (lettuces, brassicas, cabbages, dahlias, hostas and marigolds) while disliking others (lavender, rosemary, hydrangeas, geraniums). Planting things that snails don’t like next to the things that they do can help prevent them from getting too excited.
There are also natural methods that you can use to discourage snails from vulnerable plants and avoid having to use toxic slug pellets.
Handpick After Dark
Snails are nocturnal, so going outside with your torch after dark and hand removing any snails that you find is the most favored management technique by many experienced gardeners.
You’ll probably want to wear garden gloves, especially if you’re going after slugs at the same time. Just be sure to toss them more than 40m away to overcome their homing instinct!
(If you’re not sure where to toss them, you could always add them to your compost heap – they’ll help with the decomposing and there’ll be plenty there to eat. If you don’t have a compost yet, have a read of this guide to the best compost tumblers to get started.)
Create a Barrier
Things like coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, diatomaceous earth, and ash can help to deter snails from a certain area as they’ll find it hard to slither over that surface.
Keeping plants that are popular with snails in raised beds or large plant pots is also a good option as it’s further for them to travel and easier to catch them in the act.
Set Up a Beer Trap
Snails and slugs love the smell of beer so setting up a beer trap is a great way to lure them away from your precious plants. Set a dish of beer in the soil, deep enough that once they fall in, they’ll drown.
This isn’t a solution for a large area but will work well in your vegetable garden if you have just a few plants that you want to discourage snails from feasting on.
Slug Pellets as a Last Resort
Slug pellets should only be an absolute last resort, if you have a serious, serious infestation, which, let’s face it, is unlikely. If you just don’t like the look of a few snails in your garden, then create an environment that doesn’t attract them rather than resorting to toxic pesticides.
The main ingredient in conventional slug pellets, Metaldehyde, is currently being banned in the UK due to the harmful impact it has on wildlife. Metaldehyde has also been found in drinking water supplies. If you absolutely have to use slug pellets, look for versions that don’t contain Metaldehyde and that list themselves as safe for pets.
Just getting into gardening? Top Tip: One of the most useful but surprising items that you could set yourself up with is a garden kneeler. Save your knees and garden in comfort!
So, are snails good for the garden?
While the benefits listed don’t translate directly into benefits that you’ll see in terms of flourishing plants, in this day and age, with so many natural balances drastically upset by humans, keeping a bit more of a balance in your garden by allowing snails to cohabitate in reasonable numbers can only be a good thing.
So, I’m going to say yes. Snails are good for your garden. They have their place in the ecosystem, and removing them will definitely cause more harm than good.
What’s your experience?