The Secret Life of Slugs and Snails and How To Eliminate Them From Your Garden

In my early childhood, I spent many days at my aunt’s house and her vast gardens full of flowers, vegetables, and fruits. One memory that always sticks out is the way we would go out after rainfalls and collect the seemingly hundreds of snails that would come out, drawn by the moisture. We would drop them into a bucket and she would purge them for a few days before preparing them for dinner.

I never considered whether those snails were destructive to her gardens until I grew up and started gardening on my own. I quickly learned that snails and slugs were among the most destructive garden pests imaginable. The devastation they could inflict on crops in just one night was astounding.

However, only certain species eat live plants, and slugs and snails can also benefit your ecosystem.

That certainly complicates things. Let’s examine this issue in greater detail and find out how to deter slugs and snails from eating our fruits, vegetables, and flowers without going scorched earth on every living thing we share our planet with.

Are Slugs And Snails Good Or Bad For The Garden?

Two little girls with snails in garden.
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It depends. Most snails do not eat living plants but rather target dead and rotting vegetation. These creatures are quite beneficial, as they will help our compost break down and enrich the soil we need to grow nutritious foods and beautiful flowers.

But some species only target the living plants, like those prized cabbages you’re hoping to make sauerkraut with next fall. And it might only take a few nights of slugs and snails feasting to really damage your crops. While most vegetables and fruits will recover from some damage, things can get out of control quickly.

To manage these pests effectively, it’s important to identify the harmful species. The common garden snail (Cornu aspersum) and the grey field slug (Deroceras reticulatum) are notorious for their destructive habits. Recognizing these species can help gardeners target their efforts more effectively.

The Common Garden Snail (Cornu aspersum)

Snail about to eat currants.
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These snails are hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. Mating involves a slow and elaborate courtship, often lasting several hours. After mating, each snail lays clusters of tiny, pearl-like eggs in moist soil, ensuring the next generation has a chance to thrive.

During the day, garden snails seek out cool, damp hiding spots to avoid the drying effects of the sun. They can often be found under rocks, logs, and dense foliage. This behavior not only protects them from dehydration but also from predators. By night, they emerge to feed, leaving a trail of silvery slime that gardeners often notice in the morning.

The Grey Field Slug (Deroceras reticulatum)

Slug on leaves.
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The grey field slug is a prolific breeder and their numbers can quickly grow out of hand. These slugs are also hermaphroditic. Post-mating, they lay clusters of translucent, gelatinous eggs in moist, sheltered environments. These eggs hatch within a few weeks, giving rise to juvenile slugs that quickly mature and begin the cycle anew.

During daylight hours, grey field slugs seek refuge in cool, damp locations to avoid desiccation. Common hiding spots include under stones, logs, rotting wooden raised beds, dense vegetation, and soil and leaf litter. These hiding spots provide the necessary moisture and protection from predators. These slugs become active as night falls, emerging to feed and leaving behind characteristic slime trails.

Grey field slugs have a voracious appetite and a broad diet, making them particularly troublesome in gardens. They favor tender, young plants and seedlings but are not overly picky, often consuming a variety of leafy greens, flowers, and even root vegetables. Lettuce, cabbage, and strawberries are among their preferred foods. Their feeding results in irregular holes in leaves and can severely stunt plant growth.

Impact on Gardens

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Garden snails have a diverse diet, feasting on a variety of plants. They are particularly fond of tender leaves, young shoots, and seedlings. Lettuce, basil, and strawberries are among their favorite delicacies. This feeding can cause significant damage to garden plants, especially when snail populations are high.

The grey field slug’s feeding habits can cause extensive damage to garden plants. They are especially harmful to young plants and seedlings, which can be completely devoured in a single night. Their presence is often marked by the telltale signs of slime trails and ragged holes in leaves. Managing their population is crucial for maintaining a healthy garden.

Natural Predators and Control

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Nature offers effective allies against grey field slugs, such as birds, frogs, and ground beetles. Birds like thrushes and robins, frogs and toads around ponds, and ground beetles in mulched areas all contribute to reducing slug populations. To attract these predators, create a welcoming environment by providing food sources, water features, and shelter through shrubs, rocks, and logs.

Encouraging natural predators, combined with organic methods, can create a comprehensive approach to slug control.

Let’s dive into these effective organic methods.

Hand Picking

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One of the simplest and most effective organic methods for controlling slugs and snails is hand picking.

This involves manually collecting these pests from your plants, usually during the early morning or late evening when they are most active. Wearing gloves, you can place the slugs and snails in a bucket of water to dispose of them humanely. Regular hand picking can significantly reduce their numbers and protect your garden from further damage.

If you have ducks or chickens — they will love this healthy, protein-packed treat. But if you don’t, add soap into the water to kill the slugs.

Beer Traps

Snails on branch.
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Beer traps are an effective and environmentally friendly way to manage slug and snail populations. To create a beer trap, bury a shallow container, such as a plastic cup or yogurt pot, in the ground so that the rim is level with the soil surface. Fill the container with beer, which attracts slugs and snails due to its yeast content. They will crawl in and drown. Positioning multiple traps around your garden can help control these pests without using harmful chemicals.

Copper Barriers

Snail in strawberry patch.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Copper barriers are a long-term solution to keep slugs and snails away from your plants. When slugs and snails come into contact with copper, it creates a mild electric charge that repels them. You can use copper tape around the rims of pots, raised beds, or even create rings around individual plants. This method is safe for the environment and provides continuous protection as long as the copper remains intact.

Diatomaceous Earth

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Diatomaceous earth is a natural, abrasive powder made from fossilized aquatic organisms. When slugs and snails crawl over it, the sharp particles damage their soft bodies, leading to dehydration and death. To use diatomaceous earth, sprinkle a thin layer around the base of plants or across garden beds.

Relying after rain or watering is important, as moisture eliminates its effectiveness. This method is safe for humans and pets but should be handled carefully to avoid inhalation.

Homemade Remedies: Garlic Spray

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Garlic spray is a potent homemade remedy for repelling slugs and snails. To make it, blend a few garlic cloves with water and a small amount of dish soap. Strain the mixture and pour it into a spray bottle. Spraying this solution on your plants and soil creates an unpleasant environment for slugs and snails. The strong smell and taste of garlic deter them from feeding on treated plants. Regular applications are needed to maintain its effectiveness, especially after rain.

Coffee Grounds

Snail on flower.
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Coffee grounds are another simple and organic method to deter slugs and snails. The caffeine in coffee is toxic to these pests, and the gritty texture of the grounds can create a physical barrier. Sprinkle used coffee grounds around the base of plants or garden beds. This not only helps repel slugs and snails but also adds organic matter to the soil, benefiting your garden in multiple ways. Regular replenishment of coffee grounds is necessary, particularly after rain or heavy watering.

Avoid Wood and Wood Raised Beds

Snail on flowers.
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As wood starts to rot, like with raised garden beds, it will become a haven for all sorts of pests, including slugs and snails.

One solution is to switch to metal raised beds or create in-ground mounds that work as raised beds without physical barriers. We love our metal raised beds and highly recommend them.

See also: 22 Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening {And The BEST Alternative}

Keep Your Garden Clear

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Maintaining garden hygiene by removing debris and excess moisture helps create a less hospitable environment for slugs. This integrated strategy promotes a balanced ecosystem, effectively managing slugs while supporting garden health.

Frogs and Toads

Snail on flowers.
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Frogs and toads are also formidable slug hunters. These amphibians thrive in moist environments, making gardens with ponds or water features ideal habitats. Consider creating a small pond or water garden to attract frogs and toads. Providing shaded areas and dense vegetation around the water source will give these creatures the cover they need during the day.

You can also create simple shelters with overturned pots or rocks to provide additional hiding spots. Some garden supply stores sell frog and toad shelters you can scatter throughout your gardens and even on top of your raised beds. By encouraging frogs and toads to take up residence in your garden, you can significantly reduce slug populations in a natural and effective way.


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Birds are among the most effective natural predators of grey field slugs. Thrushes, blackbirds, and robins are particularly fond of these slimy creatures. To attract birds to your garden, consider installing bird feeders and bird baths to create a welcoming environment. Additionally, planting shrubs and trees that provide shelter and nesting sites can make your garden more appealing to avian visitors. By fostering a bird-friendly habitat, you not only help control slug populations but also enjoy the added benefits of having birds that help control other garden pests.

See also: 12 Ways to Transform Your Backyard into a Songbird Haven

Plant a Small Trap Garden

Two snails on leaves.
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Planting a small trap garden can effectively and strategically lure slugs and snails away from your main garden. You can concentrate their feeding activity in one area by dedicating a section of your garden to plants that slugs and snails find particularly irresistible, such as lettuce, marigolds, and hostas. This allows you to monitor and control the slug and snail population more efficiently. Regularly check the trap garden and remove the pests by hand or use other control methods within this confined space.

In addition to being a bait for slugs and snails, the trap garden can be a monitoring tool to gauge the overall pest pressure in your garden. By observing the activity in the trap garden, you can better understand the slug and snail population dynamics and adjust your control strategies accordingly. This method helps protect your more valuable plants and integrates well with other organic pest control techniques, creating a comprehensive and environmentally friendly approach to garden pest management.

See also: 11 Trap Plants You Should Be Growing To Help Deter Pests

Creating a Balanced Ecosystem

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Encouraging natural predators is just one part of a holistic approach to pest management. Creating a balanced ecosystem in your garden involves promoting biodiversity and reducing reliance on chemical controls.

Planting a variety of flowers, herbs, and shrubs attracts beneficial insects and animals, fostering a healthy environment where natural predators can thrive. Companion planting, where certain plants are grown together to enhance each other’s growth and deter pests, can also be an effective strategy. For example, planting marigolds, which have a natural repellent effect on slugs, alongside vulnerable crops can help protect your garden.

Integrating Natural and Organic Methods Works

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Integrating natural predators with other organic control methods can provide a comprehensive approach to managing slug populations. Hand-picking slugs in the early morning or evening, setting up beer traps, and using barriers like copper tape can all complement the work of natural predators.

Maintaining proper garden hygiene by removing debris and excess moisture can create an environment that is less hospitable to slugs. By combining these techniques, gardeners can effectively manage slug infestations while minimizing harm to the environment and promoting a thriving, balanced garden ecosystem.

Can You Eat the Snails?

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Escargot is a delicacy, and I can attest to it being quite tasty if properly prepared. The Romans had extensive snail farms and we continue to eat these slimy creatures today. That being said, you need to know what you’re doing because people have literally died after eating the wrong slugs and snails on a dare.

Read this: How to Harvest and Cook Snails From the Garden

Create a Songbird Haven in Your Backyard

Girl with snails.
Photo Credit: Envato Elements.

Learn More: 12 Ways to Transform Your Backyard into a Songbird Haven

Gardening Myths Busted

Tomato in garden.
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Learn More: 18 Pervasive Gardening Myths Busted

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