7 Non-Toxic Ways to Keep Slugs and Snails Out of Your Garden

What attracts slugs to your garden in the first place?

Wet or damp soil is the number one thing that attracts slugs to the garden. Slugs tend to dry out very quickly, and they love living (and eating!) in a location that stays consistently moist.

We are big proponents of mulching to balance soil temperature, reduce weed competition, and retain moisture, but mulch can also increase slug populations because it helps retain moisture so well.

Growfully Protip

If you have slug issues in your garden, make sure to keep your mulch away from the base of the plant.

6. Get rescue chickens

Backyard chickens are great for your garden. They provide manure for composting, lay eggs for food, turn the soil, and help control unwanted garden pests and insects. Snails, slugs, and their eggs are included in the garden pests that chickens love to dine on, which means adding a chicken coop to your yard might be the perfect solution to your snail problem. You can always purchase chicks at a local feed store, but you will get more karma points for adopting rescue chickens that need a good home.

If you live in a more rural area and have the space, geese or ducks are also options.

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8. Sprinkle coffee grounds

You may already spread coffee grounds in your garden to add nutrients to the soil. Another benefit of sprinkling coffee grounds around your plants is that they help keep slugs and snails out of your garden.

8. Use an organic slug bait

When figuring out how to get rid of slugs in the garden, organic slug baits are a must. However, be smart about this method because not all slug baits are the same. Many traditional slug baits used to control slugs in the garden are poisonous to pets and other wildlife in addition to slugs. Do not use slug baits that contain methiocarb or metaldehyde as their active ingredient. Metaldehyde is extremely toxic to mammals (just a teaspoon or two can kill a small dog) and methiocarb isn’t much safer.

Instead, turn to organic baits for garden slug control. Look for an active ingredient of iron phosphate. These slug control products are safe for use on even certified organic farms. Brand names include Sluggo, Slug Magic, and Garden Safe Slug and Snail Bait. Sprinkle the bait on the soil surface around affected plants. The slugs eat the bait and immediately stop feeding. They’ll die within a few days. These baits can even be used in the vegetable garden around food crops, unlike traditional slug baits.

Sprinkle iron phosphate slug baits around nibbled
Sprinkle iron phosphate slug baits around nibbled plants to keep the slug population down.

Handpicking

If you have the stomach for it, handpicking is an effective option when practiced diligently.

To lure slugs and snails, water any infested areas at dusk. After nightfall, use a flashlight to hunt them down, pick by hand, and dispose of them – you’ll definitely want to use gloves for this option!

You’ll need to do this nightly until their numbers are decimated, after which a weekly foray should suffice.

Once caught, you can dispatch them in a bucket of soapy water or by spraying with a solution of diluted ammonia. One part ammonia mixed with 10 parts water in a spray bottle will do the trick.

Ashes to Ashes

Slugs and snails also avoid wood ashes because of their alkalinity, so you can distribute wood ashes from the fireplace (but not from charcoal, which may contain chemicals) in the garden. Over time, ashes can increase the pH of the soil, so use sparingly.

4. Construct a Fruity Trap

Next time you snack on a citrus fruit like grapefruit or orange, unpeel the rind carefully so you can keep one bowl-shaped half in tact. Poke a hole that’s large enough for a slug to fit through, and then sit the fruit upside down like a dome in your garden. The sweet scent will lure slugs in, distracting them from their usual meal: your plants. If a predator doesn’t get to them first, collect the fruit scraps the next morning and kill any live slugs by dumping them into a container of soapy water.

Are slugs useful for anything?

It might seem tempting to napalm the slug population after they’ve eaten your strawberries, but slugs aren’t all bad! In fact, a healthy (but well managed!) slug population is good for the garden. Slugs break down garden debris and turn it into nitrogen-rich fertilizer that enhances soil nutrition (similar to worm composting). They also are a natural food source for many beneficial insects, birds, frogs, snakes, and toads.

6. Hand Picking

One of the more straightforward methods to remove

One of the more straightforward methods to remove slugs is to simply pick them off by hand, one by one. Depending on the severity of your slug problem, this can either be a quick process or an all-day event. Slugs tend to stick to the underside of leaves or behind your produce, making them a little bit difficult to spot right away. Once you know where to look and start finding slugs, they are fairly easy to pull off.

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When it comes to getting rid of the slugs you find, you have some options. Some gardeners choose to release them somewhere far away, but many don’t have sympathy for these plant-destroyers and will take another route. Some prefer freezing them and adding them to compost. Others recommend drowning them in soapy water before throwing them out or even crushing them. If you do keep chickens, you can always consider gifting the removed slugs to them as treats!

6. Set up a slug fence

Believe it or not, you can make an electric fence for slugs. Yep, that’s right. Here are plans to make a tiny electric slug fence to place around raised beds and protect the plants from slugs. It runs on a 9 volt battery and zaps the slugs when they come in contact with the fence. It won’t hurt humans or pets and is a great way to protect a raised bed or other small garden.

2. Crack Open a Cold One

Slugs like beer as much as they like the leafy greens of your garden plants. Crack open a beer and pour it into a few margarine tubs, then distribute the containers in various places around the yard, burying them so that about an inch remains above ground. The slugs will be attracted to the scent, crawl into the tubs, and drown overnight. Dispose of the containers the next morning in your trash or compost bin.

Biological Controls

For combating gastropods, my personal weapon of choice is beneficial nematodes.

One hundred percent natural, nematodes are naturally occurring microscopic worms that are mixed with water for application.

The best times to apply nematodes are once soil temperatures have warmed up in spring, and after intense summer heat has ebbed in late summer/early fall.

They won’t kill adult snails or slugs, but when applied to the soil, nematodes enter the gastropods’ eggs. They then release bacteria that kills the eggs, then feed off the eggs and reproduce before moving on – with an effective killing rate of about 90 percent.

People, birds, pets, and helpful insects such as bees, ladybugs, and earthworms are completely resistant to these hardworking microbes.

Nematodes move swiftly through pre-moistened soil, and can be applied with a hose and sprayer or with a watering can for smaller areas.

You won’t see immediate results with nematodes, but the following year you’ll notice a significant reduction in the slimy herbivores.

For best results, make three consecutive applications – spring/fall/spring, or fall/spring/fall. After that, an application once every 18 months will keep gastropod numbers at bay.

Timing is important with this method. A package contains millions of live nematodes, and if you don’t plan on using them immediately, they need to stay refrigerated until application. In the package, they have a limited shelf life of around two weeks.

Nematodes can be purchased online through various retailers. There are different species of nematodes, so be sure that the ones that you buy are listed for slug and snail control.

Before purchasing them, ensure soil temperatures are adequate, and that you’ll have the necessary time available for application.

Read our complete guide to doing battle against creepy crawlies with nematodes here.

6. Put Used Coffee Grounds to Work

Unlike some of us, slugs really do not like the smell of ground coffee. Can you imagine? Scatter it around plants they flock to; use it alone or mixed with the eggshells. Coffee grounds will also decompose and make your plants happy.

2. Use the Catch and Release Method

Because I’m the kind of person who literally doesn’t want to hurt a fly, I am going with the catch and release model here. Slugs like dark, damp hiding spots, so place a wet piece of wood or plank near slug hotspots; they will go there for some leisure time after devouring your garden all night. In the morning, lift it up and find the hiding slugs. Release them into the wild … or do with them what you will, just don’t tell me about it.

Tips for Keeping Slugs out of the Garden

Slugs are going to be most common in areas that are humid, wet, heavily shaded, or have poorly drained soil. If any of these conditions apply to sections of your garden, it is a good idea to check for signs of slugs often.

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In fact, if you have simply experienced more rainfall than usual, it is a good idea to do a quick slug-check as well, even if you haven’t had problems with slugs in the past. If you do encounter slugs, there are ways to eliminate them.

If you suspect you might be prone to slugs, there are even ways to deter them from visiting in the first place.

Search and Destroy

Use a flashlight to hunt for snails and slugs in the evening, about two hours after sunset. (If hunting during the day, look in shady, damp areas and beneath leaves and other garden debris.) When you find a slug or snail, shake some salt on it — a deadly ingredient that dehydrates the pest. Or pick it up and place in a jar of soapy water.

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