Snails in the garden

by Richard Jones

Due to the wet weather of the past week, I haven't been out in the garden much. The snails, however, have been very active; I can barely walk to the front gate without the familiar sound of snails crunching underfoot.

Snail - Helix aspersaDue to the wet weather of the past week, I haven't been out in the garden much. The snails, however, have been very active; I can barely walk to the front gate without the familiar sound of snails crunching underfoot.

Most of the plants we grow are pretty resilient to attacks from snails, so we tolerate them, to a point. When it comes to them defoliating my newly planted courgettes, or shredding the irises, I admit we resort to the little blue pellets.

 Snail - Helix aspersaThis extermination aside, I think snails can be very attractive creatures. Even the dreaded garden snail, Helix aspersa, can have beautiful markings on its mottled brown and beige shell. My girls used to spend hours collecting them into plastic tubs, sorting them into sizes and patterns, naming them, then racing them before letting them go behind the compost bin.

Snails can be educational too. Putting one on a pane of glass allows you to see the rippling muscles of the foot as the gastropod glides forward. Most people are perplexed to see that the ripples move forwards, towards the head end, rather than back, as the snail moves along.

 Snail with a scalariform shellI was recently shown a most peculiar snail from a garden in Aldershot. It had a very rare abnormality called a scalariform, from the Latin scalaria, meaning a flight of stairs. Instead of a tight whorl forming the usual globe shape, the helix is stretched out into a point.

Image of a snail pulling a cartI'm guessing that no matter how much I go on about snails, most people will regard them as a nuisance and a pest. But maybe this is because we haven't worked out a use for them in the garden. Perhaps this engraving of a snail dragging a cart (pictured, left) will enthuse someone to put snails to work, instead of just letting them devour plants in the herbaceous border. In case you can't read the small print, the caption reads: "Helix pomatia drawing a burthen of over nine pounds (four kilogrammes). (Reproduced, by permission, from L'Illustration, April 13, 1901)."

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Gardeners' World Web User 01/01/2008 at 00:00

Well some interesting comments above, I have had huge problems with my potted herbs especially the tender leaves of my basil... which have now been consumed by an army of snails. I have put copper round the pots, but this has not stopped the little buggers and have now resorted to extermination... its either my tender young cabbages or the snails!

I'm going to try scraping a decent slice of topsoil of the the edges where they seem to congregate in the hope of destroying or certainly disarming the hidden problem of snail eggs. I'll let you all know if it helps.

Gardeners' World Web User 15/07/2008 at 11:22

I have had a lot of slug and snail damage to my crops this year on my allotment. I tried egg shells and coffee grounds, but in the end I had to use slug pellets . I tried to buy organic pellets from a local garden centre but was told they did not stock them. On one of the Gardeners World programms Monty Don told us about some pellets which were Organic and they were advertised in the magazine. So I rang up the company and ordered some. So far they seem to be working, as the plants I have treated with them are still going strong. Thank you Monty. Eve.

Gardeners' World Web User 15/07/2008 at 16:39

I too have problems with slugs + snails, as i have a lot of frogs in the garden which i love dearly, i can't use pellets as i don't want to poison the wildlife! so i go out at dusk, or later with a torch and hand pick all the slugs + snails and each night there are dozens of them and they seem faster then too, i find them munching on my lily flowers and my Dalilas. at this time all the frogs are out as well. magical!!

Gardeners' World Web User 15/07/2008 at 18:52

I throw mine onto the garage roof so that the birds can get them!

Gardeners' World Web User 16/07/2008 at 21:19

This last month snails and slugs have reeked havoc in my garden eating most the leaves of my sunflowers giant singles,they've stripped them bare from bottom to top at first i tried beer traps but they just turned their noses up at the offer then i bought pellets still to no avail,they seem to weave in a out of like michael schumaker on a race track knowing were every obstacle is then i just try to slow them down by putting them in the middle of my tonne bag of sand i have left over from my patio but they seem to think its a game and play leep frog over each other can someone help

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