Helping plants survive slugs and snails

P. Brook

Gardeners often ask Wild About Gardens advisors (WAGAs) how they can protect their plants from slugs and snails without using harmful chemicals, and still encourage the wildlife that feeds on them such as hedgehogs and thrushes.

In this blog, we share WAGAs’ tips for helping your plants survive hungry slugs and snails if natural predators are not keeping them in check. You can have a flower-filled garden and grow vegetables without resorting to poisons to protect the plants. The key to controlling anything you might regard as a pest is to have the right plant in the right place. Healthy plants have the best chance of growing faster than a slug can eat them! Apart from this general principle, everything else is variable as each gardener works in different conditions.

Soil type, the dryness or dampness of your garden, the weather and your own style of gardening will influence how many slugs and snails you have. We like dense planting because it is good for wildlife, including slugs and snails which are such an important part of the food chain. You will need to experiment to discover which of the tips from WAGAs work for you.  

The warm, dry spring weather has helped plants survive the voracious slugs in our garden. We generally focus on plants that are naturally resistant to slugs but have been delighted by how well a few borderline cases have done this year. 

Pulmonaria

Pulmonaria, an excellent early source of pollen and nectar, has done unusually well in our garden this year - P Brook

In less sunny years, there are practical things you can do to help plants that may struggle to survive slug attacks. Try putting susceptible plants away from dense cover where slugs will thrive. We grow our most susceptible flowering plants in pots on our paved area or on the garden table. We successfully grow lettuce in the greenhouse. We think slugs are deterred by the long slither to dinner.

Delosperma

Delosperma surviving slugs in a pot on our garden table - P. Brook

Starting plants off in a greenhouse and growing them to a good size gives them a head start on slugs. Plants tend to be wonderfully lush and attractive to slugs when they first come out of the greenhouse, so it’s worth toughening them up before putting them in the border or vegetable plot. We keep an eye on the weather forecast and try to plant out when growing conditions will be good and avoid cool, damp conditions that will encourage slug activity. If despite all this care a plant is being demolished by slugs and snails, it’s worth digging it up and growing it on until it is large enough to withstand the slugs, usually about a foot tall. In the case of runner bean plants, we try to have a few spares just in case! 

gardening

Runner bean plant which will be at least a foot tall before we risk planting it at the allotment  - P Brook

Slugs and snails tend to be more active at night so it may help to water plants in the morning rather than the evening. Some people use barriers against slugs; WAGAs’ experience of these is variable but the Royal Horticultural Society is a good source of information. Many WAGAs cope with slugs and snails by growing wildlife-friendly plants, mainly perennials, that survive them naturally. In future blogs, we will share information about some of our favourite slug-resistant plants.