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Marauding Mollusks

My least favorite garden pest is the snail. This is odd, considering my favorite aquarium pet is a snail. Maybe it's because the aquarium snails don't eat my garden! Not native to California, snails were brought here by European settlers planning to serve Escargot. A few of the slippery fellows slid away, and the rest is history. We are inundated.

Toxic Snail Bait not being a choice, alternative methods of abatement are many. Clearing the garden of hiding places will help keep the populations down. Some (who wish to not harm any living thing) go snail hunting at night to hand pick, and move them to another location. How far would one have to move the little munchers to keep them from returning like homing pigeons? Those with less scruples, who don’t mind a little Snail Karma on their hands, place them in zip-lock bags to be toted away in the trash. If you are into recycling, place snails into a paper bag, crush, and toss into the compost bin.

Like any other garden maintenance chore, snail hunting needs to be regularly repeated. Snails are hermaphrodites. Both male and female, they impregnate each other. Each one then produces up to 100 eggs. I have noticed that when I venture out at night, I inadvertently step on snails. What an easy disposal method! One might purposely walk back and forth crunching hundreds every night. Do not try this in Sandals, though!

Although a common remedy for killing snails is table salt, it is certainly not good for your garden, making the soil too alkaline. So, put the shaker away. I wonder if Epsom Salts would work?

Use a spray bottle containing a mixture of 1/2 vinegar and 1/2
water. When the snails came out to crunch, I gave 'em a good squirt, and they fizzled up in the same way they do when you salt them. The next morning, I noticed the ants quickly finishing them off. I wonder why this works. Isn't vinegar acidic? Is it good for the soil or plants? Would sunlight shining on a vinegar sprayed area cause a burn? Why did the vinegar have no effect on the ants? Some birds are supposed to be fond of snails. If they had a vinegar flavored snack would it be harmful? I swept up the carcasses and dumped them into my compost bin.

Copper is a very effective snail control. But, completely fencing one's yard with copper wire would be costly. Would throwing a copper powder unto the soil work? Copper stripping wrapped around trunks of fruit trees, flower pots, and at the base of any planting boxes where vegetation needs protection would help. Copper is effective for snail control because it produces an electric current that zaps the marauding mollusks. Does it destroy them or just deter them? Copper from an Auto Salvage shop or plumbing supply store would be as effective.

A well known method is beer traps, (which seem to work more on slugs than snails). Do not spray beer on snails! It is not the alcohol that attracts them, but the yeast. If that is the case, then why not snare snails with yeast cake? The idea is to place a dish of beer at soil level so they can crawl into the beer and drown themselves. Of course, the next morning, if you have been successful in attracting them, you will have slimy snail beer soup. Dispose at your discretion. I have also heard of using grape juice instead of beer. Does grape juice contain yeast? Has anyone produced effective results with this method?

Snails travel by "foot". This organ is quite delicate which is why they produce slime to travel upon. Any scratchy, sharp material will cut them so they will avoid such areas. Make their path too prickly with rough materials such as sand, gravel, wood ashes, crushed egg shells, or diatomaceous earth. Even bird grit available from pet shops, is useful.  Apply a thick layer of mulch such as pine, spruce needles, or cedar chips. Or use your own "foot" to stomp them out. The USDA suggests using Quackgrass (Agropyron Repens) as a mulch, to eradicate snails. Grow a patch of Quackgrass, cut some, let it dry, chop into small pieces and spread lightly around your plantings. Be careful about using this choice, as it can damage some plants.

The newest discovery is used coffee grounds. Aside from it being a great organic material to add to your soil, it is an effective snail deterrent. Most Coffee Houses will gladly give you their grounds. Spread it generously around your plants, and Snail, be gone!

Originally written for and published by the Monterey Bay Master Gardener's 
by Elizabeth Munroz

The aquatic golden snail lives in my aquarium. The other two were in the garden.

For the Wonder of a Tree

She stands
With breezes teasing
Long leaves dripping after rain
Named Willow,
an old and venerable one
verdant in the summer sun
She survives

Spending winter naked
Withdrawing into herself
to her roots
She hibernated
And slept while cold death
Bit at her branches
Yet she lives

By some miracle
She awoke
At the appointed time
The mystery
Known only to her
and her mother, Nature

She revels in this season
Shading all who pass by
Bending to the winds
In a private dance
The two repeat together
She’s a feast for the eyes
Against the turquoise skies

Yet she weeps

by Elizabeth Munroz