Slugs and Snails

- Slugs & snails can cause a lot of damage -

Summary: Slugs and snails can be important pests in the garden and landscape. They are most common in wet climates but snails can be a problem in warm and dry climates as well. These critters feed on plants by shredding tender leaves and flowers so combined with their "slime trails" the damage they do is easily recognized.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

This page can help you get rid of slugs and snails from your garden and landscape. Slugs and snails are terrestrial (land) mollusks, related to clams and shellfish. The difference between the two is snails have an external shell while slugs do not. Both are garden pests in wet climates where they shred plants, especially tender leaves, with rasping-type "teeth".

In the US slug and snails are most important on the west coast and in southern states. Plant damage is usually ragged and irregular, leaves appear shredded. Often distinctive "slime trails" can be found that mark where the critters crawled the night before as well.

Outside the garden, slugs and snails actually do beneficial things. They recycle organic matter helping to build soils and they are important prey for other wildlife. Inside the garden and landscape, however, slugs and snails can do considerable damage and often must be controlled.

grey garden slug
grey garden slug (about 1/2" long)

The lives of slugs and snails

Depending on species, slugs and snails need one or two years to complete a generation. Some species lay eggs in spring, some lay eggs in fall, some at both times. Immature slugs and snails occur in the spring and fall when temperatures are relatively high and the ground is wet.

Spring and fall are also the best times to control both slugs and snails. Feeding generally occurs at night. In the morning slime trails can often be seen where slugs and snails were the night before. Currently the best control for garden slugs and snails are the low toxicity, iron phosphate-based slug baits such as Sluggo (tm); see Using Slug and Snail Baits.

Slugs and snails need hiding places

Because slugs and snails need relatively damp conditions, they are experts at finding hiding places where they can shelter during warm days. They hide under all sorts of debris and even seek shelter in cracks in the soil during dry periods. Rock piles are especially good breeding areas but rock piles also support populations of natural slug and snail predators like garter snakes; see How to Control Slugs and Snails for current recommendations.

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