Consider the snail. In fact, if snails are a problem in your garden, you need to consider the snail, unless you wish your lettuces and other soft new growth to vanish down their gullets. Because snails have a secret weapon - they somehow hypnotise us into forgetting about them.
It is incredibly easy to destroy a snail, so simple that until you consider the matter, it's hard to know why humans have not pushed snails into extinction like far larger and fiercer creatures. Want to destroy a snail? Lift foot up, put foot down, and listen to the "crunch". Ex-snail. Snails are also attracted to all kinds of baits that can hide snail poisons. Snails are even more attracted to the baits than your lettuces - but we either fail to bait them, or liberally scatter bait all over the garden and forget about it, where it may well kill non-target species. Non-target species may eat the dead snails and die too. Nor is the "scatter and forget" snail bait method effective for long, as the pellets get soaked in the rain. We have had a lot of that lately.
Once again, it's fairly easy to prevent bait destruction and targeting other species. Place the snail bait at one end of a large plastic ice-cream container. (Eat the ice-cream first). Tape down the lid. Cut a small snail door - make sure there is no sharp lip - then place it, and several like it, in the garden. The snails will slime their way inside the smooth plastic floor - much more luxurious than the bare dirt in your garden - eat the proffered bait, and die there in the container. A long piece of polypipe can do the same duty, and also looks more professional, and less like you've been having ice-cream orgies in the flower beds and cabbages.
Snails can also be destroyed by "The English method" - go out at night in gumboots and stomp. Offer kids five cents a snail and tell them they like to cluster in clumps of agapanthus or under railings. Rub an outer cabbage leaf with dripping and leave it outside for the snails to shelter under - or for the possums to enjoy as a midnight snack.
You can also brew a cauldron of "snail soup" - definitely not for drinking, even with added garlic. Keep a lid on to stop the dog from sampling it too. Place snails in a bucket, at least two cups. Add 12 cups of water and a pinch of yeast. Leave to ferment. Spray the resulting liquid on whatever you want to keep snail-free. This both repels snails and kills them in a form of biological warfare. It may also repel guests and your family as you brew or use it.
There is one problem with any method of killing snails - young ones emerge when the population of older ones decline. Your snail destruction is simply stimulating snail population growth.
Snails may also move slowly, but they can travel a fair distance in a few hours i.e. from next door's garden into yours, and have it munched by morning. In other words, no matter how many snails you exterminate, there will be more.
Plant protection is the answer - a snail guard around the garden, either made of metal or from a series of cut up plastic boxes. You need about 30cm on one end to thrust into the ground, leaving a tick-shape corner pointing outwards from the garden at the top. The snails will climb up the fence and be unable to get over the tick. They may, however, shelter there and can be crunched each morning.
I like using coffee grounds, chopped up hair, or shell grit around seedlings to stop snails reaching them. Shell grit lasts longer. Coffee is a good fertiliser, but if you use too much on young seedlings you will kill them faster than the snails will. You can also buy, or make, snail guards for the trunks of rose bushes or other trees or shrubs where snails have made a reservation to dine.
But the long-term and only true solution to a garden's snail problem is to encourage snail eaters. Humans are included in the "snail eater" category, but only if you know how to purge them of anything toxic they may have eaten. Feed them bread or bran for weeks, then cook for hours before their final preparation. This makes them not just delicious but safe to eat. Do not eat a snail without due process.
Many birds love eating snails, though it may take them a while to learn they exist, as snails are not conspicuous. We had a kookaburra who became a sudden snail convert and would drop one after another onto the paving from the pergola, then gulp down the delicacy from the shell, then fly off to find another. Blue tongue lizards adore snails. So do bush rats - and introduced black rats. Compost heaps make a lovely haven for blue tongue lizards, warmly decomposing even in cold springs, to waken the lizards to their snail eating duty.
There are possibly almost as many snail cures as there are gardeners. We each have our preferred method. But the most important of all is to remember the enemy is out there, slithering through the night and after your seedlings, and to attend to them before your seedlings vanish.
This week I am:
- Feeding everything whenever we have intervals of sunshine.
- Picking the first gladioli of the season, including some bright red seedings of last year's yellow-and-red-striped gladdies;
- Trying to remember to weed around the young trees so they don't get strangled by grass and vetch.
- Watching the best blooming of agapanthus we have ever had.
- Picking bottlebrush for the vases and apologising to the bees.
- Cutting back the trees and bushes that survived the drought, but have now grown a healthy crop of fungi on trunks, branches or roots. This means they are rotting, and this year, next year or sometime soon they are going to fall, probably at the most inconvenient time possible. Sadly, and for safety's sake, they have to go.