Slugs and Snails in the Vegetable Garden

pepper snail damage

It’s August and everybody’s vegetable gardens crank out delicious organic food. Yum-oh! But sometimes gardeners find holes in the middle of the leaves of their vegetable crops. Large holes. Many of them. Who’s the culprit? Caterpillars? Grasshoppers? Beetles?  Or maybe snails!

snail slime trail

Snails and slugs both glide through your garden on a ribbon of slime, the shiny, sparkly stuff the snail in the photo above is leaving behind. At bottom left you can see the slime glistening on the ground. These animals are mollusks, related to oysters, clams, and octopus.

pepper snail slime

A trail of dried slime across the large hole in this green pepper is the definitive clue. A snail or slug definitely made this hole. Anytime you find holes in the leaves or fruit of your vegetable plants look for slime. Slime, this incontrovertible evidence tells you who to blame. And then you know how to fix it.


tomato slug

If you catch the buggers red-handed in the act of destroying your produce you don’t even have to search for evidence. This slug has just devoured the side of a friend’s tomato. Yuk!

cabbage snail

But often, you can’t catch them in the act because they hide in the heat of the day. They come out at night, on overcast days, during rain storms, or when the sprinklers come on. They like it cool and wet and they hide under boards and pots – in any cool, shady, damp place where they can survive the mid-day sun and heat.

chard snail

You can go out into the garden at night with a flashlight and hand pick snails easily. Just pick them up by the shell put them in a brown paper bag. Then you can step on it to crush the critters and bury it in your compost. Slugs, however, have no shells and are too slimy to pick up. Because slugs and snails hide during the day you can also make traps for them and that way you don’t have to go out at night with a flashlight. Put upside-down flower pots around your garden. They’ll hide inside them where you can easily harvest and destroy them in daytime comfort.

tomato slug

Iron phosphate controls these mollusks in the garden. You’ll find it under the brand name Sluggo. Iron phosphate is not toxic to pets, children, or birds. It also has no effect on insects. It kills mollusks and only mollusks. Slugs and snails eat it and they die.

 Older style, toxic, non-organic slug bait uses a poison called metaldehyde. Metaldehyde is poisonous to your pets, your kids, and wildlife. Avoid it.

 Some people swear by beer to kill slugs and snails. You’re supposed to put a shallow bowl of beer out in the garden, the slugs and snails are attracted by the odor, crawl into the beer and drown. Maybe I just don’t do it right but it’s never worked for me. 

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