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Slug control: how to get rid of garden slugs & snails

Martyn Cox

There are many pests that cause problems in the garden or allotment, but none with a more voracious appetite than slugs and snails.

Garden snail
Garden snails can munch their way through new growth very quickly

These pesky molluscs enjoying eating the leaves of many garden plants and if left unchecked, will quickly strip a plant of all of its foliage.

Although you are unlikely to ever have a completely slug free garden, it is possible to reduce the damage they cause by using a variety of techniques to control them or to protect your plants by repelling slugs and snails.

Read our guide to keeping cats out of your garden

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Slug and snail traps

Many organic gardens use traps laced with beer to snare slugs. There are many products available, but generally they consist of a container with a lid that perches above, with a gap for the slugs to slide in. The well is baited with beer, which is irresistible to the pests that fall to a watery doom.

An alternative is to recycle grapefruit halves – once you’ve eaten the fruit, place the skins upside down in a border and check daily for slugs taken refuge underneath.

Slug pellets

Using chemical slug pellets is frowned upon by many, but they remain an extremely popular control with a large proportion of gardeners. If you do use slug pellets, follow the instructions on the packet and use frugally – a mulch of blue pellets across the soil should not be your aim. A first application of slug pellets in the second week of February usually works well, dispatching of many slugs and snails before they start breeding.


Nematodes are microscopic creatures that will seek out slugs in the soil, nematodes are supplied in packets that are mixed with water and applied to the ground through a watering can. Although they will not destroy large, surface living slugs, nematodes will kill young and small slugs in the soil, which is estimated to be about 90 percent of the population. Nematodes, such as Nemaslug Slug Killer, must be refrigerated and used before the expiry date.

Slug and snail barriers

Some gardeners try to protect precious plants with a natural slug repellent ‘moat’ of sharp gravel or crushed seashells to repel slugs and garden snails. However, I’ve had mixed results using these methods and have occasionally spotted a slug slithering happily across a gritty mulch that was supposed to deter it.

If you really want to protect a plant growing in the ground, try placing a copper ring around it – these are widely available, in different sizes, from garden centres and they repel any slug or snail that tries to crawl over it with a charge of static electricity. To work properly as a slug deterrent, these must be in firm contact with the ground and ensure that the leaves of the plant are not in contact with any others, or they will act like a bridge for the slug or snail to cross.

Plants in pots can be protected from slugs and snails with a band of copper tape stuck around the outside. Again, it is important that their leaves are not touching other plants and acting as a bridge for slugs and snails to cross.

Attracting wildlife that eat slugs and snails

Hedgehogs, newts, toads and some birds, such as song thrushes, love to eat slugs and snails, so it is a great idea to attract these beneficial creatures into your garden.

Probably the best way to attract them into the garden is to make a pond or boggy area, which they will use for drinking or as a place of refuge.

Ground beetles also eat slugs and sails and can be attracted by supplying safe areas for them to hide in, such as log piles, overgrown areas, bark mulch and piles of stones.

Read our guide to encouraging biodiversity in your garden

Go hunting

You can find a lot of slugs and snails by going hunting. Check under leaves, in upturned pots and even under garden furniture. Many gardeners swear by hunting at night – armed with a torch you will catch slugs and snails when they are at their most active.

Slug resistant hostas

Every gardener knows that slugs and snails love to eat hostas, but it possible to grow virtually hole free plants by choosing your varieties carefully. Those with thick leaves, such as H.‘Invincible’ and plants with blue leaves, like H.‘Halycon’ and H.sieboldiana var. elegans, tend to be more resistant to these hungry pests than others.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.