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Robert Smaus

Next Spring's Snail Wars: The Gardener Strikes Back

November 21, 1987|Robert Smaus

Frankly, I lost the battle with snails this past spring and summer. Now that cooler weather is upon us, I intend to rethink my strategy so that when the snails become active again in spring, I am ready.

I am investigating the newest arms technology and have ordered several packages of Snail Barr. This is a barrier of copper strips, with lips you bend over, and they are supposedly uncrossable.

"They work because the snails and slugs receive a mild shock that deters them from proceeding when their skin comes in contact with copper." That is the explanation given by the Natural Gardening Co., 27 Rutherford Ave., San Anselmo, Calif. 94960, (415) 456-5060. Since no batteries are included, I assume the shock is delivered by natural ground currents.

These strips can be attached to the trunks of trees, which should keep the snails out of the nearby lemon tree and large abutilon, as long as no branch touches the ground to provide the snails with a ladder to scale my fortification. The strips can also be connected end to end to make a Maginot Line around tender seedlings, which I hope will not be as easy to outflank. About $11 will buy you 20 feet of barrier; about $43 will provide you with 100 feet, enough to encircle an entire vegetables bed.

Bringing In the Troops

With these defense works installed, I plan to enlist mercenaries. These are the famed predator snails, or decollate snails. When I first heard of these snails, I was very skeptical because it sounded too good to be true, but now that I know more of their mercenary habits I am prepared to hire on a few hundred, though my initial suspicions turned out to be true.

The latest word on these snails is that they do not seek out ordinary garden snails and destroy them with single-mindedness. They simply occupy the same niche in the garden. That is, they replace the garden snails in the local ecology. If they ate the same things, or as much, they would be no better than the garden snails, but because they are scavengers, they eat all sorts of things and do much less damage to your plants, though they have been known to eat a tender seedling or two.

With this knowledge, I plan to keep them outside the copper Maginot Line, and I have an ace in the hole should they rebel--ordinary snail bait is even more effective on the decollate snail than on the garden snail.

Here are some sources and phone numbers for decollate snails: Foothill Agricultural Research, (714) 371-0120; J. Harold Mitchell Co., (818) 287-1101; Pacific Tree Farms, (619) 422-2400; and Rincon-Vitova Insectaries (805) 643-5407.

Of course, while they are becoming established, I will have to cease using snail baits, but then I plan to set traps.

The University of California favors this method of snail eradication, and Ted Fisher of UC Riverside gets the credit for inventing it. One builds these traps from ordinary 1-by-12-inch boards, about 15 inches long. At each end, nail a runner of 1-by-2-inch lumber, on edge. These hold the board just above the ground. Now comes the difficult part for the squeamish. Rub a few crushed snails on the underside of the board. This carnage will attract other snails.

Set the board in a shady, damp area near where snails are feeding. Every five or six days, pick up the board to see what you have lured underneath, and crush them, but do so thoroughly because fly maggots grow inside decaying snail shells.

Between the decollate snails, the copper defense works and the sneaky traps, I think I can avoid the use of poisonous baits, which will mean that I am not only winning the war against snails but am abiding by the Geneva Convention.

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