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In the Garden

More Potent Ideas for Snail Wars

Readers Offer Nonpoisonous Solutions Ranging From Chickens to Hungry Turtles and a Spritz of Ammonia

April 08, 1999|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

I've heard from several people with interesting additions to my column (March 18) on nonpoisonous controls for pesky slugs and snails. Some may strike you as brutal, but when it comes to snails, even the most kindhearted gardener gets downright murderous--especially when the weekend's planting efforts are gone by Monday.

Ammonia Snail Guns

One reader wrote: "I often go after them one on one, with a squirt bottle loaded with household ammonia. One squirt is all it takes. Only a few plants have been sensitive to the ammonia."

Actually, the recommended mix in that six-gun squirt bottle is half ammonia and half water, and the liquid will not harm the soil. Half vinegar and half water also works.

Ornamental Chicken

A reader heralded her "free-range chicken, by far the best snail control I have found."

She added: "Not only was our Leghorn, named Dingbat, fastidious about snails and slugs, she was also an attractive garden ornament, particularly when she perched on the birdbath for refreshment."

Tortoises Too

Several readers reminded me that I forgot box tortoises and turtles as one of the most efficient snail predators.

Said one: "They'll gobble up every snail and slug in sight." But he cautioned, "Only problem is if you also have a large dog (who will chew on the turtles)."

Still another said his box tortoise had cleaned out his yard and the neighbors' on both sides.

Another reader wrote that her pet tortoise named Chauncey the Gardener "so far has shown no interest in any of the plants growing in my yard. She turns up her beak at lettuce, tomatoes and other offerings."

As I recall, however, a tortoise I had loved my lettuce.

This reader continued: "I got her explicitly for snail control. She hibernates in winter and is currently still below ground. . . . I expect to see her in mid-April. In midsummer, when the snail population has dwindled from the heat, she becomes somewhat dormant as well. I'm thinking of sending her to 'summer camp' at a friend's house when my snail and slug supply is gone for the season.

"It makes for good entertainment to watch Chauncey 'stalking' a snail," she added. "There's a sort of Zen to it; you have to be very patient, as the whole drama is acted out in very slow motion!"

Another reader has a small pond with turtles (red-eared sliders), so he tosses the snails in the pond where the "turtles tear them apart and the fish eat the bits."

Nonpoisonous Bait

Nursery manager Ron Vanderhoff, at Roger's Gardens in Corona del Mar, told me that another nonpoisonous bait containing organic iron phosphate is about to hit the market, probably in a few weeks.

It will be similar to the Escar-Go! mentioned, but will be available at retail nurseries. It's to be called Sluggo and will be made by Monterey Lawn and Garden Products of Fresno (on the Web at http://www.montereylawngarden.com).

Sluggo will be packaged in 2 1/2-pound containers. One pound will bait 1,000 square feet.

Pine-Needle Barrier

Another reader wrote that she has found pine needles to be an excellent barrier against slugs and snails.

"A friend of mine told me to gather pine needles from the park and lay them around the beds, wherever there was exposed dirt."

It apparently works. "I never have to use any poison and the garden did not have to look egg-shell ugly." (A layer of crushed eggshells is another barrier.)

"In one bed I used long needles; in another, short. It did not seem to matter."

Susceptible Plants

Finally, one reader mentioned that he keeps damage to a minimum by growing only certain plants.

"For instance, slugs and snails will devour red English primroses," he said, "but leave the yellow and dark blue alone. Agapanthus are pretty for a month but are nurseries for slugs and snails and are not worth the trouble. Clivia are almost as bad, but I do love their orange blast, but slugs also love the blossoms. Even tastier are amaryllis. Gerbera daisies are tasty if red, but are more left alone if a different color."

He recommends growing only what snails don't like.

In the Garden is published Thursdays. Write to Robert Smaus, SoCal Living, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; fax to (213) 237-4712; or e-mail to robert.smaus@latimes.com.

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