7 Non-Toxic Ways to Keep Slugs and Snails Out of Your Garden

They're slimy, slithery and such a nuisance. See how you can keep slugs and snails from running roughshod over your garden.

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You may not see them often, but slugs and snails have a way of making their presence known. Eating up to six times their weight in plant material per night, these troublesome mollusks can leave your hostas (and other plants) looking like they’ve been raked by machine gun fire.

Although they’re most active in the evening, you can combat these pests any time of day with these strategies. Some methods are benign, simply dissuading slugs and snails from bothering your plants. Others may seem more extreme, but gardeners who value their plants won’t object even to those measures.

Beer Bash

Bury tuna fish cans or plastic yogurt cups up to their rims, then crack a beer and fill the cups (the older and more stale the beer, the better). Slugs and snails will be attracted to the yeasty aroma, fall in and drown. Replace the beer as needed.

Find an Edge

Sprinkle sharp sand, crushed eggshells (find more ways you can use eggshells in your garden) or diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms) around plants. The slimy creatures won’t want to cross over the sharp material to get to their buffet. Bonus: Diatomaceous earth is harmless to birds, bees and mammals and provides trace elements to the soil.

Ashes to Ashes

Slugs and snails also avoid wood ashes because of their alkalinity, so you can distribute wood ashes from the fireplace (but not from charcoal, which may contain chemicals) in the garden. Over time, ashes can increase the pH of the soil, so use sparingly.

Band Together

Although not cost effective for a large number of plants, copper bands can be placed around prized plants that are vulnerable to attack. When slugs slither across the copper band, the moisture in their slimy trail sets off an electrical current (similar to an electric shock) and keeps the pests from continuing their journey.

Set the Bait

Iron-phosphate baits are considered safe for wildlife but deadly for slugs and snails. According to Oregon State University Extension, iron-phosphate baits are just as effective as metaldehyde baits, but not toxic to pets and wildlife. The mollusks eat the bait, cease feeding and die within a few days. Some brand names include Sluggo and Garden Safe Slug & Snail Bait.

Search and Destroy

Use a flashlight to hunt for snails and slugs in the evening, about two hours after sunset. (If hunting during the day, look in shady, damp areas and beneath leaves and other garden debris.) When you find a slug or snail, shake some salt on it — a deadly ingredient that dehydrates the pest. Or pick it up and place in a jar of soapy water. While you’re at it, learn how to get rid of snails in an aquarium.

Attract and Kill

You can also set a trap by placing boards in shady areas of the garden where slugs and snails hide in the daytime. Lift up the boards, scrape off the pests and destroy. An alternate idea is to place inverted grapefruit rinds in problem areas of the garden. Turn them over in the morning, scrape out and destroy.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.