Snail and slug control

Page last updated: Tuesday, 5 July 2022 - 11:01am

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Pest snails and slugs damage plant seeds, seedlings, underground tubers, leaves and fruit. Damage to seedlings often results in the death of the plant, which means major production losses.

This web article looks at methods of lessening snail and slug damage using cultural, chemical and biological controls.

Control methods

The most effective control of pests involves a combination of cultural, chemical and biological measures. Set a long-term goal to reduce slug and snail pests, rather than relying on a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to an immediate problem.

Cultural control

Snails and slugs live in areas where abundant ground cover and vegetation provides ideal moisture levels and shelter. This is why they can be a problem on the edge of a crop with a weedy fenceline. Good hygiene, weed control and removal of refuges can reduce the problem over time. Be aware, though, that pest problems may increase in the short term after this process, as the pests will no longer have the weeds for food or shelter.

A group of snails causing damage to canola.
Snail damage on canola.

Cultivation of the ground not only kills pests directly, but provides a sterile habitat from which survivors flee. A short fallow period can improve this effect. Good hygiene will improve the value of other methods, especially baiting.

Some desirable agricultural and gardening practices can regrettably also aid pest molluscs. Minimum tillage and straw-retention techniques can help these pests survive and make seedlings more susceptible to damage. Increasing the organic content of the soil and mulching also helps to increase its moisture content and this makes it more attractive to slugs and snails and provides them with more food as they eat soil organic matter.