5 Reasons Snails Are In Your Garden (And How To Remove Them)

Snail On A Stem In A Garden

Love them or hate them, snails are found on every continent on Earth! They will almost always exist in places where there are lush green plants and moisture, like our gardens! Due to their famously slow pace, they often don’t move more than ten feet or so from where they are born.  

Snails target soft, new leaves on your garden plants, which can greatly hinder plant growth. Gardens provide an easy source of food and moist shelter, which snails thrive in. To keep snails out of your garden, use snail traps, water in the morning, use physical barriers, and hand collect them.

While you’ll probably never have a garden free of snails (unless if you grow cacti in the desert!), read on to learn about some creative and effective ways to remove them from your garden.

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Snails Are In Your Garden Because They Love Shady & Moist Places

If you’ve even gone for a garden stroll after the rain, or when nature is covered in morning dew, then you have likely seen dozens of these gastropods grazing and traveling. During the hotter and drier hours of the day, snails will hunker down in a moist, shady location to conserve valuable moisture.  

Snails will leave their shady retreat in droves when their surroundings are wet. They are often observed leaving their hiding spot to travel to a new location that has just been watered. Watering your garden in the evening will delight the snail population in the garden!

Snails are mostly nocturnal, meaning that they are most active during the cool and damp conditions at night. During the day they can be found in nearly any dark corner near the garden. Remember, they’re not going to travel far from a dependable food source!

Snails are often found under loose items on the ground, such as fallen leaves, wood, bark pieces, straw, even flat stones. If you have any old cinder blocks lying around, they can be found hiding inside of them as well!

In nature, snails do a tremendous job improving soil fertility by transforming organic substances. From an ecological point of view, snails help improve soil structure and are great decomposers. We can thank snail slime for that since it plays an important role in decomposition!

Snails Are Searching Your Garden For Food

Helix pomatia. grape snail eats green leaves. mollusc and invertebrate.

We know that snails eat all kinds of things from experience, don’t we? I’ve witnessed snails eating garden produce growing in the garden, banana peels in the compost, mushrooms in the yard, even a decomposing small rodent that a cat caught and left outside.  

They are found in bushes, on flower stems, and even can be found grazing on flower petals. If the shade-loving plant called Hosta is a favorite plant of yours, it probably comes as no surprise that this lush, leafy perennial is a favorite of snails as well.  

With so much variety in the diet, snails should have a great chance of survival if one collects them in the morning and then relocates them somewhere else with shady, moist areas with plants. Wouldn’t you agree? Every time I find a snail eating a strawberry at harvest time, or freshly sprouted lettuce plants are feeding the snail population, I feel reaffirmed that relocation is the right thing to do.

Snails Are Attracted To Scents In Your Garden

Snails use their sense of smell to find their way to food or even move away from predators. They can sense sources of food ten or more feet away, which matches perfectly with what a normal range of habitat is!

The lower tentacles on either side of the snail’s mouth stretch out in front of the snail as it moves. These tentacles have smell and taste receptors that enable them to find food by scent.

Due to this, snails can often find themselves in and near our homes, as we can often leave out food that smells delicious to them. If you are having troubles with snails coming into your home, check out this article on 4 Reasons Why Snails And Slugs Come Into Your House!

Since snails don’t see well or hear, their sense of smell is their most important sense. They can smell the new seedlings in the garden, so be prepared to protect them!

Snails Are Attracted To Your Garden’s Soil

Snails are most known for diverse diets, their spiral shells, and slow movement. With these features, snails have developed some very interesting adaptations to survive. They live on every continent on Earth, including in the ocean and freshwater!

Snails are, however, very sensitive to drought and cold temperatures. To survive drought, snails will retreat to a moist, shady location if they are able, and hide inside their shell until moisture and warmth return.

Snails employ the same method to protect themselves from cold winter months in your garden, although they will often burrow into the soil or leaf litter of your garden. They seal themselves off and settle into hibernation until warmer days.

They produce a slimy gel that will seal off the opening of their shell to conserve moisture and stay in your garden to wait for the drought to be over. Snails in the arid zone of Central Australia can wait out a drought for a decade or more!

Snails Are In Your Garden To Reproduce

Cherry snails are laying pink eggs on branches in natural water / rural areas

Due to snail’s small radius of habitat in your garden, coupled with their slow movement, the chance of finding a mate can be slim. Being a hermaphrodite can be a real advantage for the snail. Hermaphrodite means that any given snail can be both a male and female at the same time. This allows them to reproduce without a mate. 

They will lay already fertilized eggs about two inches beneath the soil. Small, intact snails will emerge from the tiny eggs. During a snail’s 2-5 year life span, they can breed up to five times a year in ideal conditions. They lay around 30-50 eggs and cover them with slime to help preserve moisture before hatching a few weeks later. 

Since a garden is an ideal place for snails to live, your garden will ALSO be a breeding ground for snail reproduction due to the moisture and food it can provide.

How To Remove Snails From Your Garden

There are many different methods in which you can remove and repel snails from your garden. Below are some of the main methods that are the most common/useful for home gardeners!

Attract Snail Predators To Your Garden

If you’re not actively participating in your backyard ecology, you should be! Integrated Pest Management keeps pests at bay while also keeping the natural ecosystem in better balance. 

A snail’s most vulnerable time in its life cycle is soon after they have hatched from their egg. Predators of young snails that you will want to attract to your garden include birds, beneficial insects, and toads. 

Building a toad habitat looks a lot like making new hiding places for snails! This could also come in handy for hand collecting snails for relocation. By building small little cool, dark caves in dark corners of the garden may attract toads.  Use stones, large pieces of bark, or wood in your habitat-building endeavors.

Even though certain birds, like thrushes, will eat snails, there have been studies that have proven that young snails will survive bird digestion. The result is the snails get transported to other places in the bird’s habitat when excreted.

Some insect predators of the snail include beetles and their larvae, millipedes, and even other snails! By using few to no chemicals in the garden, the likelihood of beneficial insects already living in the garden is greatly increased!

Make Traps To Remove Snails

a beer trap to catch snails

Admittedly, the method of snail trapping and hand collecting demands the home gardener to be very “hands-on” with snail bodies. If you’re not too queasy about snails, these two methods used together can be effective in reducing your garden’s snail population.

Snails are attracted to the yeast in beer. When the beer is placed in a shallow container, snails (and slugs) will crawl into the dish and drown. Simply dump the contents of the container in your compost bin, and those snail shells will eventually break down to add beneficial minerals to your soil.

In my opinion, when a gardener goes to the store to buy cheap, light beer for their snails, one has graduated to a new class of gardener. You are now serious about pest management!

Try using Beslands 5 Piece Snail BoxThe benefit of this engineered product is that it has a lid on top that will protect the beer bait inside from getting diluted when watering. This is a package of 5 traps, which allows you to spread them around the garden, or place them around a problem area that the snails are causing some damage.

Using this bait method requires one to check, dump and refill the traps at least once a week to stay diligent.

Hand collecting snails is my favorite way to get snails out of my garden. It’s not as gross as you’d think since it is easy to pick them up by their shells and just drop them in a bucket. Plus, it allows you to have a short visit with them, before transporting them somewhere far from your garden. They are very interesting creatures!

Ready to go on a snail hunt? Grab a bucket, a pair of gloves if you prefer, and start visiting all the little shady, moist corners of the garden habitat. 

If you’re not sure where to look, it is easy to create spaces for them to hide. Simply place aboard in a shady, moist location in the garden area and be sure it’s propped up a little so there is room for them to hide underneath.  It’s just too easy after that!

Next, just flip the board over to find your garden’s snail collection waiting for the next ride out of the garden!

Put Up Physical Barriers To Keep Snails Away

The barrier method works in a few ways. It will either physically stop snails from entering your garden or growing space, or it can be a barrier around a specific plant or area.

Popular home gardening methods include creating a barrier by using dry, gritty substances that the snails won’t want to crawl over. Examples of this may include collecting and crushing eggshells, dry sand, or crushed oyster shells.  

In laboratory experiments, barriers using hydrated lime and sulfur were effective measures for reduced feeding; but not wood ash, diatomaceous earth or fumed silica. Copper foil only delayed passage and wasn’t an effective control.

The good news here is that all those items will provide macro and micronutrients to your soil! However, if your garden soil is heavy clay, I’d steer away from adding sand and aim instead for eggshells, lime, or oyster shells.

Crushed Oyster Shell Flour can be bought in a 20-pound bag and is crushed to a smaller size for soil building, so it will provide a slow release of nutrients over time. It claims to regulate soil pH, improve fertilizer uptake, and improve soil tilth. Bonus! It may also attract birds to your garden, as they appreciate this grit for their gizzards. 

Hydrated Lime (Technical Grade) is a product used for several things in the garden, such as treating blight, cleaning solution for a greenhouse, and invertebrate control. It is a fine powder that for snail control would be sprinkled around plants needing protection.

Heliciculture is the process of farming FOR snails to sell as escargot. In these instances, farmers don’t want to lose any snails, since they are being grown for profit. They call their growing area an ‘island’ since they often will place a barrier of water surrounding the snails to prevent their escape!

Get Rid Of Snails By Cultivating A Soil Habitat

In the 2007 Pacific Northwest Insect Management Handbook, it is recommended to cultivate garden soil with a disc, plow, or even rototillers. This will crush, bury and disrupt their pathways while also removing their food.

It stated that “Plowing followed by disking can be sufficiently effective so that no further control is needed”. 

In milder climates, snail eggs can overwinter until the spring, so this method would also be effective in disrupting the next generation lies in waiting!  

Get Rid Of Snails By Placing Bad Tasting Foods

Snails eat with their foot, which is also their mouth. This is a rasping tongue full of horny teeth made of chiton used to scrape off food particles. If you have ever let a snail crawl over your skin, you probably felt the rasping sensation!

Snails don’t see well, can’t hear a thing, but the senses of taste and smell are their most developed trait!  

By capitalizing on this strong sense could be the smartest thing to do! By applying bad tasting and bad-smelling substances to your plants (remember, this is from a snail’s point of view!) then your seedlings never have to get destroyed by that rasping tongue again!

Check out Exterminators Choice Slug and Snail Spray that is made of 3 ingredients: Pine oil, Cedar oil, and water. Apply easily and quickly every 2-4 weeks to garden plants to keep the most common slugs and snails away from your garden. 

Apply directly to leaves or around the base of a plant; or if you’re maintaining a barrier around a garden, spray along the edge. Imagine having a border of crushed oyster shells, sprayed with a snail spray! That sounds like a great defense!

Keep Snails Away By Watering In The Morning

Lawn sprinkler with a lot of copy-space and sun shining from back side

Snails are mostly nocturnal, meaning that they often search for food at night when temperatures are cooler, and their environment is moister. Don’t believe me? Take an evening walk or very early morning walk outside to your garden with a flashlight and peek around!

It shouldn’t take much investigating to turn you into a believer! I remember one-morning seeing snails atop my peony flowers, sliming all over my lettuce patch, and devouring fresh snap peas on the vine.  

For being slow movers, they certainly won’t skip the opportunity for ease of traveling when the environment is moist! When snails crawl around, they produce their own ‘road surface’ with the slime they excrete that also becomes a pathway that other snails will utilize!

Many ‘how to’ books will instruct the home gardener to water their gardens in the evening, especially during hot summer days. In theory, this is a fine method, as it will charge your plants up with hydration after a hot stressful day. In practice though, by drenching your garden in the evenings, you are creating the ideal habitat for snails (and slugs) to move around your garden with ease.

If you’re an evening waterer with no plans to change I offer this suggestion from a book titled “Pests of the Garden and Small Farm; A Grower’s Guide to Using Less Pesticide.” It suggests planting your crops in small groupings, with a trench around them to add water directly to the soil. This allows you to fill the trench with water in the evening, wetting only the soil, not the plants.

If you’re able, try to water your gardens in the morning, at least a couple of hours before the heat of the sun is shining down. This will give enough time for the plants to absorb the water and stems and leaves to rehydrate.

Final Thoughts On Keeping Snails Away

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that focusing on snail and slug prevention and removal in the springtime, greatly reduces the problem for the rest of the growing season.  In other words, start strong with all the strategies as soon as the spring arrives and get ahead of their reproduction cycles!

If you are interested in some ways that snails can be beneficial, try reading this article on 6 Reasons Why Trapdoor Snails Are Good For Your Pond.

Snails will always exist, and it’s good that they do because of their soil building and decomposing attributes. Wishing you the best of luck in your efforts to coexist with snails and remove them from your garden! I hope this article helps!

References

Flint, M.L., 2018. Pests of the garden and small farm: A grower’s guide to using less pesticide (Vol. 3332). UCANR Publications.

Thompson, Rebecca. Raising snails. US Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, 1996.

Hollingsworth, Craig S. 2007. Pacific Northwest Insect Management Handbook, 2007

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