What do snails eat – 21 plants at risk and how to get rid of them

Gardeners’ World: Expert discusses slugs and snails

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Snails are tiny gastropods – a single-shelled mollusc with a soft body – and although they might move slowly, they’re quick to cause damage. With thousands of microscopic teeth, snails gnaw away at leaves, stems and flowers of plants, rupturing growth and killing them off in some cases. They don’t tend to be too fussy, but some plants are particular magnets to snails.

Snails thrive in wet and damp environments, which is why they’re most attracted to the garden as it tends to be well-irrigated.

Gardens also provide ample spots for snails to take shelter from the sun and strong winds that can dry them out. They tend to come out in masses after dark or rainfall, and congregate under dense groundcovers, leaf debris, discarded boards, rims of plant pots – anywhere dark, moist, and comfortable.

If you’ve spotted any silvery slime trails across paths and plant leaves, it’s most likely to have been caused by a snail.

Another telltale sign of a snail activity is tampered edges or holes in plant leaves and stems, more so higher up as snails are well known for their skilful climbing abilities.

But climbing isn’t the only garden-threatening skill these pests possess; they’ve also evolved to consume a whole lot more than just grass and leaves.

The Natural History Museum describes the critters as herbivorous, carnivorous, omnivorous, and detritivorous, which means they’ll even go as far as to swarm and consume decaying waste from plants and animals.

But, some substances are particularly attractive to snails, and plants tend to be a larger and easier target for them due to these being most prolific in gardens.

So here are the plants most at risk of these pests and how to prevent further destruction.

What plants do snails eat?

Common garden snails are highly attracted to leaves, flowers, stems and tubers, and tend to prefer fresh growth and leafy greens. However, as mentioned, they are not averse to older and decaying foliage so if your garden houses this stuff too, it’s still unlikely to be safe.

According to Backyard Pests, the top snail magnets include:

  • Alyssum
  • Aster
  • California boxwood
  • Chamomile
  • Carnations
  • Dandelions
  • Henbane
  • Hibiscus
  • Hollyhock
  • Lilies
  • Magnolia
  • Nasturtiums
  • Pansies
  • Petunias

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  • Phlox
  • Roses
  • Sorrel
  • Sweet peas
  • Thistles
  • Thornapple
  • Yarrow

However, a snail’s appetite isn’t just limited to these plants. They’re also fans of herbs and vegetables; so if you’ve got particularly green fingers and grow these as well, watch out for snails on the following.

Vegetable-wise, snails enjoy the dark leafy greens like kale, lettuce, spinach and broccoli, but they’re also known to swarm other items like peppers, artichokes peas and cress.

A snail’s palette for herbs is slightly less diverse, but you tend to find them hanging around basil, chives, coriander, dill, lemon verbena, and parsley plants.

How to get rid of snails

Apart from tackling them in full force with chemical pesticides, there are many natural ways you can prevent snails from attacking your plants.

One method is to add a layer of woodchip or gravel to garden beds or run some copper tape around them.

The copper tape reacts with the snail’s slime when crossed, giving them an uncomfortable electric shock, which will deter them from reapproaching.

You can also plant sacrificial plants like lettuce to protect the ones you like, or attract birds to your garden with feeders. This natural method means your garden won’t be riddled with chemicals and nature can simply just run its course.

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