Lawn snails

Are Snails Bad for Lawn Trees & Shrubs?
Snails are typically nighttime visitors, but they sometimes appear on cool days.

Snails are typically nighttime visitors, but they sometimes appear on cool days.

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Gardeners wage an unceasing war on bugs, fungus and bacteria in their gardens, swinging pruners and sprayers in wide swaths as they defend their tender plants. Bugs are easy to hate. They are clearly the enemy, but the innocuous snail certainly seems harmless enough. Snails are slow-moving and delicate, but, unfortunately, they find all sorts of landscape plants, including trees and shrubs, to be delicious.


The brown garden snail (Cornu aspersum) is the most common shelled mollusk found feeding in gardens. They snails are drawn by an abundance of organic matter from sources such as plant debris, decomposing mulches and rotting compost. Snails are known for helping to break down these materials, but less is said about their destructive tendencies toward plants.


Snails are strong climbers and frequently find their way into the canopy of trees and bushes, especially those bearing fruits with soft rinds. Here, the snails feed on tender new leaves, young bark or ripe fruits by scraping off outer tissues or chewing smooth, irregular holes through leaves and fruit rinds. Because they feed mostly at night, it may be difficult to know for certain that snails are the culprit when your trees and shrubs are attacked, but if you look closely, a dried silvery slime trail will give them away.

Mechanical Control

Snails that are invading trees are easy to handle if you prune the tree away from and off of nearby structures before applying a 3- to 4-inch wide copper band around the trunk, two to four feet above the ground. You should apply a continuous copper band on the ground around affected shrubs, held up and out of mulch or other plant debris by a temporary wooden frame. Once bands are applied, you can easily pick any stragglers out of trees and shrubs and toss them back on the lawn or into a bucket of soapy water.

Traps and Baits

With their favorite food suddenly out of reach, snails are reasonably easy to trap or bait, although doing both simultaneously will provide faster control. Like their cousins the slugs, snails will readily fall into beer traps and drown, if the trap is kept about half full of beer and buried level with the ground, so it's easy for them to get inside. Many baits are labeled for snails and slugs, but the baits containing iron phosphate are much safer for humans and pets and just as effective as metaldehyde. Iron phosphate-poisoned slugs often hide before dying, so you won't necessarily see bodies when using these baits.

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About the Author

Kristi Waterworth

Kristi Waterworth started her writing career in 1995 as a journalist for a local newspaper. From there, her meandering career path led to a 9 1/2 year stint in the real estate industry. Since 2010, she's written on a wide range of personal finance topics. Waterworth received a Bachelor of Arts in American history from Columbia College.

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lawn snails
MASTER GARDENER: Good snails vs. bad snails

Q: Snails have really been chewing up my garden plants and they are so difficult to control. A friend told me that there is a good kind of snail that will wipe out the bad snails. Do you think they will work?

A: Brown snails can cause quite a bit of damage in the garden, especially during the cool damp days of spring. Because snails are most active from evening to dawn, it’s a challenge to find them if you want to hand pick them. I go out to my garden first thing every morning; a Master Gardener friend prefers to search for snails after dark, assisted by a flashlight. Both tactics work well but require regular attention.

Many gardeners prefer not to use chemical control methods on a continual basis, and physical barriers, such as copper bands and borders of diatomaceous earth, require regular maintenance. Decollate snails, as your friend suggested, may be another method of control. You can find extensive snail control information on the UC IPM website at: pn7427.html.

Decollate snails are smaller than brown snails and have a slender shell that makes them easy to distinguish from the brown snails. The problem is, decollate snails only feed on small brown snails, not full-sized ones, and I have seen them nibble on tender seedlings when they didn’t have anything else to eat. Nevertheless, many gardeners find them to be a useful tactic in controlling brown snails. I’ve had decollates in my garden for many years and I am sure they help to keep brown snail populations down.

If you would like to give them a try, you should first eliminate as many of the brown garden snails as possible before introducing the decollate snails. The fastest way to do this is to apply snail bait to the garden. It will kill the majority of the brown snails. Because snail bait also will kill decollate snails, you need to wait a few weeks, until the bait is no longer effective, before introducing the decollate snails. Use this time to hand-pick the brown snails, too. Finally, introduce the decollate snails to your garden, placing them in the same damp shady areas favored by the brown snails. Once they are established, the decollate snails will multiply and be on a constant hunt for young brown snails. Before long snail damage should be greatly minimized.

Many nurseries offer decollate snails for sale, and they are also available through internet and catalog sources. If you have a gardening friend who has them in his garden, perhaps he will allow you to collect some to introduce into your garden. I’ve always found gardeners to be exceptionally helpful and generous.

Q: I saw some beautiful plantings of Siberian iris back east. I’ve found mail order sources, but I’ve never seen them growing in our area. Will they grow here?

A: I’m sure the members of the local iris society would encourage you to try growing some Siberian iris. If you order plants, you will probably receive them for planting in late summer or early fall. You should be very successful if you provide the correct growing conditions.

Select a site that is sunny and has a moist but well-drained soil; some afternoon shade is OK. If your soil is our typical western soil lacking in organic materials, you will need to amend the soil generously with compost, peat moss, or a combination of the two as Siberian irises require a slightly acidic soil. Make sure your Siberian iris plants receive regular irrigation and fertilize them generously in spring. In this area, flowering occurs in early spring.

Ottillia “Toots” Bier has been a master gardener since 1980. Send comments and questions to

Ottillia ‘Toots’ Bier

Master Gardener

Organic Snail Control: How To Control Garden Snails

Garden snails are kissing cousins to the nefarious slug that also terrorizes gardens. The common garden snail will chew through the tender leaves of plants, which at best, looks unsightly, and at worst, will kill the plant. If these little buggers have had you asking yourself, “How to control garden snails?” then you are at the right place. We will be looking at effective snail repellents and organic snail control.

What is the Common Garden Snail?

Chances are, if you have snails in your garden, it is the common garden snail, also called the brown garden snail. The scientific name is Helix aspersa. The common garden snail can be identified by its brown rounded shell and grey body.

How to Control Garden Snails

Here are the most common methods for getting rid of snails in the garden:

Introduce predators  – One effective organic snail control is to introduce or encourage predators. Make your garden friendly to small snakes, like the garter snake. These snakes enjoy eating garden snails as well as other common garden pests. You can also introduce decollate snails to your garden. Decollate snails will not harm your plants but will eat the common garden snail.

Lay down grit  – Many gritty substances make effective snail repellents. Gritty substances will cut the body of the snail, which will lead to it being injured. Crushed eggshells, sand or diatomaceous earth sprinkled around plants that the garden snails seem to prefer will deter and eventually kill these pests.

Set out traps  – A common snail trap is the beer pan. Simply fill a shallow pan with beer and leave it out overnight. The snails will be attracted to the beer and will drown in it. The beer will need to replaced every few days to remain effective.

Another trap is to find a flat object than can provide a dark, cool, moist location. Snails love dark, cool, moist areas. You can use a board, a piece of carpet, or thick cloth to create this environment. Water an area, then lay the object down over the damp area. Return in a few days and pick up the object. You can harvest and destroy the hiding snails.

Barriers  – Among effective snail repellents is barriers. This organic snail control means putting something in the path of the snails that they do not like. Copper wire, Vaseline, even just mesh curved outwards will help repel garden snails from your plants.

Now that you know more about how to control garden snails in your garden with these effective snail repellents and organic snail control, you can make sure that those slimy little buggers never bother your plants again.

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