Dealing With Pests In a Container Garden: Snails and Slugs

by Fern on May 19, 2009

in Pests & Problems

It’s not the most glorious of subjects, but I’m starting a new series of posts about combating pests and diseases, with a special focus on the problems faced by container gardeners. I’m hoping to offer my own tried and true methods and to give you all an opportunity to share what has worked for you.

First up? Snails and slugs. Gross. Ick. Let’s get them outta here!

Photo by Caro’s Lines

Snails aren’t that big of a problem for people who live high off the ground, unless you inadvertently bring them up there. More than once I’ve found snails and slugs hanging out in nursery plants, so be sure to give your new purchases the once over before bringing them home.

But for those of us on the ground floor, snails and slugs can be annoying, not to mention gross. They leave their slime tracks on the ground, pots and plants. Not to mention that they munch on your baby greens like they are the best thing since sliced bread (which I’m sure they are!).

I have employed a three pronged approach with a lot of success. First, water in the morning not at night. It seems that our little molluscan “friends” are more active during the cool evening hours and will be even more attracted to your plants if they are surrounding by a lot of super moist dirt and wet concrete.

Second, keep up on removing plant debris from your pots and the ground beneath them. Snails like hanging out in that sort of stuff and you want to give them the cold shoulder, not welcome them in.

Third, sprinkle a thin layer of diatomaceous earth on the dirt in your pots, and/or make a ring of it on the ground around each of your pots. Diatomaceous earth is made up of the fossilized remains of tiny water plants called “diatoms.” It looks sort of like white sand. Snails and slugs don’t like the sharp edges and will crawl away. Just don’t stick your nose in the stuff, as it can be mildly irritating to your lungs if you inhale it.

So, now I’ll turn it over to you guys. What have you done to combat snails?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Luzy May 19, 2009 at 11:42 am

well I live in 3rd floor apartment in Arizona,the HOT weather, and I havent seen them…thank God cause I hate them..


dolores mooney June 24, 2012 at 7:35 am

i love to garden, but i must say i;m getting pretty sick and tired of spending money, just so the slugs and squirrels could have a good time eating and digging up all my stuff’

christina soletti May 19, 2009 at 2:00 pm

thanks for starting this series!! i’m excited, really. i’m finding that i’m having so many problems with caterpillers! i’m picking them off , but my veggie leaves are practically eaten to nothing!

looking forward to this series!!


sdat May 19, 2009 at 3:59 pm

I’ve read suggestion to elevate pots to combat snails & slugs — so instead of your containers sitting right on the ground, put them on a plant stand or maybe some of those terra cotta pot feet I’ve seen around in garden stores. I’ve never tried this, so not sure if it works or not, but it’s a tip I’ve read.


Fern May 19, 2009 at 9:26 pm

sdat — I just got home and I was looking at a gardenia that is on a plant stand and it had a snail on it! They’ll crawl up almost anything!

Christina — I struggle with caterpillars too. I’ll cover them next.

Luzy — Lucky!


Will May 19, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Thank goodness I don’t have problems with snails, but our local squirrel is giving me a headache. He keeps digging up my snap peas and burying peanuts in it’s place. It’s funny, but also disheartening.

Any ideas on how to get rid of em? I know it’s slugs, but it may be a good idea for an upcoming article? Thanks! :D


Jenny May 20, 2009 at 9:28 am

Haven’t tried it, but supposedly a wide strip of copper tape will deter them…gives them a mild shock. Look for it at craft shops. Fairly attractive, too.


Fern May 20, 2009 at 11:00 am

Jenny–I’ve heard of that one too! I’ll have to try it some time.

Will–Luckily the squirrels in my neighborhood have ignored my garden. I’ll research some options and cover that topic in this series.


Deborah May 20, 2009 at 1:41 pm

None of the barrier methods have worked for me. The best thing I’ve tried is a product called “Sluggo.” It’s something to do with iron phosphates; so it’s safe around pets, birds squirrels, etc. Slimers eat this, and stop eating anything else. Huge endorsement from me (without any gain but karma)


Tyrel May 21, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Advice from Edmonton, AB.

My in-laws surround the base of their plants with broken egg shells to deter slugs. It’s probably similar to diatomaceous earth in that it is a sharp surface that is unpleasant for the little buggers. As a bonus, your are composting and the nutrients that leach into the soil when you water will benefit the plants (this goes for coffee grounds too. Just mix broken dried egg shells and coffee grounds for a nutrient boost).


khatlin May 23, 2009 at 11:24 pm

We have had a ton of rain in the South, and the slugs are out in disgusting masses. So far I’ve had good luck using a mix of eggshells, coffee grounds and diatomaceous earth on the soil around the rim of my containers. Just make sure that there aren’t any leafy bridges that the slugs can get over. We go out at night and ambush any nasties that get past our defenses. I say we, but I really mean that I point them out and my husband deals with them.


Fern May 25, 2009 at 12:11 am

Deborah — I’ll have to keep an eye out for sluggo and try it out myself. I always like to have a lot of weapons in my arsenal when it comes to pests. They drive me nuts!!!

Tyrel–Good tip! I love free, especially when it actually improves the soil.

khatlin — Good point about the leaf bridges. They can be a problem for me since many of my pots have plants spilling over the side. For that reason, I sometimes put the diatomaceous earth on the ground in addition to the dirt.


sdat May 26, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Speaking of pests — Cats. I’m having a problem with the neighborhood cat using the large pot housing my rose bush for a litter box. I plan on replacing the soiled layer of topsoil, and putting down large (4″ or so?), smooth beach rocks to discourage it.


Genevieve May 27, 2009 at 9:05 pm

The sluggo’s the stuff. There are other brands, too – it’s just iron phosphate. Nobody seems to believe it works because the snails don’t die right there, but it works great – they stop eating and crawl away to die. Cruel, but, what can you do?

BT (bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillars, but be careful – kill all the caterpillars and you won’t have any butterflies.


Tasha July 25, 2009 at 9:08 pm

I live on the 16th floor of my highrise building in the city and I have just discovered slugs in my terrace (large potted) flower garden. How in the World did the slugs get to the 16th floor (which is actually the 18th if you count the street and parking floors) of a highrise? Its so disgusting because I hated these little buggers when I was younger and they were always in the backyard. How can I get rid of them all the way up here? :-( I think I’m going to cry because they’re eating all of the leaves. All I wanted was some greenery with my city skyline. :-(


Fern July 25, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Tasha–Most likely you inadvertantly carried them up there in plants you purchased at the nursery. Try the tips outlined in this post, or try and find a product called “Sluggo,” and follow the directions on the package.


Plants on Deck September 17, 2009 at 3:35 pm

Fortunately, slugs aren’t a big problem for me on my roofdeck, but my gardening comrade has found beer to be an irresistible draw to his slug enemies. He buries a small container (say a cat food tin) until the lip is about level with the soil. The slimy things climb right in.


Charl December 2, 2010 at 2:22 am

I’m about to cook a whole bunch of Giant African snails…


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