Slugs and snails: a plague on all your gardens

A mild winter followed by a wet summer - a recipe for yet another year when slugs and snails cause devastation in our gardens. There are two - no three - ways of coping with this. The first is to wage war on them with an arsenal of beer traps, scissors, salt cellars and poisons. The second is to tolerate them, let them eat and destroy to their hearts' content and then only populate your garden with plants they don't eat. And the third approach is a bit of both: keep a check on them with traps, poison (only in the form of Iron oxide / 'Sluggo / Ferramol) and the occasional bout of vindictive butchery; all in combination with choosing plants that they don't like.

Black slug

Our own garden is a paradise for slugs: surrounded by long grass, damp soil and compost heaps, the place is quite literally heaving with slugs. Some plants disappear in days: our lovely Heleniums were stripped to the stems; sunflowers, courgettes and cucumbers savagely gnawed at the base. On the other hand, other plants breeze through unscathed: Ornamental grasses including Miscanthus, Stipa, Helictotrichon and Calamagrostis are all untouched. Flowering perennials such as Crocosmia, Paeony, Sedum, Geranium, Astrantia, Astilbe, Coreopsis, Papaver, Helleborus and Knautia seem to have complete resistance, as do many herbs including oregano, lavender, rosemary, fennel and thyme. Many shrubs have survived unblemished such as box, lavender, rose, cornus and bamboo species. Bulbs  - all leaves for a while - are mixed. They didn't touch our lovely Frittilaria melagris or our Anemone blanda but they gobbled the flowers on our snodrops and half our daffodil buds.

Primula in our garden

Most people are aware of the plants that are most attractive to slugs and snails: anything with lots of soft foliage such as Hosta, Delphinium or even Hydrangea. In our garden slugs ate the flowers on our snowdrops this year and had a good stab at defoliating our very pretty young Magnolia 'Leonard Messel'. In our new polytunnel - as yet untamed - they felled our few attempts at starting vegetables and munched their way through all our young vegetable seedlings. It is in places like this that the pellets really make an impact. 'Traditional' slug pellets contain the active ingredient methaldehyde which can get into the food-chain and soil causing untold damage to birds and other wildlife. On the other hand, there are now slug pellets that use Iron oxide or Iron sulphate: these pellets are effective, naturally occurring minerals that are not toxic to other creatures or to the soil. A very light sprinkling once a week can really knock them back and we have seen a dramatic reduction in their numbers since we started using 'Sluggo'.

Physical attacks can be unpleasant and invariably leave me feeling disturbed. Horrible as they are, slicing them in half with a half-moon lawn edger or melting them with salt always seems like an act of revenge than an act of plant-saving. There are simplyt so many of them that I am not sure this type of activity has any benefit. Maybe in a small or confined garden it does, as do the beer traps, which are altogether more humane. But when you have a lot of space, choosing plants that they don't like has to be the best and easiest option.

Perennials and grasses that slugs and snails don't eat (based on our own experience):

Aconitum

Alchemilla

Anemone ( A. x hybrida and A. blanda)

Astilbe

Astrantia

Calamagrostis

Coreopsis

Darmera

Dicentra

Dierama

Erigeron

Ferns (various species)

Foeniculum (fennel)

Geranium (herbaceous)

Helleborus

Iris pseudacorus / Yellow flag. Other species not (see below)

Knautia

Lavandula

Luzula

Miscanthus

Mentha

Primula

Paeony

Papaver

Rodgersia

Rosa

Sedum

Stipa