The Garden Fanatic

Steve Kawaratani

“The primary use of conversation is to satisfy the impulse to talk.”

-- George Santayana

“Catch a snail in our jail.”


-- Advertising slogan

Is your garden talking to you? I know that if it isn’t Catharine, mom

or a client, then it must be the garden, reminding me there is work to be

done. I inadvertently stepped on a pair of snails on the way to work this


morning, a reminder that the snail thing is a disconcerting part of May.

Most of us can accept minor damage to plants and allow natural methods

like the weather to assume the major role in controlling garden pests.

But the late rain this spring and possible garden neglect have provided

snails and slugs the perfect opportunity to hide and breed in our


What is the difference between a snail and a slug? They are both

mollusks (cousins to the oysters and clams) and are essentially the same,


but the snail has an external shell. Both secrete mucus to glide over

surfaces -- upon drying it becomes the familiar slime trail. Without

moisture they are dormant, but overcast weather has allowed the slimy

guys with the cover to produce lots of eggs in our gardens.

Collection and destruction of snails and slugs by hand is the oldest

control method, and is still a good one. For example, our slow moving

friends usually concentrate near the damage they create, and are easily

plucked off -- if you’re willing to hunt at night or early morning, aided


with a Petzel headlamp.

The control of snails by their enemies, especially by predators, is

another viable solution. The introduction of Decollate snails may be very

effective in slowing down their evil, brown relatives. However, these

“good” snails don’t win overnight. It can take up to a year before they

gain the upper hand. In the meanwhile, discontinue snail bait and rely on

supplemental hand management.

Traps and barriers are useful in checking snails and slugs. I

recommend using “The Pit” snail & slug trap. The green trap is filled

with leftover beer you confiscated from the kid’s bedroom and may be

emptied and returned to the garden. I also recommend the use of slug and

snail copper. It holds a small electrical charge, which repels slugs and

snails. Use it to protect individual plants or entire planting areas.

Cocoa mulch is a relatively new introduction to your local nursery. As

mulch, it suppresses another form of pest . . . the weed. It is also

useful in retaining soil moisture and provides nourishment to plants as a

mild fertilizer. I have also discovered that its texture deters slugs,

snails and even some cats. But I am most intrigued by this product

because it smells just like hot cocoa!

Many gardeners rely on snail and slug control through the use of

Methaldehyde-based pellets and granules. This nonpersistent molluscicide

works as an attractant and toxicant. Before spreading the bait, wet down

the areas to be treated to encourage evening activity. If you must use

bait, go for That’s-It or Corry’s around edible plants.

Last weekend, Catharine and I were grooming the garden and admiring

her beautiful roses. I was startled to find myself staring down at four

snails crawling down the handrail. With great effort, I restrained myself

from squishing them . . . even though the evildoers had been happily

munching on our plants. Instead, I fed them to the Decollates -- a great

way to clean and recycle in the garden. See you next time.

* STEVE KAWARATANI is the owner of Landscapes by Laguna Nursery, 1540

S. Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. He is married to local artist,

Catharine Cooper, and has three cats. He can be reached at 949 497 2438,

or E-mail to