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Understanding Garden Snails: Benefits, Control, and Management

Wait! Take your foot off that poor defenceless critter – he was only doing his job.It seems to me that garden snails have had a fallacious rap throughout history. 

Their PR manager has obviously skipped town with the contract fee and done little to promote these creatures’ benefits. So much so, that most gardeners take great delight in crushing them or finding pallid ways to get rid of them – I too have been guilty as charged.

But when you consider the purpose of these affable pests, I’m sure you will agree that they have been completely under appreciated.

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Getting to Know Garden Snails

See, the way we’ve had garden snails promoted to us is similar to our indoctrination of terrorism. If we see a guy wearing a loose-fitting white gown, a turban on his head while sporting a long greying beard then immediately we’re suspicious of his mobile phone use.

Snails aren’t as scary, but they’re viewed as garden terrorists ready to strike any plant at will. Nothing could be further from the truth. These land-based molluscs have been purposed purely as scavengers. They feed on sick and struggling plants and are simply the cleaners of our gardens.

Garden snails are not usually interested in your healthy plants and vegetables

Their slimy presence grosses us out and then Bayer or David Gray give us ammunition to dispose of them thoughtfully. Their PR manager is obviously a workaholic for fear of garden snails has become resolute in our minds. And death is the only objective.

I’m starting to realise that there needs to be a re-education for gardeners of what all these creatures do. While our initial response has been to rid our gardens of these unwanted pests, I’m now starting to see that a little understanding might help gardeners to actually get along with their garden snails similar to bees, ladybugs, and other living organisms in the garden. 

Benefits of Garden Snails

Can garden snails be beneficial? Well, that is the appropriate question, isn’t it? We’ve always viewed garden snails in a negative light so maybe we need to start asking ourselves what benefits these creatures could hold for our gardens.

Firstly, as scavengers they’re not usually interested in your healthy plants and vegetables. They’re more intent on feasting on something that’s struggling and sick or dying. So, if you find a few snails crawling over your lettuce it’s a good sign that the environment for growing lettuce is not a good one.

If it were then your lettuces would be resilient to the mop-up actions of these snails and only the outer leaves would be consumed.

Secondly, if inorganic fertilisers and pesticides have been prevalent in your garden then chances of finding naturally sickly plants are diminished. If your garden snails have a choice between tasty lettuce seedlings and plants that have been continuously fed crap, then they’re going to make the same choice we would.

Benefits of Garden Snails

Should Garden Snails have Free Rein in our Gardens?

No. And yes. There is such a balance to this that giving just one answer would be limiting the complexity of the problems we face as gardeners.

No gardener in her right mind would plant new vegetable seedlings and leave them to fend for themselves. In a natural situation, vegetables would grow from seed and the fittest ones would survive. However, us gardeners aren’t usually that patient with nature and we’d rather hurry things along a little.

Therefore, when we alter the natural laws, we have to make changes in other areas too. Brand new seedlings need some unnatural barriers to protect them from garden snails focussed on achieving their clean-up mission.

Copper, coffee and eggshells, sawdust, fine coarse rock….are all possibilities to temporarily deter snails from feasting on your gourmet veggies.

Wrapping Up Our Guide to Garden Snails

So, before you put that foot down take a moment to consider why those garden snails have even taken up residence in your plot. Maybe, there’s some serious cleaning up needed to happen, and you’ve just missed seeing it. Maybe they like you…

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About the author 

Gary Clarke

Hi, I'm Gary Clarke, gardening enthusiast and former landscaper. I have had privilege of sharing my gardening knowledge at Aussie Green Thumb since early 2020.

I have a passion for using native Australian plants in Aussie gardens and I always try to promote growing fruit trees and vegetable gardens whenever possible.

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