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Garden invasion of the slimy kind

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Warm, rainy weather such as the Sacramento region has enjoyed recently brings unwelcome visitors to our gardens.

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Hidden in garden debris, nestled in the soil, concealed in the shade of a leafy plant lurk garden predators that leave a trail – a slimy trail and plant leaves that resemble green Swiss cheese.

Common to Northern California, the California Brown snail and grey slug are as prolific as they are destructive. Just when you think you’ve picked off or drowned them all, the next generation shows up to bedevil you and devour tender shoots, leafy plants and even citrus.

So what can you do?

In Northern California we have a bonafide expert on garden pests: Mary Louise Flint, Ph.D is Associate Director of the University of California’s Urban & Community Statewide Invasive Pest Management (IPM) Program. She explains that UC IPM is an ecologically based approach to solving pest problems. Dr. Flint, who is also Extension Entomologist in the Department of Entomology at UC Davis, says to keep your garden free of debris where snails and slugs love to hide. To remove elusive snails, she advocates a simple board trap. Place a board an inch or so above the soil overnight. When you flip over the board, the snails will be clinging to its underside and you can pick them off.

Asked about drowning snails and slugs in a bowl of beer, Dr. Flint says, “In terms of beer preference, Whitney Cranshaw at Colorado State did a trial comparing a very few beers and malt beverages for attractiveness. In fact the most effective beverage was the nonalcoholic beer Kingsbury Malt beverage. Mixtures of sugar water and yeast worked, too.”

Some years back, Consumer Reports said snails prefer Budweiser to other beers. Dr. Flint says the Colorado State study found that Budweiser was slightly more attractive than Pabst Blue Ribbon “when fizzy, but Pabst seems pretty equivalent to Bud when it was flat.” Overall though, she said, board traps beat beer traps for snaring snails.

Garden snails are escargot, a diet delicacy, for assorted wildlife such as Mourning doves, toads, beetles. Dr. Flint says, “Snails and slugs have many natural enemies including ground beetles, pathogens, snakes, toads, turtles and birds, but they are rarely effective enough to bring down very high populations.”

If you live in a rural area that allows ducks, chickens and geese, she says barnyard birds also love snails and slugs, but maintains that the best way to control these creepy crawlers is an integrated program; eliminate moisture (drip irrigation is key, she says), remove hiding spots, trap, handpick and set up barriers to keep snails out.

One example of a snail barrier is a gritty substance, according to balconycontainergardening.com which writes: “The first method for garden snail and slug control is to use a gritty substance. Snails do not travel over gritty substances, such as crushed eggshells or sharp sand, that have been spread around your container plants. Put a layer of grit in your plant containers, and snails will avoid these plants. If they do crawl there, the grit will clog their slime glands and it will kill them. Spread sharp and angular gravel (not smooth rocks) over soil so the snails can’t climb.” The gritty substances deter snails and slugs by irritating their delicate undersides. For more snail barrier suggestions, read Dr. Flint’s publication, “Pest Notes: Snails and Slugs.”

Dr. Flint says she’s not opposed to commercial snail baits that are friendly to pets, wildlife and the environment. She notes that the active ingredient in all such baits is iron phosphate, so look for that on the label. “Baits can be helpful,” she says, “but by themselves don’t provide adequate control in gardens that contain plenty of (snail) shelter, food (vegetative material snails like), and moisture.”

For an array of garden-related information and advice, visit http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/homegarden.

UPCOMING FREE EVENTS FOR GARDENERS

IN WEST SACRAMENTO:

WHAT: Free soil workshop, West Sacramento Master Gardeners (community volunteers) trained by the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program use research-based information to promote environmentally responsible and sustainable horticultural practices at home and in the community.

WHEN: 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, March 8

WHERE: Arthur F. Turner Community Library

WHAT’S NEXT: Low water landscapes presentation

WHEN: 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, April 12

WHERE: Turner Library, West Sac

MORE INFORMATION: (916) 375-6465.

IN WOODLAND:

WHAT: Free 1-hour garden workshops: ‘Learn how to start a garden’ basics:

  • How to prepare your soil for planting
  • What to plant for a summer garden
  • An introduction to integrative pest management (pesticide-free approach to gardening).

WHO: Master Gardeners of Yolo County

WHEN: 10 a.m.-11 a.m. Saturday, March 15; 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 19

WHERE: Hannah and Herbert Bauer Memorial Community Garden, 137 N. Cottonwood Ave. (west side of Cottonwood), Woodland

WHAT ELSE: Preregistration is required; no gardening experience required; garden gloves/comfortable shoes recommended.

SPONSORED BY: Yolo County Health Department

MORE INFORMATION: Rebecca Tryon, MS, Health Program Coordinator-Obesity Prevention, Yolo County Public Health: (530) 666-8640 or rebecca.tryon@yolocounty.org.

Sacramento Nature Examiner Carol Bogart is an independent journalist. To read more of her work, visit Bogart Communications and go to WestSacWeb.com.

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