To Bait, or not to Bait, that is a Question

Information provided by Meta®/Lonza, a sponsor of the Yard, Garden & Patio Show, and Oregon State University.

Taking action in the fall, gardeners can limit a major slug or snail problem come springtime. Many of us do little until we see slugs and snails in the spring. The mollusks breed during the fall, laying as many as 500 eggs per year. There are many well-reported options for controlling these bothersome creatures. Of course doing nothing at all is one option. However, bait, beer and chickens seem to be a few successful tactics for controlling populations. I’m too squeamish about killing them by my own hand/trowel, but I have been known to bait. There’s just nothing like giving Barney, my adorable Golden Retriever and gardening companion, a good scratch and having my fingers encounter small slimy slugs hiding in his coat. It’s an experience I’d rather avoid. Besides, I do love my hostas, some of which appear to be favorite treats of the slugs in my garden.

According to the OSU website: “The best time to bait…in western Oregon is in late September or early October, as the first rains occur. Slug activity increases as the cool temperatures and moist nights stimulate them to mate and lay eggs. This timing is key to disrupting the life cycle. Apply baits before the eggs are laid if possible. The eggs that were laid should hatch in 2-4 weeks and a second application should help control the newly hatched slugs.”

Applying bait properly is critical to success. First and foremost, read and follow the label instructions before using. Including these four techniques as part of your fall garden chores will result in a less holey spring garden:

  • No Bait Piling – Pellets should be evenly dispersed around plants favored by slugs and snails such as hostas, kale and cabbage, pansies and primroses. Slugs and snails can only eat so much, so piling the bait isn’t going to produce better results.
  • Treat the perimeter – The application should not be strictly confined around susceptible plants. Apply bait to where the slugs and snails hide during the day such as stacks of firewood, under or around rocks, and in mulch piles and pots.
  • The Wetter the Better – Slugs and snails thrive in moist conditions. Applying bait after a rainfall is best. If it’s not going to rain, the area should be watered before the application is made.
  • Timing is Everything – The bait is best applied right before dusk. Slugs and snails come out for their feedings when night falls, so an application shortly before the sun goes down will produce better results.

You might find an article written by OSU extension agent Robin Rosetta of interest. The article was written with the nursery trade in mind, but it contains good information about controlling slugs and snails. According to Rosetta, there are 2000 species of pulmonate slugs and snails west of the Rockies with a conservative estimate of 23 different slug species in the Olympic Peninsula. There are thought to be 10 species of pest slugs in Oregon. All but the marsh slug are exotic imports (source: OSU website).

I don’t have snails in my garden—knock on wood—so I wondered how much of an issue snails are in the Pacific Northwest. Apparently the brown garden snail (Cantareus asperses), native to Britain, western Europe, and along borders of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, worked its way into our diet, then into our landscapes. Allegedly brought into San Francisco as a culinary item, the critter escaped into the wild. There have been 14 exotic snail species found and 121 interceptions during routine inspections at the Port of Portland in the last decade.

Note: Snail and slug baits that contain Meta® active ingredient include That’s It™, Bug-Getta® and One and Done®, which can be found at home improvement and home and garden centers throughout the Pacific Northwest.