Snails eating your starts? Be smart and Strategic.
It used to drive me nuts that nearly every seed and new plant I would put in my garden would get eaten up before they ever really got going. Why just feed the slugs and snails? Over the years I've started to have some good success, and there are some hints I'd like to share that may help others out as well. I use a variety of techniques, and try to be strategic in how I use them. Here's what I do
PROTECT YOUNG PLANTS, AND RECYCLE AT THE SAME TIME
I rarely plant seeds directly in the ground anymore. I plant everything in flats or peat pots in a safe location such as a table where bugs can't easily get at them. I raise them there until they are big enough to stand up to the pests a bit, then I plant them. My thinking is, I won't catch every pest, and the plants have to handle a little bit of abuse. If I can get the plants big enough and healthy enough before they get exposed to the dangers of the garden world, then they will be able to handle a moderate attack and go on to provide me a bountiful harvest. Once big enough, the pests won't matter so much.
So I keep the smallest plants up until they are going well, then when I plant them I take measures to protect them as best I can. For both my young sprouts I grow from seed and the veggies I get already started from the nursery, I make use of recycling to provide an cheap and very effective protection for my young plants. How do I do that?
I take plastic containers that used to contain things like salads and cookies, then I cut the bottom out of them. (See photo)
Next, I run a copper band around the outside of this plastic container, and it provides a wall against snails and slugs to keep them off my plants until they get big enough. I plant my plants in the ground, and they have this protective wall around them, which is very effective. Snails generally won't cross the barrier, and the young plants are secure until their leaves and branches get big enough that they hang over their plastic castle walls and come close enough to the ground that the snails and slugs can get at them. By that time, the plants have safely matured and are not much affected by the pests. The growth rate of leafy matter should be fast enough that it will more than replace the amount pests will consume at night. But just to make sure, I take other steps as well.
MAXIMAL POPULATION DECREASE
When I put my plants in the ground, I start thinking in terms of reducing the slug and snail population to a level that it will be manageable. So I consider how big my overall population is, and how to bring the level down to the point that by the time my plants grow over their castle walls, they won't have a huge onslaught to deal with. I think in terms of removing the maximum number of pounds of slug/snail biomass that I can from my yard in a short frame of time. Pellets may seem to get a number of the critters, but if you come out at night and see them in action, you may realize, as I have, that you only are getting at the tip of the iceberg. Besides, I have pets I love that I don't want to endanger, and if I can use organic effective methods that is much my preference. In my experience, the best way to decrease the overall population of slimy critters is to clear them out of their hiding places by day, then run the sprinklers so they are happy and gather pounds of them at night. I use containers I can close up to put them in, then I just throw in the trash. I pick up snails by their shells and slugs with chop sticks so I don't have to touch them. After doing this a few times you should soon find that you get a much diminished number of critters. You have brought the population down to a level that it won't overpower the plant growth.
More slugs and snails will of course come. Some you miss, some migrate from neighbors, and some will emerge from eggs and mature. But after doing population decimations a few years I have found my baseline critter population is much lower--fewer slugs and snails to keep laying eggs.
But there will be some and I don't want to be doing night raids forever, so how do I further reduce the population and protect my veggies with minimal effort and maximum safety? I am willing to use organically approved pellets that are safe for pets, but these quickly become ineffective when wetted and are not as tempting to the critters as my tender leaves. I have set out beer traps, but in coming out at night, I have found that only a few actually drown in the beer, while numerous others flock around it to sip at my fine brew then go away from the party and live to eat another day. Ahhhhh, but combining these elements has a much bigger effect. I put out little temptations of beer in tuna cans at soil level in the garden. THEN, I surround the beer with a ring of organic pellets. The critters flock to the beer and go right past my plants, but then nibble on the ring of pellets on the way to the beer party. Organic pellets are slow acting, so they go off to their homes to die, so you probably won't see a bunch of them lying around afterward. But you will notice a big drop in the slimy critter population. And your veggies will be able to grow in relative peace.
So be strategic and smart in how you attack your snail and slug problem. Stack the odds in your favor. Maximize your chance of success by getting plants big enough they can handle some attacks. The plastic rings with copper tape on them work well for this, and I rarely ever lose a plant. I am able to reuse the rings year after year so your initial time and expense in setting them up will easily be made up for in the long term.
And then combine strategies so you reduce quickly the slimy population threat and then continue to keep it under control by using minimal effort to produce maximum population decrease safely. Good luck!