the appropriate use of snail/slug bait


Fellow growers of 'Mollusk-entrees'

Regarding the use of snail/slug baits (soap-box warning!).

I have found that the most common abuse of garden poison is in the
handling of snail/slug baits.  First of all, I find the choice of
'pellets' to be not only the least effective product, but also the
most likely to cause problem with animal ingestion.  It if far too
easy to way too much of the bait with this form, and they are too
easily confused visually or otherwise by pets as petfood.  The
'flaked' product (whatever the brand) is by far the better choice,
but the method of broadcast is very important.  Again, gardeners
tend to use far too much in one application, thinking that they'll
be able to get a more effictive kill (i.e. 'more is better').  It
actually takes very little bait to kill these guys.  The most
effective method is consistent application of very small amounts
over a long period of time.  Yes, this is not as convenient, but
neither is being ineffective or destructive to life forms.

My method:  In my relatively dry climate, I broadcast the flaked
bait after the garden has dried slightly after a rain or overall
watering.  If the garden is too wet, the bait looses much of its
potency.  If the garden is too dry, the snails & slugs are safely
hiding in wait for more moist conditions.  I put a small amount of
the flaked bait in a plastic bowl (that I keep for the purpose) and
walk to an area of the garden in need of bait.  The air should be as
windless as possible.  I then quickly 'sweep' the bowl in a slightly
upward motion from one side to another, sending the bait flying into
a dust cload that settles evenly over the area with which I'm
concerned (this takes some practice!).  This puts very tiny amounts
of bait not only on the ground, but also in the foliage canopy where
many of my snails spend most of their time.  This fine 'dusting' is
almost undetectable and certainly goes unnoticed by my own pet cat
(who normally chews only on grassy plants which do not hold onto the
bait).  I do this procedure perhaps once or twice a week and I get
good results.

If my garden was more isolated from surrounding mollusk infested
areas, I know I would eventually gain the upper hand over these
critters, but this method excersized during the main mollusk season
(spring and early summer) works very well.  I also target specific
plants for hand baiting (near - not on - this only attracts the
snails TO your plant!), again using VERY TINY amounts of bait in
successive applications.

The abuse of snail bait has lead to more resistance strains of
snails.  This comes from heavy application, which kills most of the
snails, but a few always survive.  Since most people do not bait
successively, these slightly resistant individuals have a chance to
recover and multiply before the next 'over-application' of bait.
Successive applications remove this opportunity for recovery and
therefore help prevent the creation of bait-resistant snails &
slugs.

Snail bait is perhaps the only poison I use with any regularity.
Permanent mulches, soil improvement, and selection of appropriate
plant material keeps my garden very healthy and thriving most of the
time, eliminating the need for most intervention with toxic
substances.

 Sean A. O'Hara                     sean.ohara@ucop.edu
 710 Jean Street                    http://www.dla.ucop.edu/sao
 Oakland, California  94610-1459    h o r t u l u s   a p t u s
 (510) 987-0577                     'a garden suited to its purpose'
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