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Slug and snail control via nonindigenous poisonous plants

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic May 12, 2021
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Slugs and snail infestations are a nightmare for any gardener because they destroy the harvest. What if they could be poisoned via "trojan horse" plants that are not native to the area? The slugs wouldn't naturally avoid eating them due to lack of genetic memory and would drop in numbers shortly thereafter.

About the problem

Slugs can live for about 6 years. If necessary, their eggs can remain dormant for years until the conditions for hatching are right. Arion Vulgaris, a species that is particularly problematic in Europe can lay up to 400 eggs in a season, and the eggs hatch within 3-5 weeks. It's considered one of the top 100 worst invasive alien species in Europe.

Arion Vulgaris has not yet become established in the USA but has been suggested that the species be given top national quarantine significance. It represents a potentially serious threat as a pest that could negatively affect agriculture and natural ecosystems.


Since gardeners are trying to get rid of the slugs while at the same time not poisoning themselves via pesticides, they are primarily looking for natural solutions that don't affect the produced food and animals (pets, livstock) in any way. Some of the common methods of slug control involve:
  • coffe grounds
  • egg shells
  • natural predators (frogs, hedgehogs)
  • fence made of electric wire or copper tape
  • beer trap
Slug control via poisonous plants (trojan horse)

Placing a bunch of plants that are poisonous to slugs (without them knowing it) in strategic locations throughout the garden seems as easy as it gets. There would be no work required after the initial planting.

While working on this idea I recently left a bunch of Marble Queen Pothos plants outside overnight. In the morning the leaves were full of slug bites. I remembered that Pothos is poisonous which is how I came up with this idea. Is Pothos not poisonous to slugs or did they fail to avoid it because the plant was unknown to them? I have yet to do an experiment where I enclose a bunch of slugs in a terrarium with nothing but Pothos and see how they survive eating it.

Regardless of what this specific experiment shows, could there be other suitable plants that the slugs would enjoy eating but are deadly to them? Tropical forrest plants are often poisonous. Some are fast growing.

Introducing such fast growing tropical species to European gardens would not present a problem because they couldn't survive winter. These plants would thrive during the gardening season and die off in the winter - leaving indigenous flora intact.

[1]"'W. De Costa, H. Hitanayake and I. Dharmawardena, "A Physiological Investigation into the Invasive Behaviour of Some Plant Species in a Mid-Country Forest Reserve in Sri Lanka" https://web.archive.org/web/20110722145720/http://thakshana.nsf.ac.lk/pdf/JNSF26-34/JNSF29_1%262/JNSF29_1%262_35.pdf

Creative contributions


Spook Louw
Spook Louw May 12, 2021
Salt also works, but it's not the best method. Pouring salt on slugs directly causes them to die in a painful and inhumane way, pouring salt in your garden will also keep them away, but leaves you with acidified soil, which is bad for the plants. Salt is most effective indoors.

I mention salt, however, to encourage us to think of other options to create barriers around the garden which might not kill the slugs, but deter them from entering.
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My grandfather's "attract-and-burn" method

jnikola May 12, 2021
It's not connected with nonindigenous poisonous plants, but my grandfather had a creative way to get rid of the snails.
He would cut the grass and make small grass piles around the crops; one every few meters. During fresh summer nights, snails would eat the crops, and during the hot summer days, snails would get into the piles to escape from the sun. At that moment, my grandfather would put gasoline on the pile and burn it to the ground, burning all the snails, too. Same as salt, it's not humane, but it worked in my grandfather's garden.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 years ago
I can imagine this would be difficult to do in a thriving garden full of vegetables. Do slugs retreat from the garden into the piles? Don't the garden plants protect them from the sun just as well as the piles of grass?

To avoid contaminating the soil with gasoline, maybe he could have used a gas-powered torch - flamethrower style
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jnikola3 years ago
Darko Savic Yes, the slugs retreat from the garden to the piles and it is true that when they grow big enough, plants make a nice shade for the slugs, too. This method helps when the plants are still small and "more vulnerable".
Hahaha flamethrower would indeed help to protect the soil from contamination!
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General comments

Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
This idea might be much more difficult to realize than it seems. I haven't researched that, but from general knowledge I think that slugs do have a way to distinguish toxic plants (even if they are recently introduced). Also, I think they are adapted to eat specific plants and won't eat just anything that gets in their way (although your experiment with E. aureum proofs this differently). It's very common to plant pests to be adapted to specific species or at least some range of species, so either more desk research or more experimentation should be done to find out. Your idea of putting slugs into an enclosed terrarium with poisonous plants is a good one (just make sure that the plant is poisonous to them, E. aureum seems not to be).

Also, planting foreign plants amongst the crops might be another challenging task, because plants that are adapted to very different ecological conditions will not be easy to cultivate outside even in the warm season. Cultivating them inside and just using their cut-off parts to spread on the garden for slugs to eat is maybe a better alternative. Poisonous invasive plants that are very vital and spread fast would do the job, but then they will outcompete the crops.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni3 years ago
Darko Savic Great idea! But why would the slugs and snails be attracted to the Pothos plants? If you scatter and plant them across your garden, some slugs will eat Pothos and die and others will eat the garden plants and thrive.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 years ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni They pretty much eat anything that gets in their way. Pothos (or any other more suitable plant) would then serve as a trap. You would plant them all around the garden or even within it. You would still have to manually pick the snails out every now and then. The new ones that come would have to pass the Pothos "barrier"
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Manel Lladó Santaeularia
Manel Lladó Santaeularia3 years ago
Darko Savic I understand the reasoning for using non-indigenous plants would be that the snails would not be adapted to them and thus could eat them and not process the poison. I've tried to find some information on Pothos toxicity for snails and it looks like they should not be toxic but it is not exactly clear. From the list in https://petsnails.proboards.com/thread/4756/plants-snails-updated-listed it would seem like Pothos is not toxic to them, which could explain why they ate yours. Since they are specialized in eating plants, they must have some enzymes we don't, that allow them to metabolize that kind of toxins.

From what I see everywhere, physical systems (mainly gritty materials around your garden) seem to be the most effective ones in stopping the slugs from entering, and also avoiding killing them, since it's not their fault you put a salad buffet at their doorstep :)

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 years ago
Manel Lladó Santaeularia agreed. It's all fun and games until it's your 5th salad buffet that gets eaten:)
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