That perfect bud unfurls after your breathless wait and, “No, say it isn’t so!” The petals have been scraped and slurped before they could have their day in the sun. The tell-tale trail of slime will lead to the culprit: a snail or slug. Luckily, they are among the larger of the herbivores and they move slowly. There are a number of strategies to outwit them or eliminate them altogether.
The first, of course, is to catch them in the act and pluck them to their doom; dusk and dawn are the best hunting times. Dispose of them in plastic bags in the trash can or feed them to the neighbors’ chickens. Snails are cooperative as they politely withdraw their mucus-y body into their shell. Slugs are another story; you may wish to wear gloves. Plenty of gardeners have great success in putting out snail and slug traps, too. The legendary one is a shallow dish of beer. It works. If you don’t want to waste your cerveza on the mollusks, lay a board or cardboard tube near the tempting plants and in the morning remove the inhabitants from where they’ve gathered in the night. There is an organic poison for slugs and snails, as well. It is formulated from iron phosphate so degrades into the soil without toxic effects. It is also granular so not attractive to children or pets.
For the squeamish or more spiritually minded, there are several materials that can be used to create barriers around choice plants. One is diatomaceous earth. Apply it directly to the soil in a line around susceptible species and the sharp particles will deter the slippery devils. Be sure to use products packaged for garden use, not the kind for swimming pool filters. Copper is supposed to be abhorrent to slugs and snails and strips of thin copper sheet or screening can be fashioned around larger-trunk plants such as citrus trees. As the copper oxidizes, it can lose potency, so you may have to give it a vinegar and salt bath to shine it up periodically.
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Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to email@example.com.