40 PLANTS THAT SLUGS & SNAILS WILL LEAVE WELL ALONE
I’ll never quite understand the purpose of slugs and snails. What was evolution thinking! The gastronomically-savvy French probably have some kind of garlic and parsley soaked answer for snails, but what about slugs then?
On a side note: the marvelous Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame really did go all out and, with an enormous amount of patience and creativity, bravely attempted to transform slugs into a delicacy. It didn’t work.
The Burgundy snail
Even the fact that hedgehogs and runner ducks are fond of them only mollifies me oh so fleetingly and doesn’t help me get over the sheer path of destruction they leave as they stroll (or slither) through my flowerbeds. Maybe there’s a particular type of person (a gastropod expert perhaps?) who collects, admires, and even loves these squidgy creatures? #notme
Out of all the slimier varieties, slugs are easily the worst. While their shell-wearing associates much prefer wilting or dead leaves and even the eggs of their house-less chums, the latter just love to dig into a lovely fresh shoot.
I have to admit in that way, snails do have their uses. Plus, from a purely aesthetic perspective, they win over the common Spanish slug any day.
Masters of disguise
For ethical, moral, and aesthetic reasons, I wouldn’t recommend launching a vicious counter-attack in response to the assault on your plants. Primarily because these are living creatures, but also because they play an essential role in our ecosystem (and I don’t admit that all that easily) – when they’re done with their salad starter, they usually move on to a lovely main course of tiny dead animals.
Right now, my morning routine goes something like this: get up early (like, seriously early!), walk barefoot through the dew-drenched garden, concentrate as hard as my half-asleep state allows to make sure I don’t stand on any slugs or snails. Because ewwwww.
Instead, I place them in a large plastic bucket (lid obligatory!), usually along with their half-eaten scrap of dahlia or delphinium. Wouldn’t want them to go hungry on their mini-adventure – obviously.
Then, once I’ve dropped my youngest off at Kindergarten and managed to prise the bucket out of his (slightly slimy) grip, I carry on to the woods and, in the spirit of my slug/snail rehoming scheme, set them free.
Effective but perhaps not entirely labor-friendly.
There’s another way, though!
The easiest way to keep slugs and snails out of your garden with minimal effort is to pick plants they simply ignore. Oh, if only I’d known this when I first planned out the cottage garden...
Although there are always going to be a few stubborn mollusks who, disbelievingly, (ad)venture a little sniff or possibly even a minor chomp on your new greenery – for the most part, this is a good strategy to roll with.
The best thing to do is to create a few ‘stress-free’ areas in your garden – by which I mean entire flowerbeds full of slug- and snail-resistant blooms. It’ll help you keep track of which plants you need to look after particularly (dahlias! cornflowers! delphiniums!), and you won’t wake up one morning to a wasteland of munched foliage.
Another option is to use these plants to establish a sort of slug and snail barrier in the hope that your slimy friends won’t be able to sniff out the zinnias(!), petunias (!), and lupines (!) behind a wall of ‘bodyguard plants’.
So, here’s my list of (cottage garden) plants that are generally snubbed by slugs and snails (not making any promises, of course*). Feel free to view this as a sort of open-source document (open-source is a software term for a source text that is accessible to the public and can be modified by anyone). If you know of any good slug- and snail-proof plants that I haven’t included, please let me know, and I’ll be only too happy to add them to the list.
*A quick note about this: when it comes to phlox, asters, and hydrangeas, there’s an animated, almost heated, discussion between my neighbor a couple of doors down and me. Those three are plants that, for her, have proven to be completely slug- and snail-resistant, whereas, in my garden, they seem to be the number one choice at the slug buffet.
Since most slugs and snails don’t have a death wish, they’re pretty inclined to avoid getting stabbed by rose thorns. Having said that, they also stay well away from the thornless varieties. So, this one’s a safe bet!
Every now and then, you’ll spot a Roman snail chowing down on a wilted petal that’s drifted down to the path. I feel so grateful to them that I’d happily offer them condiments and serve the petal on a tiny silver platter.
This “fresh plant” is completely slug- and snail-resistant.
3. SPRING FLOWERS
Snowdrops, wood anemones, hyacinths, and forget-me-nots apparently aren’t as appetizing as you’d imagine. It probably helps that slugs and snails also just aren’t as active at that time of year. Every now and then, I’ll (gently) prise one off a tulip petal.
5. TOXIC PLANTS such as foxgloves, lily of the valley, and wolf’s bane
Unfortunately also don’t have much to offer as a food source.
Bees love it, slugs and snails hate it.
9. LADY’S MANTLE
Usually pretty safe apart from the 'Annabelle' variety, she's on the snail-menu.
…and other plants with thick leaves, like houseleeks and spurges.
13. RED VALERIAN
15. LAMB’S EAR
18. CHRISTMAS ROSE AND LENTEN ROSE
22. JAPANESE ANEMONES
So we meet again, my beloved Japanese anemones. If you want to learn more about these, you can click HERE to read my “Ode to the Japanese Anemone”.
24. FALSE GOAT'S BEARD
26. SWEET JOE-PYE-WEED
27. BLUE IRIS
28. PURPLE LOOSESTRIFE
29. SCARLET BEEBALM
31. MOSS PHLOX
33. VERBENA BONARIENSIS
34. BALLOON FLOWER
36. GROUND ELDER
Little gardening joke here. But of course, they’d leave that one alone. Why save us the weeding work…
37. DAME’S ROCKET
38. SEA LAVENDER
Even though, in my opinion, grasses have no place in a cottage garden (all they do is take up precious space you could fill with beautifully bloomy blossoms) I keep having these hilarious discussions about ‘grasses – yay or nay’ with Alex Lehne (a renowned German garden designer and TV presenter) who, incidentally, provided this photo. Thank you, Alex! For this and the comical conversations.
At first glance, this is another one that doesn’t really seem like a typical cottage garden plant at first glance. But I love combining it with masterworts, cranesbill and columbine in shady garden spots. All you need then is a couple of elves and a few fairies and, tadah, you have the perfect enchanted little corner.
Just a few points to wrap things up.
Vegetables vs. slugs and snails is pretty much a whole topic of its own.
Growing them in a raised flowerbed is really only your first line of defense – unfortunately it’s not a guarantee. There’s nothing slugs like more than a nice bit of garden salad, which is why the most resolute gardeners like to plant some extra lettuce to distract these greedy guts away from their other prized plants.
There are also certain types of lettuce and vegetables that stand a decent chance of survival: corn salad, endive and red lettuces (has anybody tried this? I’d love to hear your feedback!) as well as plants with a strong smell, such as onions and garlic. Radishes, celery, beetroot, chives and tomatoes don’t feature on the mollusk-menu either.
Strong-smelling herbs full of essential oils, such as rosemary and thyme, are also not a favorite with slugs and snails. But be careful with basil – they love a bit of that (minus the tomatoes & mozzarella).
I’ve also noticed that slugs and snails tend to gravitate towards ‘beat-up’ plants. An already partially nibbled dahlia seems more likely to attract hungry visitors than a neighboring plant that’s still untouched and all in one piece. Have you noticed this too?
I’d absolutely love to hear about your experiences. What works for you? Any secret tricks you’d care to share?
Love from the Cottage Garden,