Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Ravenous snails come out of their shells to lay waste our gardens

If you thought the harsh winter might have killed off the slugs in your garden then it looks like you were being overly optimistic.

Come summer and the slugs and snails have invaded in force, decimating cabbages and reducing sunflowers to sad little sticks slicked with slime.

The Royal Horticultural Society has just issued a nationwide slug and snail alert, warning that the heavy rain has called the malevolent molluscs forth.

And following an enforced spell of dormancy in parts of the UK that have had blazing sunshine, they will be particularly hungry — with hostas becoming prime targets.

Here in Northern Ireland the picture is rather different with the weeks of hot, rainy weather meaning our gardens have been under sustained attack.

According to farmer Maurice Patton, who runs Ards Allotments near Comber, it’s the second summer in a row for a mass invasion of slugs.

“With the wet weather it’s been atrocious, actually — some people are even resorting to slug pellets as they just can’t control them by normal methods,” he said.

“They keep battling with it but once they start on something, the slugs are ferocious. Last year was bad and this year is equally as bad.

“People are trying all sorts of things for getting rid of them — such as the old putting down beer traps which they like, but sometimes that is not very good. Some are resorting back to slug pellets as they are the most tried and tested way.

“They love marigolds, petunia, they’re very fond of cabbages and all the brassica family as well. The other day I went out at night to look at the marigolds in my own garden — if there was one slug on a marigold, there must have been five or six. The plants were bending over with the weight of them.”

Invertebrate expert Professor Keith Day of the University of Ulster said Northern Ireland offers perfect conditions for slugs and snails.

“My expectation is that this would be about the time when people will see lots of slugs in the garden. They have a wonderful capacity not to be eaten by a lot of things — many of the birds don’t eat them — so if the environmental conditions are good for reproduction, numbers will increase quite a lot.

“The expectation might have been that slugs would have suffered more through the harsh winter but they have a great potential to protect themselves from freezing by getting into tight crevices so there were still plenty of slugs around by the end of winter and then numbers will increase through spring and summer.

“They will produce a number of generations through summer as long as it’s warm and only stop breeding when it starts getting colder.

“I’m not a gardener but I feel sorry for people who have a slug problem — they grow pretty big, they do a lot of damage and they are everywhere. Northern Ireland has the ideal weather for slugs.”

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