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On the trail of snails; THE MOLLUSCS ARE COMING... SO PREPARE TO FIGHT THEM OFF WITH AN ECO-FRIENDLY ARMOURY.

Byline: With Diarmuid Gavin

pring is in the air and gardeners are busy sowing seeds and transplanting seedlings, bedding, vegetables and herbaceous plants.

s. But lurking in the long grass is a silent army of creatures, each of whom have up to 27,000 teeth and are waiting to pounce on any fresh green vegetation, with lettuce and hosta top of the menu. I am of course talking about slugs and snails.

So it's timely to look at methods to protect your crops and flowers - there's nothing as disheartening as to find your sweet pea seedlings decimated, the only clue being a telltale glistening trail left behind by the molluscs.

But before you march out to wage chemical warfare against these munchers by spraying toxic pellets around your garden, let's remember their value in the ecosystem.

They do a valuable job when they digest rotting vegetation and they are food for hedgehogs, frogs and toads, and birds such as the thrush.

When you poison a snail, you are also introducing poison to the wildlife food chain.

So let's look at the eco-friendly methods: | Beer traps - sink plastic containers such as old yoghurt cartons into the ground and fill with beer.

Ensure a lip of 2cm of the container is above ground which will stop beneficial beetles being lured in for a drop.

| Organic pellets based on iron phosphate are more environmentally friendly than the traditional metaldehyde pellets.

They won't kill other animals and if they're not eaten they will be broken down and turned into naturally occurring iron and phosphate.

| Make their passage difficult to your plants with barriers they find tough to navigate.

Protect under For example, if you have been pruning roses, these thorny clippings make good barriers and can be removed when the plants have toughened up a bit.

You can also use wood ash, grit, crushed egg shells, bark or even cadge used coffee grounds from a friendly barista.

| Keep veg plots and seedbeds clean of surrounding long grass and other hiding places for slugs, such as weeds and dead leaves.

| Water plants in the morning so soil is drier at night - when slugs are most active - it's less attractive to them. | Seeds are vulnerable so start them off under cover in a cold frame or greenhouse and then plant out when a bit sturdier.

Or you can make mini-cloches for outdoor seeds by chopping an old plastic bottle in half and removing the lid.

Not only will it protect against the slugs but it will act as a mini greenhouse and accelerate the germination process.

| Plant choice - if your heart is broken every year by slugs shredding your hostas to bits, how about swapping or surrounding them with plants whose fragrance repels slugs, such as astrantia, artemisia, rosemary, rue and fennel? Or try growing hostas in pots with copper tapes - the copper tape deters snails as contact delivers a mild electrical shock.

| Nematodes are microscopic worms that you water into the soil and they enter slugs and kill them from within.

It's called biological control and is considered environmentally friendly. | Finally, a night patrol with a torch is a good way of catching them redhanded.

If you decide to relocate them, your neighbour's garden is not a good idea. Not just because it's unfriendly, but you need to locate them at least 20 metres away as otherwise their homing instinct will bring them straight back to you!

They might take their time, but they'll be back...

ASK DIARMUID QI have a hydrangea bush which is about 5ft tall. I want to cut it back but I notice a lot of buds growing on it. Should I go ahead? Betty Cooke A If you chop back hard now, you will probably lose a lot or most of the flowers this year, but if the plant is too big for your liking, now is certainly the time to prune.

New growth this year will form next year's flower buds.

After pruning, apply mulch and slow-release fertiliser to boost the plant and maintain its water levels during any dry spells.

PLANT OF THE WEEK AUBRETIA 'PURPLE CASCADE' One of the most dramatic displays of spring colour comes from the aubretia.

Its profuse flowers form waterfalls of purple, hanging like curtains over walls and scrambling through rockeries, steps and raised beds.

Surface-sow now and throughout spring for transplanting into desired location as seedlings.

Cut back established plants hard after flowering which may result in a second bloom.

Grow in full sun, preferably in alkaline, not overly fertile soil.

CAPTION(S):

Pruning a hydrangea bush now will mean you lose a lot of this year's flowers

Use beer traps to catch snails and slugs

Protect seedlings under cloches

Crushed egg shells make passage difficult for slugs and snails
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 20, 2019
Words:798
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