ASK WENDY

If there's a slime trail, there's a snail nearby


Snails can cause a great deal of damage to the plants they feed on.

Courtesy of Wendy Wilber
Published: Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 10:53 a.m.

Q: I think snails are eating my plants. I don't always see them eating, but there are holes in some of my plant leaves, especially on my margarita sweet potato vine. Is there anything I can do? They are about the size of a dime or a little smaller.

A: Florida is home to a number of terrestrial snails, many are native, and we have a few that have been introduced. The one that has a hearty appetite for our North Florida plants is the Asian tramp snail. They are mollusks and normally hide out in moist areas of your landscape.

Snails can cause a great deal of damage to the plants they feed on. You will see them on leaves, but they will feed on all plant parts.

First, you will notice irregular holes in the leaves or clipped off stems or tips. Not all feeding damage is snail-related, so look for the tell-tale snail calling card of slime trails on the leaves or surrounding surfaces.

A good management strategy to control snail damage relies on a combination of methods. The first thing to do is to eliminate their hiding places. They will hide under thick mulch, boards or debris. In areas like wooden decks or ledges, regularly remove the snails. Snails can be a sign of an overwatered landscape. Make sure you are only watering one-half to three-quarters of an inch when you water. With all the rain we have been getting this summer, evaluate whether you even need to be irrigating.

Handpicking snails can be effective if you do it often. Wear gloves whenever handling snails, and discard them in a bucket filled with salty water. You also can make a trap for snails by putting a piece of cardboard on the ground overnight near where the damage is occurring. The snails will move under the dew-moistened cardboard, and you will be able to remove them from the area. Beer traps can be used to get snails, too. Simply pour beer and a few slices of banana in a steep-sided bowl. The snails are drawn to the smell and crawl in, but they cannot crawl out. Barriers such as copper flashing or screen can keep snails out of plant beds.

Also, a barrier of diatomaceous earth, available at retail garden centers, can stop snails from moving into a landscaped bed. Diatomaceous earth needs to be reapplied after a heavy rain or irrigation because it washes away. There are a couple of pesticides such as metaldehyde that can kill them. Poisons should be used with caution around children and pets, so be sure to read the pesticide label carefully. An organic alternative to the poison is a product that contains iron phosphate. When the snails ingest the iron, they stop feeding.

For more information about garden snails, visit the University of Florida's Extension website www.solutionsforyourlife.com

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Q: My sago palm has sent up a giant cone from the center. Should I cut it out or leave it alone?

A: Sago palm is a common cycad that is used in our North Central Florida landscapes. Cycads are an ancient plant, and they are dioecious, meaning they will either be a male plant or a female plant. The male sago palm send up a 12- to 18-inch cone structure almost every year. This cone contains pollen that then is carried to a female sago floral spike. The female sago flower may only appear once every two years; only the female sago palms will make seeds. The flower spikes do not need to be removed. They will fade out after about a month or two.

For more information about palms and cycads, call the UF/IFAS Alachua County Master Gardener Volunteers at 955-2402.

Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. Email her at wlwilber@ifas.ufl.edu.

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