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  • Writer's pictureJulia Watson

Slugs and Snails and Squirrels Oh My!

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a neighbor who was walking by our front cutting garden. The whole area is now covered in bird netting. “It’s not for birds,” I said, “it’s to keep out the squirrels. Squirrels are my enemy.” She quickly agreed that they were her enemy too, and I bet every gardener around here would agree.

If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said that snails were my number one pest. But after Don and I started Tiny Footprint Flowers, we’ve had more problems with squirrels, digging up everything and leaving behind dead seedlings and unsprouted seeds. Sometimes they bury peanuts that sprout later, popping up among the cosmos. It’s exasperating!

I think the reason for the uptick in their activity is simply that we’ve planted more, and this means more dirt for squirrels to explore. But now that we’re growing cut flowers, every new planting is an investment, and every squirrel attack is more maddening than when I was a home gardener and not a flower farmer. If anyone out there can tell me a good way to keep out squirrels, let me know. Cursing at them hasn’t worked – so far bird netting is the only thing that keeps them out.

Now, about slugs and snails. They’re still around, but by using Sluggo every time I plant new seeds or seedlings, I’m able to keep their damage to a minimum. After years of doing that I think I see a slight decrease in their numbers. Annie Hayes of Annie's Annuals Nursery has a useful blog post with photos showing how much she adds to her spring plantings.

The thing snails love most of all—the thing that must be like chocolate cake or truffle French fries to them—is a sweet pea seedling. They would eat every single one, gnawing them off at soil level, if I let them. Now that sweet peas are valuable to us as cut flowers, I’m even more careful than I used to be, and I try to wait to set out seedlings until they’re a bit bigger and tougher. Snails won’t bother them once they’re about two inches high. But it’s a trade-off, because sweet peas don’t always like to be transplanted. They would do better direct seeded, but I have to re-apply Sluggo often if I do that. But that’s life in the garden – it’s always something.

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