Gardener’s notebook: how to prevent damage to plants from slugs, snails and foxes

The RHS have declassified slugs and snails as pests  (Alamy Stock Photo)
The RHS have declassified slugs and snails as pests (Alamy Stock Photo)

In recent years there has been a shift away from the rhetoric of gardeners being at war in the garden.

Defending prize plants with brightly packaged chemical concoctions that kill the good guys as well as the problem critters is not cool.

Even the Royal Horticultural Society has accepted that slugs and snails are an important part of the ecosystem, declassifying them as a pest.

While it is easy to accept that our gardens need to be shared with nature, that doesn’t stop the feeling of frustration, especially in our small London plots and pots, where sometimes there is no hiding from the destruction these visitors cause. But you can both live with nature and have a beautiful garden.

Here’s how you can limit or prevent damage to your plants, and live in harmony with nature in the city.

Defend the vulnerable

Not all your plants will need defending, but vulnerable plants, such as those grown from seed or recently planted, along with bulbs, are particularly susceptible to damage by curious foxes and squirrels, as well as hungry caterpillars and molluscs. You can defend newly grown plants with traditional glass cloches or improvise using clear plastic bottles. For plants that you’ve just put in the ground, small bamboo cane pyramids are a deterrent to anything wanting to dig them up.

Traditional glass cloches are a good way to defend vulnerable plants from snails, slugs and small mammals (Alamy Stock Photo)
Traditional glass cloches are a good way to defend vulnerable plants from snails, slugs and small mammals (Alamy Stock Photo)

More is less (work)

No one wants to see bare earth; having a garden that is full reduces the chance of plants becoming a target. A garden with no gaps means it’s harder for problem pests to seek out and target your prized plants, and it also creates a better ecosystem of beneficial creatures that will help regulate the troublesome ones. Fill gaps with wildflower seed mixes or green manures like fiddleneck (phacelia) that can easily be removed when you have something new to add.

Choose plants right for the space

By choosing plants for the conditions you have at home, you’ll make a big reduction in their vulnerability. In the wrong conditions, for example shade-loving plants found on forest floors planted in full sun, or Mediterranean plants in damp, boggy north-facing corners will struggle for survival, making them much more vulnerable to being attacked. Don’t base your plant choices purely on looks, consider your space, too.

Limit temptation

Some plant fertilisers contain animal-derived products that can fool foxes into thinking there is something tasty buried in your garden. Choose a plant-based fertiliser like seaweed extract and look out for vegan compost.

Do nothing

Surrendering to the natural world is sometimes the best option. Take the hint — if you’ve planted something three or more times, only for it to disappear or be decimated it’s time to move on. Some plants are just asking for trouble: hostas are bound to be eaten by slugs and snails, most trees will suffer from an aphid infestation at some point, and spring bulbs will sometimes fall victim to small mammals. But in the end, most plants make a recovery.