Do Snails Do Any Good In The Garden?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:53 pm

Snails Are Useful In The Eco-system After All

Snails are much more than just plant pests. But what are they actually useful for in the ecological system?
Every summer, unwelcome guests crawl through gardens: slugs destroy entire beds of lettuce and do not shy away from cabbage or beets. And the question quickly arises as to their raison d’être in the ecological system. Hedgehogs would only be able to eat worms or beetles if it weren’t for the snails.

Scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Halle and Leipzig have now finally discovered the role snails play in the ecosystem: Apparently, they increase the biodiversity of their environment.

Do Snails Do Any Good In The Garden?

To find out, scientists had spent five years closely studying mountain meadows in the Franconian Forest and the Thuringian Slate Mountains. At altitudes between 500 and 870 meters, they catalogued everything that grew and crawled there. Then they spread poison. They thus destroyed all insects and snails on one half of the meadow. After this radical step, the counting started all over again – year after year.

Surprisingly, however, the poisoning did not cause all the plants and herbs to multiply at breakneck speed and the meadows to overflow with diversity thanks to the lack of pests. Rather, the diversity of species decreased – not only because fewer creepy-crawlies and crawlies lived in the meadows. But also the diversity among the plants shrank without the predators.

Researcher Harald Auge explains the decline in biodiversity by saying that the stress that snails and beetles cause the larger, stronger plants by nibbling on roots, shoots and leaves apparently weakens them so much that other plants have a greater chance of growing. “The animals prevent strong plants from crowding out their weaker competitors.”

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In nature, then, animals otherwise known as pests are the friends of weak grasses or forbs, he said. “However, their presence does not affect biomass, the amount of plants,” Auge said. The yield of hay harvested from the observed fields remained the same, he said.

Weinbergschnecke auf grünem Blatt

What snails to fight and which are useful

Snails like the striped tiger snail are valuable beneficial insects in the garden. You should also be happy about vineyard snails.

Not all snails are harmful. Large amounts of biological material is converted by them, turning it into fertile soil.

Recognize the good snails

The striped tiger snail eats decayed organic matter as well as snail eggs and still living snails. He should be welcomed as good snails, as well as the vine snail, which is a protected species.

Tigerschnegel, Schnecke, Garten
Weinbergschnecke, Nützling, Garten
The Roman snail is a protected species and should not be fought in any case.

This helps with slugs in the garden

Especially after mild winters, when the soil could not freeze through sufficiently, timely control of slugs is particularly important.

Early in spring, the Spanish slug lays its tiny eggs protected in cracks and under stones. If you lay out boards now, you will soon find the white clutches underneath and can selectively remove and dispose of them.

In addition, young snails should be collected regularly. A barrier made of sharp-edged sheet metal bent outwards around the vegetable beds keeps further slugs away.

In a natural garden, with its diverse habitats, useful snails also present themselves: snails, grove slugs, as well as Roman snails are harmless and feed on lichens, algae, mosses and withered plant parts.

Roman snail (Helix pomatia)

The Roman snail is the largest native land snail. With an age of up to 20 years and a shell diameter of up to five centimeters, imposing specimens can grow.

Roman snails are found in areas with calcareous soils. The mollusks need lime for the formation of the snail shell. Lime is absorbed through food, i.e. through plants. In the fall, a particularly large amount of the building material is needed before Roman snails go into hibernation and close their shells with a lime lid.

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Roman snails are not considered garden pests and are even protected. They do consume large amounts of plant material, but they usually leave tender young plants to the left. They much prefer to eat soft, wilted or moulted plant parts.

If slugs still become a nuisance in your garden, leave cut shoots and leaves in the garden for a few days. That’s where the slugs will gather for a feast.

Roman snails: Not for sterile gardens!

In tidy and thoroughly maintained gardens, Roman snails will not find food and will feast on tender young shoots and seedlings. Always leave some garden waste lying around, because Roman snails like to shred it into small pieces.

Grove snail (Cepaea nemoralis) orGarden ribbon snails (Cepaea hortensis).

They can be found on the old wooden fence and under stones. The banded shell snails grow to only one to three inches in size. Although they often hide under leaves and flowers, they do not harm plants. They feed on algae and mosses. Depending on the region, the basic color and pattern of the shell differ.

Leave snail shells on the ground. In spring, wild bees use the empty houses as nurseries for their offspring. For newts, toads and ground beetles they are an important food source.

Snails (Limacidae)

Snails are also slugs, but should not be confused with the problematic slugs (see below): Snails or leeches, unlike slugs, are harmless and even useful.

The tiger slug (Limax maximus) even attacks and eats the Spanish way slug.

Nützliche Schnecken

Snails are at home in a diverse natural environment, such as a natural garden, where they also find their food. This is because they eat algae, lichens, fungi, carrion and dead plant material.

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They reproduce more slowly and build only small populations. Snails grow up to 20 cm long. Depending on the species, they are fashionably black to mackerel.

Snails can be easily distinguished from road snails: Snails with a keel and a breathing hole located in the rear third of the mantle should be allowed. These are fluke snails.

Problematic snails

Slugs are the terror of gardeners. They eat whole beds of young plants and seedlings bare overnight.

Harmful slugs in the garden include:

  • the slug (Deroceras reticulatum)
  • the Spanish slug (Arion lusitanicus)
  • the garden path snail (Arion distincuts)

These three species of slugs prey on healthy plants and are therefore one of the plagues in the garden.

In the meantime, the red slug (Arion rufus) has been largely displaced by the Spanish slug (Arion lusitanicus) and is on the Red List (Bavaria) because of its rarity. Both species look very similar and are easily confused.

Another important note:
When applying slug pellets, always keep in mind that slugs and snails can also perish from the slug poison.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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