History of Snail Problem in California

this snail is a problem

 History of Snail Problem in California
If you happen to be a local oenologist — a winemaker, that is — the name of Antoine Delmas could well be near and dear to your heart.  If you happen to be a gardener, however, this same name could evoke highly charged negative emotions, to say the least.
Antoine Delmas, you see, who arrived in the Santa Clara Valley in 1849, is famous for being the first to bring two important commodities, one for praise and one for execration, into California.  Delmas was the first person to introduce French grapevines, Merlot and Cabernet varieties prominent among them, into the state. But Delmas also bears the burden of being the first person to import  European snails into California.
Delmas considered snails — escargot in French — to be a tasty delicacy, best washed down with select varietal wines.  As it turned out, the only way a gardener could possibly accept the presence of European snails was if he became regularly enebriated from serious imbibition of Merlot or Cabernet.
Delmas depositied his snails on the west bank of the Guadalupe River, near San Jose.  Fifty years later, a correspondent from San Jose reported that the snails had reached the east side of the river and had “multiplied to such an extent that, in some instances, they are troublesome in the gardens.”  It should be noted that Delmas had also traveled south to Los Angeles with a batch of his snails, and that his prized gastropods proved even more precocious in our area than up north, no doubt due to the fact that our climate more closely resembled that found in the Mediterranean habitat of the European snail.
Snails are not all bad.  There are 240 California native snail species and none of them are garden pests.  They live off of fungi, terrestrial algae, and other micro-organisms.
Snail Problem: Geometric  Population Explosion
A major factor in the snail’s rapid reproduction is its hermaphroditic status.  This means that every snail coupling results in a double impregnation.  With each snail laying  eighty eggs at a time, and with five or six impregnations per year, it is easy to see how a snail population could explode by geometric proportions in a short time.  Snails also have a highly sophisticated osmoregulatory system, allowing them to eliminate water loss during a drought and deny entry of water — which could cause them to freeze to death — when the weather gets cold.
Although they would not be found in a kosher restaurant, snails and snail eggs are widely available as comestible fare.  When it comes to cost, snail eggs are expensive, nearly rivaling fish eggs or caviar at $50 an ounce.
Snail Problem Control Measures
Beginning gardeners may regard snails as a serious problem that requires drastic control measures.  Metaldehyde is the chemical of choice for killing snails but it is toxic to pets and so dog and cat owners may resort to Sluggo, a product that is deadly to snails but pet friendly.
Veteran gardeners are much less aggravated by snails, regarding them more as an occasional nuisance, and knowing that diligent hand picking will keep the mucinous mollusc menace at bay.  An early morning snail hunting foray into the garden on a daily basis, or a nightly search with a flashlight, where snails are simply removed from wherever they adhere or slither and dropped into the trash, will take care of most snail problems in a matter of several days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the infestation.  Again, though, if you monitor your plants on a daily basis, year in and year out, snails should never gain a foothold in your garden.
It has also been my experience that snails are more of a problem in a hygienically clean, non-mulched garden where soil is bare than in a “dirty” garden where a layer of mulch is constantly decomposing on the soil surface.  Now is an excellent time to collect fallen leaves and spread them around between your plants.  This sort of rough mulch will serve admirably as a snail deterrent.
Chickens Solve Snail Problem
Raising chickens for a steady supply of fresh eggs — which seems to becoming more commonplace among Los Angeles gardeners — carries the added benefit of a reliable snail patrol.  Just as a posse of cats will often eliminate a rodent problem, a chicken or two will gladly gobble up snails wherever they show their lovely helical shells.
For some Plants, Snails are not a Problem
Snails are not omnivorous and many plants can grow among them without suffering any damage.  Just as in the case of gophers, it seems that snails are also deterred by plants with strong fragrances.  The list includes lantana, geraniums, rosemary, sages (Salvias) of all types, mints, and ornamental ginger (Hedychium).  Non-fragrant but still snail resistant plants for your flower beds include impatiens, bedding begonias, fuchsias, cyclamen, crocosmia, hellebores, and foxgloves.  Baby tears are snail resistant and so are ferns of every description, as well as hydrangeas.  California poppies and ornamental grasses are resistant, too.
Copper Solves Snail Problem
It seems that snails are mostly interested in annual flowers and vegetables although they will climb the trunks of citrus trees to munch on leaves and fruit.  One way to keep them out of vegetable boxes and citrus trees is through the use of copper.  Copper bands or foil (Snail-Barr is one recommended product)  ringed around  tree trunks or stapled along the perimeter of a planter box serve as no trespassing signs where snails are concerned.  When, in time, copper becomes tarnished, it loses its snail deterring effect but can be re-activated when polished with a little vinegar and water.  Make sure your banding or foil is eight inches wide to eliminate all chance of snails humping over it.  Bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate plus hydrated lime) will also provide one year’s snail protection when painted on trunks of susceptible trees and will give two years’ protection when white latex paint is added to the mix.
Exclusion Solves Snail Problem
Tip of the Week:  As is the case with any pest problem, exclusion is the best policy where snails and slugs, too, for that matter, are concerned.  Drip irrigation is recommended since application of water to roots alone will keep foliage dry and reduce garden humidity, a discouraging prospect for moisture craving snails. Removal of boards, rocks, weeds and miscellaneous debris that serve as snail hiding places, as well as regular inspection of water meter and sprinkler valve boxes, is also advised.  Last but not least, get rid of your ivy.  It is the most snail friendly ground cover and may be replaced with a snail repellent and fragrant ground cover such as trailing rosemary, lemon balm, or peppermint.

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