Springtime is when garden slugs and snails can be the most damaging to your garden and landscape. Slugs, and their shelled cousins snails, begin their feeding activity in spring when the weather warms enough so plants start putting out new, tender growth. Both critters feed by rasping at plants producing ragged holes and shredded leaves. Other evidence of slug or snail activity is slime trails. Slime is laid down as these mollusks glide over rough surfaces.
Believe it or not slugs and snails do mostly beneficial things for gardeners and the environment in general. They are important recyclers in many ecosystems by reducing bulk plant material into a size that decomposes more readily.
The problem is that slugs and snails don't distinguish between natural plant litter and our valuable garden and landscape plants. So, occasionally, we need to discourage this "recycling" activity.
Gardeners have generally used poison baits or traps to reduce slug and snail numbers. Traps use a yeast or bran-type component to attract slugs and snails. Traps work fine but they take daily servicing and can be messy. Poison baits are easier to use but pose some danger because of the toxic nature of these materials. Older baits that contain metaldehyde can be especially hazardous.
Recently, new, low toxicity baits have been introduced that significantly reduce the hazards of slug and snail bait. Look for iron phosphate as the active ingredient (poison) of these new baits. Iron phosphate is generally safe for use where pets or wildlife might have access to the baits and it breaks down to a type of fertilizer if not eaten by slugs or snails.
See the slug and snail articles at 'Bugs for additional information about these garden pests.