These slimy molluscs are the most persistent pest problem most gardeners have to deal with.

Although they have their favourite plants, they will eat almost anything that's not too tough and leathery including leaves, stems, bulbs, root vegetables, even flowers.

Gardens are full of tasty plants to eat, and moist places to hide, so suit them down to the ground.

To minimise slug and snail damage you need to adapt a range of strategies, and accept that you will never completely eliminate them.

Discourage slugs and snails by reducing daytime hiding places near vulnerable plants clear away dead plants, weeds and piles of rubbish and reduce surface mulches, dig in organic matter instead. Encourage slug and snail predators including thrushes, hedgehogs, frogs and ground beetles with appropriate habitats and additional food sources.

Consider chemicals to protect your most vulnerable plants. Slug pellets, based on metaldehyde, are cheap and effective. They are unlikely to harm wildlife if scattered thinly, following the instructions.

Alternatively use a liquid slug control. Putting poisoned slugs and snails in the bin reduces the risk further. Copper tape works well to protect containers from slugs, but not snails. Contact Green Science Controls on 01244-281150 if you can't find it.

Biological control, based on microscopic nematodes is also very effective against slugs though less so against snails. You need to apply them in moist, warm weather for most effect. They're available mail order from a range of suppliers including Green Gardener 01603-715096.

Jobs of the week:

* Sow fast-growing half-hardy annuals in an unheated greenhouse or coldframe, including african and french marigolds, aster, nicotiana, phlox, sunflowers, verbena and zinnia

* Prune grey-leaved shrubs such as artemisia, lavender, sage and senecio to new shoots within 10cm of the base. If base is bare, just reduce soft growth to within 10cm of old wood

* Apply combined feed and weed to lawns. The Gardening Which? Best Buy is EverGreen Feed and Weed, available in

liquid or granular form Subscribe to Gardening Which?

For a three month free trial. Freephone 0800-252100.

April 8, 2003 14:30