I live in the dampish west of the country and my garden is home to more slugs and snails than I can shake a stick at. They climb the windows, they abseil down the roof and they come into the bathroom. Most frustratingly of all, they eat some of my plants and make it impossible to grow others.

Slug cruising down the outside of the bedroom window. Slugs and snails.

Slug cruising down the outside of the bedroom window, April 2013. M K Stone

Slugs and snails really love soft, juicy, tender, succulent leaves

Experience has taught me that it’s just not worth trying to grow some plants – you might as well rip up £10 notes or put them on the fire. I thought Mexican orange blossom (Choisiya ternata Sundance) would make a bold statement at the end of the path, and I looked forward to the beautiful smell. No, no, no! It disappeared overnight.

Don’t bother with any tender green seedlings, delphiniums, lupins or busy lizzies. You probably know about avoiding hostas already – there’s always lots of gardening talk about preventing slug and snail damage. Don’t bother with pansies: my neighbour tries them and they get eaten fast, with slug pellets on the side.

Snail and slug resistant plants are required

Stock your garden with plants in which slugs and snails have no interest, or at least only slight or occasional interest. I’ll give you some suggestions but that’s all they can be. Some plants or individual plants may be safe one year but not another, or they may be OK in one garden but not in another.

Choose plants that are:

  • too difficult for slugs and snails to move over
  • too tough to rasp (eat)
  • too old or dry to rasp
  • poisonous.

If possible, ‘all of the above’ would be my choice.

Suggestions in brief

Evergreen plants are usually pretty tough and may be aromatic like rosemary and lavender, or have glossy foliage like camellias and bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis). In my garden, though, bear's breeches grow strongly and make a lovely place for snails to hide. Then they try to nibble the leaves from below which is quite exasperating.

Plants with thick and leathery foliage are difficult to rasp. There’s a big choice of plants including elephant's ears (Bergenia), hellebores, London pride, hebes and ferns.

Glossy foliage (roses, camellias) is difficult to travel over.

Waxy foliage is difficult to move over. Think of the thick and waxy leaves of the ice plant (Sedum spectabile), and many of the houseleek species (Sempervivum) .

Houseleek and stonecrop on a roof, near Cilcain, Flintshire. Slugs

Houseleek and stonecrop on a roof, near Cilcain, Flintshire. By Michael Ely, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rough, furry or hairy leaves make for slug and snail resistant plants: they are difficult to travel over and hard work to rasp. We've got lots of choice here as it's a wonderfully big category and includes Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), lamb's ears (Stachys macrantha), lungwort species (Pulmonaria), and borage. Here, I’m also able to grow the garden thug lemon balm, pelargoniums, hardy geraniums, foxgloves and snow in summer without any difficulty.

Geranium (with Alchemilla mollis and poppy) in full bloom. Slug resistant. slugs

Geranium (with Alchemilla mollis and poppy) in full bloom by Sarah Buchanan

Bitter plants are avoided by the gastropods. The spurge species (Euphorbia) has a bitter, poisonous and milky sap which would also gum up their mouthparts if they tried to rasp.

Dry plants like ornamental grasses hold no attraction.

Plants with a strong scent or taste. In my garden I’m successful with lavender, rosemary, sage, santolina (cotton lavender), boy’s love (Artemisia abrotanum, southernwood) and fennel. Peppery nasturtiums are untroubled (except by large and small white butterflies – but that’s another story). The alliums (including leeks, onions of different kinds and garlic) are left alone. There are exceptions, though. Remember that for slugs and snails, ‘soft and juicy’ always trumps ‘strongly scented’ so basil and marigolds are not safe at all.

Mature plants can be more snail and slug resistant and have a better chance of survival. The sturdy climbing beans I transplanted from pots into the ground last year were much more resistant to slugs and snails than those I sowed directly. (I still had to spend many evenings picking off those slugs and snails which were mountaineering to the top of the canes.)

Keep on trying

I’ve been successful with primroses and daffodils although I know their flowers sometimes get shredded. Siberian and flag irises grow happily. This year I’m also trying Iris reticulata and tulips, so fingers crossed. The bulbs are already through and I’d really like them to grow strongly and flower successfully. I might try Japanese anemones again. I’d like parsley to grow outside but it seems to be too tempting when it’s young and, of course, parsley doesn’t like to be transplanted. And fruit and vegetables – how I’d love to have a good range of them in the garden!