Bush snails on my orchids – Preventive and remedial care tips

Snail infestations could wipe out your entire collection of orchids. It’s as serious as that. Repeated checks and timely intervention are key to protecting your orchids from snail damage. Read on to learn how to take care of the issue and follow preventive care tips.

Snails severely stunt the growth of your orchid

My orchids were attacked by bush snails recently, and it came as a bolt from the blue!

At first, I thought it was only one orchid, but on further inspection, I noticed tiny bush snails on other orchids too and was on my wit’s end trying to get them under control.

Fortunately, since I grow my orchids in sections on my windowsills, only a small portion of my collection was affected. The process of elimination continued over the next few weeks. I conservatively tried to eliminate snails without the use of chemical pesticides such as metaldehyde. Based on my experience, I am giving you tips on how to ensure that your orchid collection remains free of these pests.

Bush snails and orchid damage

Bush snail on my Vanda orchid

Bush snails are tiny and have a shell on their back. They mostly chew on new roots, tender new growths, buds, flowers and leaves. Loss of roots and root tips is especially worrying as it affects the nutritional uptake of the orchid, thereby preventing it from developing properly. This also affects the stability of the plant, which discourages it from sending out bud spikes.

Therefore, it is important that we eliminate the snails at the earliest. Check your orchids for chewed up roots and root tips. I did notice some bruised root tips, but always put it down to mechanical damage or assumed the tips dried up due to lack of nutrients. I also assumed that it may have been caused by insects such as thrips.

Orchid root tips chewed up by snails, whi h I habits growth and blooming

I was very much disturbed at the time as I was facing snail infestations for the first time in my five years of orchid growing. It so happened that it had rained throughout the previous night, and the next morning, as I surveyed my happy orchids, I was thinking to myself – ‘they look nice and healthy, and have enjoyed getting soaked in the goodness of rain……’

On closer inspection, I was shocked to see a number of tiny snails crawling all over one of my Vanda orchids, probably hatchlings that were nested in the roots of the Vanda orchid. Since it was raining through out the night, probably, the snails decided to come out of hiding.

I was shocked and terrified of losing all my orchids as snails spread very quickly. At that time, I thought that only one of them was affected as all the others looked clean. But I knew there would be more in hiding. So I decided to take care of the immediate emergency at hand, and later scrutinise the other orchids for snails.

The best thing to do in such a scenario is to physically remove the snails and make a thorough investigation to check for any more hiding in the root system. Since my Vanda grows in a slatted basket with cork bark chunks, I did not want to disturb its root system as I would damage a lot of roots.

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Remedial measures for snail infestation

Physical removal is one of the first steps to be taken in such a scenario
Sometimes, putting off repotting may cause more damage tha you can think

I immediately set about removing the snails that were visible. I used a Q-tip and an absorbent kitchen towel to remove the snails. The Q-tip worked very well as the snails clung to the cotton fibre. I could place the snails on the towel without worrying over them sneaking away. You could also use toothpicks to reach into narrow crevices and remove any hiding in between the sheaths and leaf bracts.

With the immediate threat resolved, I brought the infested Vanda inside for a thorough inspection. I did not want to treat it with chemical pesticides such as metaldehyde or with hydrogen peroxide as I wished to avoid their usage as much as possible. I left the Vanda as it was, and quarantined it from my other orchids.

Tracing the source of snail infestation

Having taken care of the emergency, I then wondered about the source of the snails. I have a dedicated grow space that is well protected. So the snails could have come along with the orchids I had purchased recently.

Normally, I repot my new buys at the earliest, but this time, since I was a tad busy, I decided to repot one of them later. I did not find any snails in the medium while repotting the other orchids, and the roots seemed healthy. With no signs of chewed up roots, I assumed none of them had snails. I needed to find out the source of the pest infestation. I resolved to act quickly to prevent more such pest attacks. I quarantined the orchid until I repotted it soon thereafter.

Continued remedial action to eliminate snails

Snails have a tendency to come out of hiding at night. Later, I checked on the infested orchid at midnight and found some more tiny snails close to its root system and the base of the plant. I was sure there would be more snails hiding in the root system. So, the next morning, I immersed the Vanda in a tub of water for an hour. This would help dislodge any left over snails into the water. As expected, I found a few snails in the water. I repeated my nightly checks and immersed the Vanda in a water tub every morning for the next week or so until I was sure that all the snails had been eliminated. I haven’t come upon snails since the last two days. I just hope that’s the last I see of them.

I also carried out similar night checks for my other orchids and found tiny snails on the Vandas. On immersing them individually in water tubs for about 15 minutes, the snails came out of hiding and began moving to the upper portions of the orchid that were dry. Using a Q-tip or cotton bud, I removed the snails and placed them on a mat. I repeated this for the next couple of days and now my orchids seem to be free of them. However, I would be checking on them everyday until I am sure they are absolutely free of snails.

I did look up snail infestation discussion threads on the Orchid Board, a few research papers and conservative remedial measures on YouTube. Some of the conservative methods included coffee grounds, powdered egg shells, diatomaceous earth, fermented yeast solution, copper tape, magnesium sulphate, garlic and coffee concoction and even sea weed fertiliser application. These applications create an undesirable environment for snails. I have begun trying them out one by one, and will inform you on what works best.

There were also the more aggressive methods such as application of metaldehyde pellets, iron phosphate and hydrogen peroxide, which I may consider using if the snails return in my collection.

Care tips to save your orchids from snail attack

With this experience behind me, I wish to give you tips on how you can prevent such pest attacks:

Immersing your orchid in water will force the snails to come out of hiding
  1. Keep a keen eye on your orchids and inspect them for pests every day. You could do this while watering and fertilizing them. On noticing something wrong or a pest infestation, immediately quarantine them and physically remove the pests if possible.
  2. Inspect your snail-infested orchid late in the night as snails come out of hiding at night. You can draw them out from their hiding places by placing a few cabbage or lettu e leaves on top of the medium. Alternatively, you can pla e a cup of scale beer or a sugar solution with some yeast in it. The snails get attracted to the smell of the fermented liquids and will fall into the cup and drown.
  3. Remove the snails from the plant. Repeat this until you are sure that your orchid is free of these pests.
  4. Use copper tape or sprinkle diatomaceous earth, coarsely powdered egg shells and coffee grounds to protect your orchids from snails. All these methods provide a physically undesirable environment for snails, thereby acting as barriers.
  5. If possible, clean up the infested orchid and repot it in fresh medium. This will doubly ensure that no pests are left behind. If your orchid is bare-rooted like my Vanda, then immerse it in water for an hour every morning. This will help dislodge the few remaining ones.
  6. Quarantine your newly purchased orchids and repot them at the earliest as they may carry snails in their medium. Commercial orchid growers face huge losses due to snail damage. Though they take lot of preventive measures and try their best to not send infested orchids,, snails do find their way into their collections sometimes.
  7. Provide an environment that discourages their growth. Snails thrive in a damp environment. So it is better to keep your grow area dry by watering your orchids every morning rather than evening. This will allow excess water to evaporate.

With this said, every now and then, the best of us will face these uncalled for situations. You just need to problem solve at the earliest and your orchids will be safe.

Happy growing!

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