QUESTION: We can hardly believe how active the slugs are this time of the year. Why do we have so many? One would think that after years of waging an all out war to eliminate them, we would begin to see a decrease in numbers.

ANSWER: Apparently someone took the time to survey slug populations and reported that there more than 70,000 slugs per acre in states that receive heavy rainfall, such as Oregon and Washington.

These population numbers do not seem unreasonable when you consider that slugs are hermaphrodites, meaning that each slimy mollusk has both male and female reproductive systems. Offspring are produced by cross-fertilization or mating. And remember that slugs can live anywhere from 12 months to two year and are sexually mature at three months!

One of the best defenses in decreasing slug numbers is to eliminate their hiding places. Rocks, boards, and tall grass all provide shelter for slugs and hamper control efforts.

QUESTION: We hate to use slug baits in our garden as we have been told they could potentially be harmful to our pets if they ingested them. Is there anything that will kill slugs and not be harmful to our pets?

ANSWER: Most of the older slug baits contained the active ingredient metaldehyde. Unfortunately this material is harmful if ingested by pets or birds. Placing the bait beneath boards or in "slug igloos" made with upside down cottage cheese containers will greatly reduce the opportunity for ingestion by pets and birds.

A relatively new slug control product on the market uses iron phosphate as the active ingredient. This material is safe to use around dogs, cats and other household pets, including birds and wildlife when used according to labeled directions. You might think of this product as the "ultimate diet food" for slugs. After eating the bait, the slugs almost immediately stop feeding so that no further plant damage occurs. The slugs appear dry, and then visibly lose weight. Their mucus is sticky and they seem unable to produce it in abundance. Finally after three to six days they begin to die.

Although WSU researches have not yet had the opportunity to check this product out, according to information provided by the manufacturer, the bait has outstanding rainfastness. Baits can withstand heavy rain without disintegrating and can maintain activity for up to one week or longer.

The material is registered for use around berries, vegetables and fruit trees. You can find this material in your favorite nursery or garden center under a number of trade names including Monterey Sluggo and Escar-go.

QUESTION: We have quite a number of both vegetable and flower seeds left over from last year. Should we toss them or use them?

ANSWER: Two things influence the ability of old seeds to germinate - the way you've stored them and the kinds of seeds you have. Most common flower and vegetable seeds stay alive if they're stored in a dry, cold place. Humidity should be less than 50 percent and the temperature between 40 and 50 degrees. One good place to store seeds is in tightly sealed jars in the back of your refrigerator. If too much humidity is a problem, put a soda cracker in the jar with the seeds.

If you're like most people, last year's seeds are still sitting in a less than ideal storage place. Some seeds - like cucumbers, squash, cabbage and radish, stand this kind of storage better than others. Others, like tomatoes, beets, carrots and peas are usually okay if you plant them a little thicker than normal. But you should probably throw away corn and onion seeds and buy new ones.

You'll run into the same kinds of problems with flower seeds. Alyssum, petunia, marigold, and zinnia seeds keep very well. Others like asters will be all right if you sow them heavier than normal.

*Reference to commercial product or trade names is provided for educational purposes and is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by WSU Extension is implied.

QUESTION: For Christmas our daughter gave us a pot of tulips in full bloom. Now that they have finished flowering, what should we do? Is it safe to plant them outside now?

ANSWER: First, remove the seedpods from the top of the stems that flowered. Second, withhold watering the pot. Keep them in the house and let the foliage die down naturally. This will help replenish the bulbs. Once the foliage has completely died, you may remove the bulbs and store them for fall planting.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For answers to local gardening questions, contact Master Gardener Rachel Gana at 642-8723 or e-mail her at: baiter1@pacifier.com.

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