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Hortiscope: Beer euthanasia eliminates slugs best

Q: How do you control slugs in a garden? I have tried beer traps with some success and the product called Sluggetta, but I don't like using chemicals in my garden. Are there other options? If I have to use chemicals, what are they and are they safe?

A: There are many ways to fight slug invasions. A series of shallow dishes filled with beer or decaying fruit, such as banana peels, are good. Set the dishes at ground level so the slugs are not challenged to get in them.

This is probably the most effective. With the beer, the slugs drown and have a happy death. With the decaying fruit, they think they have found slug heaven and congregate in large numbers. The beer trap kills them, while the fruit just traps them. Diatomaceous earth spread in one-half inch bands around plants will do them in by lacerating their soft body tissue.

Forget crushed eggshells because the idea doesn't work despite the many references to the contrary. One would think it should work, but it doesn't, so don't waste your time. Wood ash and hydrated lime (handle with gloves and don't inhale!) spread around garden plants will discourage slug activity. Both materials cause dehydration and burning sensations on their soft tissue. Finally, the best way to control them is to alter their environment.

Slugs like cool, dark and moist locations. Prune, replant or do whatever you can to dry and heat up the location where they seem to be the most troublesome. Persistence is necessary to win the battle with slugs because one slug can produce young without fertilization.

Q: What is the best time of the year to split and replant peonies?

A: A good rule of thumb to follow is to divide and transplant spring flowering perennials in the fall and fall flowering perennials in the spring. Midsummer flowering perennials can be divided and transplanted in the spring or fall. Peonies are in the fall transplanting schedule.

Q: I need help with my apple tree. Every branch is loaded with apples. I am thinking of cutting some of the lower branches off to lighten the load. In years past, I would have to prop up the lower branches. Would it be all right to cut those branches now?

A: That is not a good idea. Pruning now would open the tree to a host of fungal, bacterial and virus disease problems. Prune the tree early next spring when it is still leafless (dormant). In the meantime, boost the heavy branches with a prop!

To contact Ron Smith for answers to your questions, write to Ron Smith, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, Dept. 7670, Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 or e-mail