ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers.

Q A friend gave me what I call a strawberry geranium. She refers to it as a strawberry begonia. It grew beautifully in a hanging basket all summer, and produced lovely long runners with plantlets on the ends. It grew so well that several of the plantlets took root beside our retaining wall over which the plant was hanging. If these were mulched would they come through the winter? They look quite attractive where they are. B.L.S. Kansas City, Kan.

Saxifraga stolonifera is neither in the geranium nor begonia family, but probably gets the name from its resemblance to some varieties of each. The runners are similar to those of strawberry (Fragaria).

In protected spots, where soil is well drained, you can cover them with a few inches of leaves and they should come through a normal winter. We have had them survive minus 15 degrees F., when covered with some evergreen clippings and a couple of inches of leaves over top. Q I have been overrun with slugs this year. They seem to love the bait I put out, and while many succumb, there seem to be even more to take their place. Do these pests overwinter with eggs or in the adult stage? Is there anything I can do now to decrease the number for next year? Mrs. G.R.C. South Yarmouth, Mass.

Countless letters have come to us regarding snail and slug (snail without a shell) damage. Since these night marauders need moisture and warmth (above 50 degrees F.) to be active and to reproduce, many areas have had ideal conditions. If the temperature is between 60-80 degrees F., garden slugs' eggs hatch in about 28 days, and even sooner if it is warmer.

The eggs (oval, transparent yellow in color, and strung together with mucilaginous membrane) are laid from spring to fall (or until temperature cools below 50 degrees F.). Eggs can survive freezing weather if they are well protected, as can adults. Both are found in debris and close to foundations of buildings. The best prevention is to clean up all plant debris, old pots, boards, mulch material, etc., and to inspect soil or sod where it meets foundations. Baits won't help during winter in cold areas since pests are not feeding then.

Here are some remedies other than toxic baits:

During garden season, lay old shingles or boards, or inverted citrus skins around snail damage areas. In daytime, slugs will hide under these, and you can scrape them into household bleach, detergent water, or rubbing alcohol.

Put cider vinegar, fruit juice, or rubbing alcohol in bottles laid on their sides or in jars sunk into the ground up to the rim, or in traps available in garden stores.

Sprinkle dry material such as lime, borax, or ashes in places where you see slime trails, as snails usually follow the same routes repeatedly. The material dries out the mucous on the snail's ``foot'' and dehydrates the pest.

Using a flashlight to assist in sprinkling salt on pests will eliminate many. Nightly ``picking'' with tweezers dipped in lime has helped us eliminate hundreds, which we drop into plastic bags. Q When I was a child my mother had what she called an ``air plant.'' Recently, I saw what appears to be the same kind of plant in a friend's home, but she called it a ``maternity plant.'' It was rather tall, with smooth, somewhat leathery, scalloped leaves having little plantlets at the indentions. She gave me a leaf so I could root the little plantlets (some already had roots on). I recall my mother having shared many such leaves with friends. I think hers bloomed erratically with pendulous reddish florets, and needed very little care. Are the plants the same? What would be the true name? Mrs. J.E. Grand Junction, Colo.

The plant is Kalanchoe (kal-an-k'o-ee) pinnata, closely related to the red, pink, yellow blooming kalanchoes sold by florists from November to April. It is also called ``bedbug plant'' or ``mother of thousands.'' There is a variegated (brownish stripes on green) narrow leaved species named Kalanchoe daigremontiana, which is also called by the above common names because of the same reproductive characteristic. Q I bought a beautiful hanging fuchsia this spring and it was full of blooms and buds. As soon as more new buds formed, they all fell off and some of the leaves took on a yellowish cast. How can I keep the plant blooming after I bring it indoors? Mrs. V.M. Waterbury, Conn.

Fuchsias do not like hot, dry weather. As soon as their roots dry and the buds are exposed to too much sun, they drop off. They like semi-shade, daily watering, and humidity. The same conditions would cause some yellowing of the leaves. If leaves have a yellowish mottled look all over, however, hold a piece of white paper under the stems and tap the leaves with a pencil. If tiny moving specks appear, you have spider mites. Drench the fuchsia with insecticidal soap spray to eliminate these pests. In the fall, cut the plant back and set it indoors in a cool place, watering moderately until January or February. Start watering more as new shoots lengthen. Be sure the plant gets plenty of light as it starts growth.

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