Life’s A Beach! No Rest for the Grump

June 5, 2009 | By | Comments (14)


At the insistence of my wife, my co-workers, and everyone else who knows me, I have been banished to the Florida coast for the next four days to watch the waves roll in, stroll in the surf, and feed small unaccompanied pets to the bull sharks.

But have no fear, Grumpians, I haven’t forgotten my commitment to you. Even here, where the sloths of the sand spend all day reading in recliners in the shade of umbrellas, I still work to enlighten you on matters of horticulture. Why, just last evening, I discovered some fascinating information.

For example, a quick tour of the local village revealed a number of blue agaves growing in people’s gardens. One resident told me of a special juice made from these plants that he fermented and mixed with lemon and lime juice to make a refreshing drink named for his mother, Margarita. In the interest of science, I had to try it and it was quite good. However, knowing that first impressions can sometimes be misleading, I repeated this experiment four more times. Sadly, my research abruptly ended when I fell asleep.

Oh well — I am at the beach, you know. At least, I wasn’t wasting my whole day reading a book.


Today, I will research another drink locals make with something called “rhum” that is flavored with mint and key lime juice and called a “moheeto.” (Hope I got the spelling right — I don’t speak much French.) But before that, I will answer a gardening question or three from faithful readers.

“Dear Grumpy,
I have a really stupid question, but you have answered my stupid questions before. I planted a bare root silver maple about 6-8 weeks ago. It is still a great big ol stick with stick branches. How do I know if it’s just slow or dead? I am in SE Alabama. I’m not very patient, but don’t want to pull the plug too soon.
Thank you, Holly.”

The Grump replies: There are no stupid questions, just stupid morning show hosts. Your tree should have leafed out by now, so I would guess it’s dead. One easy way to find out is to scratch the bark with your fingernail or a knife. If there is a green layer just under the bark, there’s hope. If it’s brown, pull the plug.

A question from Julie:

“You recently wrote of the virtues of centipede grass for lawns, but I find it an invading nuisance to my flower beds.  Is there an easy and/or effective way to keep it from overtaking my plants?”

The Grump replies:Yes. All you have to do is mix up some Roundup according to label directions and spray along the edge of your beds a couple of times a year. That will keep the centipede out. If you’re afraid of accidentally spraying good plants, use Ortho Grass-B-Gon instead. It comes in a spray bottle and only kills grass.

And a question from Gitta:

“I need your help desperately. I have about fifty azaleas in my front yard – all Red Ruffles – who have an illness! After blooming the bushes have developed a growth mostly on the tips that look almost like warts. They are light green, grow larger and turn color to a lighter green, almost light yellow. I contacted my garden center and was advised there was no medication for the disease. All I should do is remove them. I have filled a garbage can – I am embellishing ! – and every morning there is new growth which I promptly remove again. I cannot believe that YOU would not know how to handle my problem. Will you help, please.”

The Grump replies: Fortunately, you have contacted the one person in the world who can identify your problem and tell you exactly what to do. The growths are due to a fungus called azalea leaf gall that usually appears after stretches of cool, wet weather in spring. Light green growths with the texture of apple flesh eventually envelop the leaves and turn whitish. At that point, they release spores that infect other leaves.

ALG Azalea leaf gall

I would advise doing two things. First, pick off and throw away all of the infected leaves before they grow and turn white. Second, spray your azaleas according to label directions with a fungicide such as Daconil, Bayer Advanced Disease Control for Roses, Flowers, and Shrubs, or Spectracide Immunox. If you prefer a more natural funcide, try Soap-Shield liquid copper fungicide. You can spray now to prevent leaf gall from spreading to new foliage. Next year, spray your azaleas just as they are about to bloom.


  1. Shruti

    Can a plant survive without leaves. if yes, how they survive without roots.

    July 7, 2009 at 5:54 am
  2. Grumpy Gardener

    Can’t argue there, Jimbo.

    June 13, 2009 at 5:03 pm
  3. Jim Long

    So it looks like the 6 important plants to have if you’re stranded in Florida are: blue agave, sugar cane, mint a lime tree, a Budweiser bush and a potato chip tree.

    June 13, 2009 at 2:55 pm
  4. mondo

    And you certainly don’t want the Smut Flu.

    June 9, 2009 at 9:29 am
  5. Grumpy Gardener

    Yes, Rabbit, you are correct. Yet another reason why I’m in Florida, not Mexico.

    June 9, 2009 at 7:22 am
  6. chathamcorabbit

    Grab your fork, instead… isn’t corn smut a delicacy in Mexico? Mmmmmmm…
    I’m pretty sure that I read this in a book edited by Steve Bender 🙂

    June 8, 2009 at 11:16 pm
  7. Grumpy Gardener

    Corn smut? Sounds intriguing! I just passed a cornfield the other day and the plants were tasseling. Let me grab my video camera and check it out.

    June 8, 2009 at 9:11 am
  8. mondo

    Hey bud, in a recession, you could at least slurp an American cerveza!
    I hope there’s a worm in it.
    Or an azalea fungus.
    Or corn smut. I smite thee!

    June 7, 2009 at 9:48 am
  9. chathamcorabbit

    Have fun! Please tell the Green Fairy that I said,”Hi”!

    June 6, 2009 at 9:43 pm
  10. Grumpy Gardener

    Drew, I appreciate your concern, but I am on a research mission. The ABC board will just have to suck it up.
    Rabbit, thanks for the tip about mescal. I’ll keep it in mind tonight at the Absinthe Festival.

    June 6, 2009 at 7:41 am
  11. chathamcorabbit

    If one of the “villagers” suggests mescal, politely decline. Enjoy your vacation!

    June 5, 2009 at 9:18 pm
  12. Drew

    Why are you in Florida? We have the same beverages in Alabama and need your taxes to support the ABC Board.

    June 5, 2009 at 5:29 pm
  13. Grumpy Gardener

    Works for me.

    June 5, 2009 at 4:10 pm
  14. Helen Yoest @ Gardening With Confidence

    So if I start acting grumpy, Will I have to go to the beach too?

    June 5, 2009 at 1:57 pm

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