All Your Garden Questions Answered in Just One Blog!

August 15, 2009 | By | Comments (30)

Grumpians are well aware of the many over-the-top promises made every day on TV, radio, newspapers, and our beloved spam. That’s why I’m so happy to be continuing that fine tradition right here. I can’t answer ALL of your questions in one blog, obviously. But if a misleading title can trick you into reading further, you just may find out what’s gone wrong with your crepe myrtle, your lawn, your roses, and the old lady next door who’s always dancing by herself.


Crepe Myrtle

With the possible exception of why rosarians shouldn’t garden in the nude, no garden issue consumes us more in the summertime than crepe myrtles. Almost everybody has them. Almost everybody has questions, like these:

“When standing under my crepe myrtle, it sounds like rain is falling, but the sky is blue. Why is that?” — Neil

Grumpy says — Well, Neil, the first thing I’d check is whether your crepe myrtle is planted under the open window of a second-story bathroom. If that’s not the case, what you’re probably hearing are drops of sweet honeydew secreted by aphids sucking juice from the leaves. When this honeydew accumulates on the leaves, ugly black mold often grows on it. A safe way to give aphids the heave-ho is to spray the undersides of the leaves with all-season horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.

“Your Excellency, I live on the beautiful inland sea of Puget Sound [near Seattle]. My ‘Zuni’ crepe myrtle is planted in a container on a sunny spot on my deck. It’s about 4 feet tall and looks healthy, but has no blooms yet. Will it bloom next year?” — Susan

Grumpy says— Gee, thanks, Susan, for making us the rest of us feel cursed and inadequate. Do you fly in planes with Richard Branson and lunch with Michelle Obama too? ‘Zuni’ is one of the Grump’s favorite crepe myrtles, forming a vase-shaped shrub to 10 feet tall with gorgeous lavender-purple blooms. Look at it here in Helen Yoest’s garden in Raleigh. When a crepe myrtle blooms depends on two things — genetics and temperature. Some types, like ‘Natchez,’ bloom quite early. Others, like ‘Watermelon Red,’ bloom later. High summer temps speed up blooming. If it doesn’t reach 90 degrees in lovely Puget Sound until July, your crepe will bloom later. Strangely enough, when I was in Seattle a few weeks ago, it was 103. Now you know how the rest of us live.

“My fairly young ‘Natchez’ has flowers so large they bend the spindly stalks nearly to the ground. It’s worse once they’ve gone to seed. Any suggestions?” — Lalagigi

Grumpy says — Oh, named after a Pacific island, are you? Flower heads bending over spindly branches usually results from improper pruning, called “crepe murder,” in which an uninformed yet well-meaning person with absolutely nothing else to do goes out in winter or spring and cuts the trunks into ugly stubs. Each stub then sends out a forest of long, whip-like branches too weak to hold up the flowers. The solution is to stop murdering your myrtles. Don’t cut back the main trunks and the blooms will be held high. You can cut off the seedheads if you wish.

Lawn Mushrooms

“Yo, Grump, got these low-to-the-ground, brown mushrooms in my yard. I didn’t plant them and I don’t want them! What are your suggestions for ridding my lawn of these fungi?” — Rick

Grumpy says — Well, you could black-top your yard. That’d solve the problem for sure. Mushrooms are the only visible sign of active fungi in the soil that decompose organic matter, like dead tree roots. There is nothing you can do to get rid of the mushrooms until they’ve fully digested the organic matter — unless you love the smell of black-top in the morning.


“Now that the blooms of my French hydrangeas have faded, should I cut them off? There is new growth on the plants.” — Julia

Grumpy says— Yes, it’s OK to remove the spent blooms. But don’t cut back the new growth. Many hydrangeas produce flower buds for next year on this growth. Cut it off now and no flowers later. Exceptions are repeat-bloomers like ‘Endless Summer,’ ‘Pennymac,’ and ‘All Summer Beauty.’

Gourds and Pumpkins

“Is it too late to plant the decorative gourds and pumpkins? I don’t have any seeds, but I guess I can get them at the nursery.” — Sylvia

Grumpy says — No, you can’t, because it’s too late to plant them now. Pumpkins and gourds require a long growing season to produce. You’ll have to wait to plant next spring. In the meantime, wait until it’s dark and swipe some pumpkins from your neighbor’s garden.

Shrubs for Screening

“I need a plant that would make a good screen between two homes. My driveway and the neighbor’s driveway have 5 feet between them. I would rather not look into his garage every time I leave the house. Do you have any suggestions for this spot that gets full sun?” — Jenny

Grumpy says— I believe it was Robert Frost who wrote, “Good hedges make good neighbors.” Since you live near Nashville, you need evergreen shrubs that like your climate and also take pruning and shearing quite well, so that you can control their size. Here are some suggestions: ‘Hicks’ Japanese yew (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’); ‘Nellie R. Stevens,’ ‘Needlepoint,’ ‘Robin,’ ‘Sky Pencil,’ or ‘Oak Leaf’ holly; ‘Gray Gleam,’ ‘Skyrocket,’ or ‘Spartan’ juniper; and ‘Bright ‘n Tight’ cherry laurel.

Mildew Recipe

“I had a recipe for a spray to control mildew on roses, but my grandson used a hole punch on it and now I can’t see all the amounts. How much baking soda do I use?” — Denise

Grumpy says— A common recommendation is to add 1 tablespoon of baking soda to a gallon of water. The alkaline nature of the baking soda makes leaf surfaces inhospitable for the fungus. You may also want to to mix in 1 tablespoon of horticultural oil to help the spray spread evenly and stick.


  1. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)


    May 31, 2012 at 3:27 pm
  2. Brandon

    Hi again, Grump, thanks for your advice. When should I prune back the shoots – immediately after I remove the big seed pod clusters in the summer?

    May 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm
  3. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    If you want, you can trim off some of the blooms to lighten the load so the branches won’t bend so much. And definitely remove the big clusters of seed pods that will follow. Then just prune back these shoots by about half to an upward-facing bud. The branches will grow up and be sturdier for next year.

    May 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm
  4. Brandon

    (I also do not want to cut the Crape Myrtle down to the ground and start completely over unless I absolutely have to)

    May 27, 2012 at 8:32 pm
  5. Brandon

    Hi, like Lalagigi, my Crape Myrtle has long spindly stalks that will likely be weighed down by the flower bunches shortly. Unlike her, however, I did do some improper pruning back in October. I trimmed the branches down from the top (not too far, but enough to get these spindly shoots this year). What can be done about this- is there anything to reverse the trend? It’s still a short plant (only 2 years old) and I’m afraid my branches will be breaking, or at least look ridiculous touching the ground once the flowers bloom. Thanks for any advice

    May 27, 2012 at 8:28 pm
  6. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Yes, Janet, you can, but they are vines so they will get all entangled in your other plants and become a nuisance. It would also make harvesting much harder.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:29 pm
  7. Janet

    Can you allow Strawberrys to grow in your perennial garden?

    March 19, 2012 at 8:53 am
  8. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I’m wondering if there is a watering issue. The soil should be moist, but well-drained. If your bushes are looking bad in general, you might consider cutting them back right now and feeding them with a liquid fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro. This should encourage them to send out new, healthy foliage and more flowers.

    July 22, 2011 at 9:28 am
  9. Lisa

    I have 2 butterfly bushes that have brown spots and wilty leaves, they are blooming but look sick. What can I do to get them healthy?

    July 16, 2011 at 8:36 am
  10. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Inspect the base of the vine where it emerges from the soil. Do you see a rough, warty growth that looks like cancer? This is a disease called crown gall, which is caused by bacteria. It eventually kills the plant and there is no cure. If you see this, remove the plant and don’t plant wisteria there again.
    If crown gall isn’t the cause, you might have a soil problem. Have your soil tested to see if there is a nutrient deficiency. Also, stop fertilizing your wisteria. Well-fed wisterias hardly ever bloom!

    January 28, 2011 at 12:24 pm
  11. Bob

    I need to know what is wrong with my Wisteria vine. It is growing on an aluminum trellis manufactured by Alumacart. The trellis is umbrella shaped and is designed to cause plants to form a canopy like a tree. The vine seems to do fine until it works its way around the trellis, at which point it withers. I water and fertilize regularly, and the soil pH is OK. I am located in South Florida. My other vines are all doing fine. Any suggestions?

    January 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm
  12. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    You could spray it with Roundup or Brush Killer. The reason it keeps coming up everywhere is all the seeds. If you kill the seedlings before they flower, you’ll eventually be rid of it — unless a neighbor has one, in which case, you’re out of luck.

    December 13, 2010 at 4:18 pm
  13. billige mobiler

    How do I remove Rosewood? It keeps on coming up somewhere else after I got rid of it. It’s a pain in the ass-Really.-R.B.M

    December 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm
  14. F Jensen

    I have white foam growning on the top of my parsley that I have growing indoors. What is this and how do I get rid of it.

    April 27, 2010 at 9:11 am
  15. Grumpy Gardener (His Grace)

    I’d plant them 4-5 feet apart.

    April 19, 2010 at 7:54 am
  16. Lanna

    I just purchased 9 one gallon hydrangeas and wish to plant them together in one area. How far apart should I space them. Ocala Fl.

    April 18, 2010 at 2:12 pm
  17. Natural , Safe Horticultural Oil

    Another product great for powdery mildew is “Nature’s RX Premium Horticultural Oil” by Greenthumb’s Remedy. It is an advanced horticultural oil that surpasses the results of other horticultural oils.

    December 14, 2009 at 8:55 pm
  18. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    Slowness to bloom does seem to be a common problem with ‘Ruby Razzle-Dazzle.’ Assuming they get plenty of sun and it gets hot in summer where you live, I’m not sure there’s much you can do, other than wait.
    Don’t know where you live, but crepe myrtles are a viable option. Deer don’t eat them.

    August 30, 2009 at 10:53 am
  19. Florence

    We have removed all the white pines between our neighbors home and ours because of pine borers. We need some ideas for a fast screening plant. We plan to use arbovitae green giant but would like to combine it with some other plants to add some interest to an otherwise boring hedge.We have many deer in this area also so suggested plants shoud be deer resistant. Any suggestions???

    August 29, 2009 at 11:29 am
  20. Vikki

    I have 2 Razzle Dazzle series crepe myrtles. In the 3 years I have had these super tiny crepe’s neither has ever bloomed. From what I have read on the net, others have experienced the same problem with “Ruby” Razzle Dazzle. That must be what I have. The dark burgundy-reddish foliage is beautiful but I’d sure like to see a flower! Any suggestions on how to get these tiny trees to bloom?

    August 29, 2009 at 10:02 am
  21. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    Grumpy needs some more info.
    1. What kind of bushes are they?
    2. Do you want to transplant them somewhere else or just throw them away?
    3. Are you planning to dig them yourself or do you have help?
    4. How big are they?

    August 25, 2009 at 1:05 pm
  22. Pamela

    How do I dig up old bushes?

    August 24, 2009 at 8:20 pm
  23. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    Finches love crepe myrtles seeds. I notice them every winter eating the seeds of my crepe myrtle by the front porch. My cat likes the crepe myrtle too, as this gives him a chance to eat the finches.
    Have you fertilized your moonflowers? If so, stop. Too much nitrogen encourages the production of leaves, not flowers. If not, your plants should begin blooming soon, provided they get plenty of sun. As for the redbuds, again, make sure they’re in a sunny spot. Redbuds are easy to grow and bloom under the worst of conditions, even the suburbs of Chicago. (Just kidding.) Your trees may just need to get a little older.

    August 23, 2009 at 3:51 pm
  24. Terri Schmitt

    perhaps I should mention that I unfortunately live in the suburbs of Chicago.

    August 22, 2009 at 11:41 pm
  25. Terri Schmitt

    ….and while I’m at it, I have two small redbud trees. Every spring, all over town, everyone else’s redbud’s are covered, every square inch of each branch with lush purple flowers. My branches either have none, or just a few sprinkled here and there. It looks so sad! Every spring, I think this must mean they are dead for sure, but then when the leaves come, they look fine! They are 5 years old! What the heck???!! How to fix? Fondly, HRH Terri

    August 22, 2009 at 11:39 pm
  26. Terri Schmitt

    I am a novice gardener. I planted seeds for the first time this year. One packet was Moonflower. I didn’t even realize it was a vine. They have taken off like crazy, for which I was so excited. Had to buy 2 arbors to hold them up, and they are already 6 ft. tall! BUT, NO BLOOMS!!! How can it be growing so well, but not producing flowers? Is it cause it’s their first year? Please educate me. Fondly, HRH

    August 22, 2009 at 11:35 pm
  27. KAREN

    are crepe myrlte seeds bird food shld i cut them off

    August 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm
  28. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    The Grump apologizes for implying that you are an incompetent pruner. I will now fall on my sword.

    August 22, 2009 at 9:44 am
  29. lalagigi

    Hey Grumpy, Just so you know…. I don’t do crepe murder, and I take great offense at the suggestion….but a few of my branches just snapped from the weight of the flowers, which are basketball-sized! I think the problem arose from the 5-day freeze last year that nearly killed off my “creepies”. They came back spindly and haven’t had time to establish a strong limb structure.

    August 20, 2009 at 8:58 am
  30. Dave

    We have the late season crape myrtles that have decided to wait on blooming. I suspect our cooler summer is the cause. Quite a lot of good info today!

    August 17, 2009 at 7:58 am

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