Absolutely Everything You Want to Know About Gardening

November 11, 2009 | By | Comments (6)

Once again, Grumpians, it’s time to astound you with my complete mastery of all topics horticultural. The topics we’ll review today include:

+Crepe myrtle sex

+Pruning holly

+Screening fishbowl with Leyland cypress

+’Endless Summer’ hydrangea won’t bloom

+Peace lily won’t bloom

+Sowing wedding poppies

+Annihilating mole crickets

+Christmas cactus blooms

If none of these topics interest you, then you are sadly deficient in intellectual curiosity and deserve your own morning talk show on cable.

Question from Lynne: “I have two crepe myrtles in my front yard that won’t bloom, except at the very top. They’re planted under some tall pines. What’s wrong? Are they both the same sex?”

Grumpy’s wise reply:  Yes — which is to say, no, because crepe myrtles have no sex, at least not out in the open. The cause of sparse blooms sounds like too much shade. The more sun your crepe myrtles get, the more blooms you’ll get.

Question from Evergreen in SE Virginia: “I have two 12-foot hollies on either side of my front door that are very overgrown. I want to cut them back severely. May I do this and when?”

Grumpy’s wise reply: The all-knowing Grump always recommends leaving a space of at least a foot between shrubbery and the house to facilitate good air circulation and prevent the growth of algae and mildew. Fortunately for you, holly is one of those plants that can be cut back within an inch of its life and still leaf out again. Prune them after your first frost.

Question from Penny: “We live in a fishbowl and a landscape architect has suggested planting a screen of Leyland cypress on one side of our property for privacy. What do you think?”

Grumpy’s wisenheimer reply: A Leyland cypress can grow 3 to 4 feet a year and reach a height of 80 feet, so it will quickly outgrow your fishbowl or even a good-size aquarium. It does make a good tall screen. Unfortunately, during the last decade, more and more of them have fallen victim to a disease called cypress canker that causes branches to turn brown and die. Canker usually affects plants under stress from drought, poor drainage, and overwatering (especially from lawn sprinklers). ‘Green Giant’ arbor vitae makes a good substitute, as it has the same basic shape.

Question from Faye: I’ve heard ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea blooms all summer long. My plant hasn’t produced any blooms since one blossom from last year. It’s planted in well-drained soil, gets plenty of water and sunlight, and has beautiful green foliage. What am I doing wrong?”

Grumpy’s compassionate reply: Don’t feel bad. Many people have had the same experience. ‘Endless Summer’ does bloom on both old and new growth. But in order for this to happen, the plant needs a steady diet of water and fertilizer to keep it actively growing all summer. If it gets dry, it stops growing and you don’t get any more flowers. The Grump has had ‘Endless Summer’ in the ground now for 5 years and this is the first summer it has produced a second flush of blooms. So far, we’ve had 64 inches of rain. Coincidence? He thinks not.

Question from Rita: “My peace lily plant doesn’t bloom. Does it need high light? Should I fertilize it?”

Grumpy’s succinct reply: Try moving it. Although peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) grows perfectly well in low light, it won’t bloom very much. Bright, indirect light or filtered sun will do the trick. Direct sun is not the answer, though — it’ll burn the leaves.

Wedding question from Juli in Tennessee: “I am planning my daughter’s wedding next June 5. I want to plant a large field next to my home with Iceland poppies. What are the chances I can have beautiful poppies on this date and what does this entail?”

Grumpy’s shady reply: Making the Grump the primary beneficiary of your retirement account would certainly advance your chances. Absent that, I can’t guarantee these cool-season annuals will still be in bloom, but you have a decent chance if the weather doesn’t get too warm. Scatter the seeds atop bare soil right now and let the rain plant them. You can smooth some soil over them if you wish, but don’t bury them more than a quarter-inch deep.

Question from Monya: My dogs nearly dug to China in search of mole crickets. Areas of my yard look like a mine field! What can I put out to kill these things without hurting my dogs?”

Grumpy’s bloodthirsty reply: You need to apply a granular lawn insecticide to cause maximum carnage. Try Maxide. It’s available at most home centers. Follow label directions carefully.

Question from Linda Lou: “How do I get my Christmas cactus to bloom? I would like it to bloom for the holidays.”

Grumpy’s didactic reply: Christmas cacti are short-day bloomers (like poinsettias). They set flower buds as the days grow shorter. I have mine outside right now in the light shade of my screened porch and only bring them inside when a frost is expected. They’re already setting buds. Look closely at the ends of leaves for tiny, plump buds to appear. When they do, you can bring your plants inside and they’ll bloom. Keep the soil moist while they’re in bud and bloom. My plants have bloomed every year for the last 5 years.


  1. Steve Bender


    You can grow a new crepe myrtle from an old one by planting the seeds. Or you can root a cutting of a small branch by dipping the cut end in rooting powder and then sticking the cutting in a pot filled with moist potting soil.

    July 31, 2014 at 2:51 pm
  2. Crystal Meserve

    how can i start a crepe myrtle from an old healthy plant?

    July 29, 2014 at 12:58 pm
  3. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    The trip home obviously involved some windburn damage to the foliage, but it isn’t serious. The leaves were going to fall off in a few weeks anyway.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:42 pm
  4. Tamara

    Here’s the deal, I bought six one gallon crape myrtles. They were (notice the past tense) about three feet tall. I put them in the back of my truck, snugged up against the cab and started my trip home. By the time I got home (about a 15 min. drive) They had become dehyrated and the leaves became crispy. On a couple of the myrtles the leaves are flacid with crispy edges. Did I commit crape myrtle?

    September 25, 2011 at 11:33 am
  5. Katrina Russo

    Great answers!Thanks for my day’s worth of horticulture Steve!
    Happy gardening,
    Shop.com Ambassador

    November 12, 2009 at 10:30 pm
  6. julianchandler

    Thanks for the info regarding Endless Summer hydrangeas. I’ve been considering them for my yard, but since we often have precious little rain in OK in the summer, I think I’ll pass. Regarding the Christmas cactus, I find that it often helps to withhold water for 3 or 4 weeks while they are setting buds. I did this a little too early this year and my Christmas cactuses, which generally bloom a week or two before Christmas, will be finished blooming before Thanksgiving! (As the Grump points out, it’s important to start watering as soon as buds appear–otherwise, the buds are likely to fall off before blooming.)

    November 12, 2009 at 5:40 pm

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