Great Minds Think Alike — and We Know Everything

March 12, 2010 | By | Comments (8)

Faithful and inquisitive Grumpians, it is time once again to dive deep into Grumpy’s voluminous mailbag and answer some of your most pressing garden questions. As a special treat, I’ve asked some of the greatest minds in history to address your entreaties.


Judy asks: When should I start to feed our azaleas? We live about 1-1/2 hours south of Atlanta.

Albert Einstein answers: Did you know that if you traveled to the Andromeda Galaxy at the speed of light, by the time you returned, your azaleas would be devoured by a Black Hole? As far as fertilizing goes, do this right after they finish blooming. That Black Hole won’t show up for another two years.

Sir_isaac_newton2 Julia asks: My ‘Brown Turkey’ fig has grown too tall to safely harvest its bounty. When and how should I prune it?

Sir Isaac Newton answers: You can prune it now by shortening the uppermost branches as much as needed. Always cut back to another branch or outward-facing bud. The early harvest of figs will be reduced, but not the second one in summer. Hey, a big fig just fell on my head! This gives me an idea…..

Socrates2 Pat asks: I live in Texarkana. About 3 years ago, our healthy, gorgeous azaleas turned brown and died almost overnight. I put compost and bone meal around them as directed. Looks like fire blight to me.

Socrates replies: Azaleas cannot get fireblight. My thesis is that you have a soil problem. Your soil may be too alkaline (a pH of 5.5 is ideal), poorly drained, or have a root rot fungus in it. Before you replant azaleas in the same spot, have your soil tested by your Cooperative Extension Service. You might also bring them a plant sample. FYI, I’d drink poison before giving azaleas bone meal. In your part of the country, they’re much more likely to benefit from applications of iron sulfate or garden sulfur.

Stephen_hawking2 Gloria asks: Is there an organic way to grow summer squash? The borers always get to mine before they’re able to produce.

Stephen Hawking responds: Squash borers have plagued our existence ever since the Universe suddenly expanded from an infinitely dense, infinitely minute particle of Italian sausage more than 13 billion years ago. You need to cover your plants with floating row covers. These are made with very light material that lets in sun, air, and water, but keeps out bugs. Of course, it will also keep out bees and if bees don’t pollinate the flowers, you won’t get any squash. So you will have to be the bee and use a cotton swab to transfer yellow pollen from the male flower to the center of the female flower. A female flower has what looks like a tiny squash at its base. Click here for a source for row covers.

IMG_1195 Jack asks: I have a young crepe myrtle with a single trunk and branches that spread out like an umbrella. How should I prune it?

Grumpy answers: As it grows, cut off any side branches that are within 3 feet of the ground. Also cut off any branches that grow inward toward the center of the plant. You want the branching to be open enough that a small bird could fly through. Now is a good time to prune. Tell any of your neighbors that have sawed off their crepe myrtles into ugly stumps that I am very upset and will be paying them a surprise visit shortly.


  1. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Either organic or commercial fertilizer will work. I prefer the organic, because when it breaks down, it adds organic matter to the soil. Choose one labeled for the kinds of plants you grow.

    May 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm
  2. Ralph

    The best thing to do when raising any kind of plant is to apply fertilizer on it. I usually apply fertilizers both organic and commercial one. My plants are healthy and are very productive.
    I have my flowers now, roses and tulips. What kind of fertilizer should I apply for these plants? Will it be organic or the commercial one?

    May 6, 2011 at 1:49 am
  3. Grumpy Gardener (His Grace)

    It obviously doesn’t like where it’s growing. I would either move it this fall or replace it. Put it in a spot that receives morning aun and afternoon shade, if possible, and give it fertile, moist, well-drained soil.

    May 10, 2010 at 2:53 pm
  4. Roxanne Shields

    I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV (near Shepherdstown) and am trying desperatly to go a hydrangea. It will grow only about 6 inches high and wide every year. It is 4 years old now. It is living life like a dwarf. Any suggestions?

    May 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Grace)

    Assuming the spot is sunny, you could plant winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), canna, elephant’s ear, and ginger lily.

    April 16, 2010 at 8:05 am
  6. Jennifer

    sorry! Nashville

    April 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm
  7. Grumpy Gardener (His Grace)

    Where do you live?

    April 15, 2010 at 8:06 am
  8. Jennifer

    I’m looking for a plant/grass/shrub that does well in wet soil or standing water. Our driveway slopes downward and tends to collect rainwater at the base of the driveway in the grass. We’ve dug a little drainage ditch to the side of the driveway to help with some of the runoff, but we still have a spot that love to hang on to the water. Any suggestions? thanks!

    April 14, 2010 at 3:31 pm

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