You Ask, I Answer — Grumpy’s Timely Garden Tips

February 8, 2011 | By | Comments (37)

Wherein The Grump Responds to All Sorts of Gardening Questions with His Customary Wit & Wisdom

Replies Guaranteed 100% Correct or Your Money Back

It is a happy day in Grumpiana, for once again the Grand Poobah of the EIG (Excellence in Gardening) Network deigns to fill the skulls of the huddled masses with much-needed learning and knowledge. Surely you will recall its intelligence all the rest of your days.

Plentifall-pansies-l The first question today concerns stinking, mushed-up pansies.

June writes, “I thought pansies were impervious to cold weather. However, every fall I plant, mulch, water, etc. a nice crop of pansies and as soon as it gets cold here in southern Virginia, most of them die. What the heck am I doing wrong?”

Grumpy’s totally excellent answer: If your soil is heavy and drains poorly, the plants could be dying from root rot. You can fix this by working in lots of organic matter into the soil before planting. However, Grumpy suspects you’re just planting the wrong pansies. Some types are more cold-hardy than others. Next fall, plant either ‘Majestic Giants II’ or ‘Plentifall’ pansies. Both come in a full range of colors. The latter takes sub-zero cold with no problem. Another option is planting ‘Sorbet’ violas or Panolas (crosses between pansies and violas). Both are hardier than most pansies.

Crepe Myrtle 006 Our next inquiry comes from a worried crepe myrtle owner who wants to ease its pain.

John writes, “After the last snow melted, a large branch of our crepe myrtle broke and fell. Is the tree vulnerable to fungal infection if the core wood is exposed? Should I cut off the broken limb and, if so, treat the cut with anything?”

Grumpy’s totally excellent answer: Painting the wood where you cut off a branch is a widespread, time-honored practice. It is also totally pointless, as it has zero effect on the tree’s health and healing. The best way to help a tree heal is to make a nice clean cut just above the branch “collar” — a distinctive bulge where the branch attaches to the trunk. Avoid tearing bark or leaving a long stub.

OK, let’s turn our attention to the subject of what the heck to do with amaryllis in February.

Molly writes, “I grew an amaryllis bulb in water and it bloomed, but now it’s dying back. Can I plant it in sand? I don’t know where you live, but we are getting another foot of snow and I’m tired of it!”

TalosGrumpy’s totally excellent answer: I live on Talos IV, a snowless world whose surface was ravaged by war, forcing us to live underground and use our giant brains for devious purposes. Don’t plant the bulb in sand, because sand lacks nutrients. Plant it in good quality potting soil, leaving the top half-inch of the bulb exposed. The pot should be about 1-2 inches wider than the bulb. The bulb will soon shoot out long leaves. Keep the pot in a sunny window until after your last frost and then take it outside. Feed with with liquid fertilizer about twice a month until the fall. Then stop feeding and gradually reduce watering until the leaves turn yellow and wither. Take the pot inside to a cool, dark, dry place and let the bulb rest. After a month or two, it will send up another bloom stalk.


Here’s question about pruning loropetalum from Joan in north Florida.

“My loropetalum plants are five years old and very leggy. The leaves are gone from the bottom. I want them to be full and bushy again. Should I trim them down and how far? Should I do it now?”  

Grumpy’s totally excellent answer: To rejuvenate a leggy loropetalum, you can cut it back quite severely. It will grow back quickly. However, wait to prune until after it blooms. Also, don’t prune it any lower than a foot tall or you may cut off the graft and have a different kind of loropetalum grow back.

One final exercise in futility we’ll deal with today is one we call “Stump the Grump.” This involves a faithful reader sending Grumpy a photo of a mysterious plant to identify — which, coincidentally, Grumpy does with total accuracy in the blink of an eye. For example, here’s an entreaty from Diana in northeast Atlanta.

Chickweed She writes, “I need help identifying the weed pictured here and finding out how to rid my flower bed of it. During the summer, I plant begonias, and since they are full with large leaves, they must squeeze it out. However, it takes over my pansy bed. It has fairly small leaves, can grow along the ground for 6 or 7 inches, and has very fragile stems. Any suggestions other than pulling?” 

Grumpy’s totally excellent answer: The weed in the photo is chickweed. The reason you don’t see it among your begonias is that it is a cool-weather weed. It dies in warm weather and then sprouts from seed the following winter. You’ll have to pull it now to keep it from covering up your pansies. To forestall its return next winter, apply a granular weed preventer called Preen to the soil surface around your pansies after you plant them next fall. Follow label directions carefully.







  1. Breana Lundburg

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    January 21, 2016 at 12:32 pm
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    December 27, 2015 at 6:46 am
  4. Linda Keziah 8444 Cloverfield Drive Kannapolis NC 28081

    This summer my daughter and I visited the flowers, plants, statues and ponds with a tour guide at Brookgreen Gardens, south of Myrtle Beach. The last thing she showed us was by a breezeway. It was a “rambling plant” that seemed to have grown into sort of a vine, spreading everywhere, with these VERY fragrant orange blooms all over it, and the fragrance was very noticeable and smelled wonderful. She said the name of the plant was Confederate “something- the name of a common, often heard of flower” but I can’t remember what it was. I have racked my brain trying to remember. Would you happen to know, or could you find out, the name of this very fragrant flower? I live near Charlotte – maybe it will grow here. The fragrance filled the whole area – it beat all I’ve ever seen (smelled). Could you please email me with your answer. I would appreciate it so much. You are so knowledgeable about all the flowers and plants that it always amazes me. Thank you so much.

    June 11, 2015 at 1:24 pm
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  6. Joe

    Cool !

    December 16, 2014 at 11:29 am
  7. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)
    August 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm
  8. June

    please tell me your email address

    August 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm
  9. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    That will work fine, June.

    August 1, 2011 at 5:09 pm
  10. June

    Regarding the suspect plant (Texas Star) I don’t know how to send you a picture. I can email with an attachment.

    July 30, 2011 at 9:44 am
  11. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    The plant sounds like Texas star (Hibiscus coccineus). If you send a photo, I can tell you for sure.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:45 am
  12. June

    I have a beautiful plant/shrub whose blooms are red and like a hibiscus but bloom only one day. The leaves are distinctly different than the typical hibiscus. The plant is quite leggy and rather lacy leaves….(before it bloomed I wondered if someone had planted some marawana (sp?). Last week at Lake Junaluska, N C I saw a gorgeous specimen plant with blooms larger than dinner plates! I can send you a picture if you tell me how to do it.

    July 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm
  13. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I am getting similar reports from all over. Your crepe myrtles were killed to the ground. Cut off the dead trunks. Select 4-5 of the new shoots coming up to become new trunks. They’ll grow back very fast and you may even see blooms by late summer.

    May 26, 2011 at 8:36 am
  14. Daniel

    I have a couple of varieties of crepe myrtles all of which have suffered severe winter damage. They are all coming up from the ground only. What is your advice? Will they come back or do I need to start over with new plantings? Thanks

    May 25, 2011 at 9:52 pm
  15. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Yes, now is a good time to prune. You could prune off the ends, but keep in mind that if the branches are thin and weak, they’ll droop again when they bloom. So you might want to prune off the entire branches.

    May 8, 2011 at 8:20 am
  16. riversana

    My crepe myrtles have leafed out wonderfully, but several of the branches are starting to droop badly and they haven’t even bloomed out yet. Should I prune these droopy branches now? Would pruning their tips be better than pruning them off completely?

    May 7, 2011 at 11:24 am
  17. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    ‘Rose Creek’ abelia is not in the SL Plant Plant Collection. You can order it from Wilson Brothers Nursery. Here is a link:

    March 30, 2011 at 1:41 pm
  18. cathy

    I cannot find the Southern Living Plant “Rose Creek’ Glossy Abelia that is evergreen. I live in SC.

    March 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  19. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    The answer is no. Go ahead and prune now. It won’t hurt the plant a bit.

    March 24, 2011 at 5:07 pm
  20. Karen

    I was just reading an old article you wrote about pruning a crepe myrtle, in it you said to prune now end of winter, because it hasn’t started to leaf out. Well, I live in Southern California and mine is just starting to leaf is it too late to prune?

    March 23, 2011 at 6:41 pm
  21. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    The Bermuda will not kill your roses, but it certainly won’t help their looks. What you need to do is go to the garden or home center and buy a ready-to-use spray bottle of Ortho Grass-B-Gon. This product kills only grassy plants, not broadleaf plants like your roses. So every once in a while, spray around the base of your roses to keep the grass out.

    March 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm
  22. Rachel in Birmingham

    I have Bermuda grass growing over into my knockout roses. Will the grass smoother or kill my roses? Do you have tips on how to keep this grass from crawling over the edging into my roses?

    March 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm
  23. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    No grass is going to grow well in the situation you describe. Grass likes sun, not shade. I would suggest planting a shade-tolerant ground cover instead, such as English ivy or mondo grass. Or you could just cover the area with pine straw and plant a variety of shrubs and perennials.

    March 18, 2011 at 8:06 am
  24. Jill in Atlanta

    We live in Atlanta and have a front yard on the east side, but getting no morning sun and not much afternoon sun. Right now it is planted with zoysia grass but it looks terrible. Some areas have no grass at all. Do you suggest overseeding in the muddy/dead areas with another type of grass or putting zoysia down again as sod?

    March 17, 2011 at 8:29 am
  25. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    I have just the plant for you! It’s a red climbing rose with the most vicious thorns you can imagine called ‘Dortmund.’ Here’s a link where you can order it: Another plant to consider is the most cold-hardy member of the citrus family called Hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata). It has sweet-smelling white flowers in spring, aromatic although inedible fruit in summer, and incredibly malicious thorns. Here’s a link to order it:

    March 6, 2011 at 9:54 am
  26. Connie G

    I’m having a problem with local teens climbing my fence destroying property. Can you suggest a plant or shrub, perhaps with large thorns, that I can plant along the fence line to discourage these kids from coming over. I thought maybe climbing roses or something similar???

    March 5, 2011 at 12:35 pm
  27. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)
    March 2, 2011 at 11:18 am
  28. riversana

    Hi Grumpy! I tried to post this on your crape page but couldn’t. I live in NW Georgia, just outside of Chattanooga, TN. My husband and I inherited 2 crepe murders last summer with a house we bought. The original trunks are about 3″ diameter, and the thickest shoots/suckers are about 3/4″. I feel relatively confident about my pruning today, I’ve either shocked them to death or succeeded masterfully! I really want to properly reverse the murder so I’m especially interested in your “Stop! Don’t Chop!” link which I can’t find..tried the search bar at the top of this page..tried to click on Helen’s link at the bottom of your story…no joy either way. Please, please respond with a new link or reprint your story! At the very least, thank you for plenty of snickers while I read all previous posts!

    March 1, 2011 at 7:52 pm
  29. riversana

    Hi Grumpy! I tried to post on your crape myrtle page but it wouldn’t take. I live in NW Georgia, just outside of Chattanooga, TN. My husband and I inherited 2 crepe murders last summer with a house we bought. The original trunks are about 3″ diameter, and the thickest shoots/suckers are about 3/4″. I feel relatively confident about my pruning today, I’ve either shocked them to death or succeeded masterfully! I really want to properly reverse the murder so I’m especially interested in your “Stop! Don’t Chop!” link which I can’t find..tried the search bar at the top of this page..tried to click on Helen’s link at the bottom of your story…no joy either way. Please, please respond with a new link or reprint your story! At the very least, thank you for plenty of snickers while I read all previous posts!

    March 1, 2011 at 7:51 pm
  30. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Go ahead and move it.

    February 21, 2011 at 8:59 am
  31. Jada

    I live in central Florida. Is it too late to transplant a crepe myrtle? It hasn’t started showing any buds yet.

    February 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm
  32. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Lynn, I would remove the willows.Willows are the worst at getting into drain lines. Oaks don’t cause the same problem.
    June, I guess you can shorten the top branches by a foot or two, but don’t cut any branch that’s more than an inch thick.

    February 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm
  33. June

    I just moved to South Carolina and have several lovely large crepe myrtle bushes/trees. It appears that most have been trimmed as you suggest but are getting taller than I would like, probably 10 ft. or more. Your instructions to thin the branches must have been followed but now what do I do?

    February 12, 2011 at 4:50 pm
  34. Lynn H.

    Hi Grumps!
    I have two 15ft. willows flanking a koi pond and their roots are very invasive. I need to add a french drain near the house as the lot was poorly graded. I was going to remove the pond and keep the willows but I am worried about the roots detroying the new drain system. Should I just get rid of the willows and keep the pond instead? Can I plant live oaks in their place or will I have the same issues with their roots? Please help!

    February 12, 2011 at 1:46 pm
  35. iris mcgaha

    some years bak you had an article on using terra cotta pots to make objects like humans no face. i had the article but cannot find it.
    hope you still have this in your archives.
    thank you, iris

    February 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm
  36. Henry H.

    May I also add there is no “ch” in Loropetalum. Please help me clear the air that it is not pronounced Lor-o-pet-CHA-lum.
    While we are on the subject, Poinsettia has an “ia” on the end of it!!!!!!!
    Thanks for letting me vent Steve-O

    February 11, 2011 at 3:16 pm
  37. Andrew

    Are the loropetalums in shade or part shade? Maybe prune larger trees if they are shading the loropetalums?

    February 9, 2011 at 2:05 am

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