What’s Wrong With My Plants? Grumpy Knows

December 2, 2011 | By | Comments (27)

It’s that favorite time of year when the air grows crisp, wreaths and Christmas lights appear, families gather together as one, and folks gripe about their stupid plants.

“My stinking hydrangea won’t bloom.” “Do I have to prune my crummy crepe myrtle?” “Will moldy, 10-year-old bulbs I found in the garage still grow?” “My lousy pet badgers keep killing my grass.”

Fortunately, the Grump knows all and is here to alleviate your stress. The following answers to questions affecting commonly grown plants are 101% guaranteed correct or your whiskey back.

Lilac_OldGlory2Lilac ‘Old Glory’

Lilacs Dying!

Question: “Several branches and trunks of my lilacs have started dying. I found small holes in the trunks and surmised they might have borers. My local garden center recommended spraying with insecticidal soap. What is your advice?”

Answer: Lilac borers are the larvae of clearwing moths that look like small wasps. The larvae bore into the trunks, tunnel around, and feed. Once inside, contact insecticides such as insecticidal soap are useless. What you need to do is apply an insecticide labeled for borers to the trunks in spring. Begin in mi-April and reapply 3 to 4 times at 3-week intervals. Be sure to follow label directions. If any of the trunks die, prune them off now and throw them out or burn them.

Bulbs Already Sprouting! 

Question: “I planted daffodils, grape hyacinths, and crocus a few weeks ago and they’re already sending up foliage! I don’t want to lose these bulbs. Please tell me how to save them.”

Answer: Chill. No, not the bulbs, you. A number of bulbs, including grape hyacinths, spider lilies, and some kinds of daffodils, usually send up leaves in fall that stay all winter. Your bulbs will be just fine.

Bearded Iris Languishing!

Question: “I have bearded iris that don’t bloom. My soil is acidic and clay. Will adding lime help?”

Answer: It may, but it may not. Before liming, make sure your iris are growing in full sun and well-drained soil that contains lots of organic matter, such as chopped leaves, ground bark, composted manure, and peat moss. If your plants don’t have this, now is a good time to transplant them to a better spot. Plant them so the tops of the fleshy roots — rhizomes — are just barely beneath the soil surface. Feed them with bulb fertilizer in spring as soon as new growth starts.

Crepe Myrtles Looking Seedy!

Question: I want my crepe myrtles to grow into large trees, so it seems logical not to trim seed pods each year. Would it be better to let nature take its course?

Answer: There is no reason to prune off the old seed pods. Grumpy never prunes off his and, as you are well aware, Grumpy always does the correct thing.

P1010737_2012Nearly nekkid Bradford pear

Bradford Pear Getting Nekkid!

Question: Last fall, our Bradford pear lost its leaves earlier than usual and then this spring had only about 25% flowers and foliage. The arborist ruled out fire blight. Can this tree be saved or should we have someone cut it down?

Answer: Any number of things could cause this, from borers to herbicides applied to the lawn. The thing is, Grumpy thinks the tree is doing you a favor. Cut it down now and plant something else. Bradford pear is notoriously weak-wooded. It will easily get twice as big as it is now and then the first big windstorm will split it in half. Plus, you won’t be able to grow grass beneath it due to the dense shade. If it were me, I’d plant a dogwood, flowering cherry, redbud, or saucer magnolia.

Hydrangea Not Blooming!

Question: “I bought a dwarf pink hydrangea in 2003. It has grown into a lovely 4′ x 4′ shrub, but never blooms. It gets early morning sun. Any suggestions?”

Answer: There could be a couple of reasons. First, maybe it doesn’t get enough sun. More sun means more flowers. Second, cold winters or late spring frosts could be killing the flower buds, which aren’t as hardy as leaf buds. Hydrangeas that bloom on new growth, such as ‘Endless Summer,’ ‘All Summer Beauty,’ ‘Forever & Ever,’ and ‘Mini-Penny,’ don’t have this problem, because if flower buds formed last fall are killed, the plants still produce new flower buds in spring.

IMG_3516 copy
Grumpy’s whacked azaleas

Azaleas Need Pruning!

Question: “We have mature azaleas in our front yard which, sadly, are pruned in such a manner that they look like giant pompoms. I would love to cut them back to let them grow more free-form. Is this wise or practical? ”

Answer: Don’t worry. Here’s what to do. After the azaleas finish blooming next spring, cut them back as far as you want. You can even cut them back to leafless stubs. That’s what Grumpy did with his overgrown azaleas this year. They looked pretty ugly for a couple of weeks, but then the stubs leafed out, the plants grew like mad, and now you’d never know they were pruned.


  1. Amelia Baldwin

    My Lady Banks Rose is losing its leaves and the stems are splitting.,but it was covered with beautiful roses this month.

    April 25, 2016 at 8:21 pm
  2. Are You Ready For Spring? – The Daily South | Your Hub for Southern Culture

    […] That depends on the plant. If it blooms in the spring on growth made the previous year (azalea, lilac, forsythia, spirea, loropetalum, ‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangea, Lady banks rose, etc.) and you […]

    January 31, 2013 at 9:00 am
  3. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Pruning puts plants into a growth mode to replace the growth they lost. Trying to do this while it’s 100 degrees and dry is quite stressful. What you need to do is give the wilted plant some TLC, in the form of regular, thorough watering.

    July 16, 2012 at 10:49 am
  4. Ken Sapp

    I pruned overgrown loropetalums in late June this year, five in a row. All but one have leafed out. The straggler looks pretty stressed, having endured 100+ temps in early July. Some of the limbs have lost all leaves other limbs show wilt, and some have green leaves. All plants are all five + years old. Could pruning and hot dry weather have caused the problem, even though 80% of them look great?

    July 15, 2012 at 4:37 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Milorganite is an organic fertilizer made from sewage sludge. It is primarily organic matter and releases its nutrients slowly, so it won’t burn plants. Using it 3 times a year around your hydrangeas at the recommended rate isn’t a problem. Here’s a link with more info: http://www.milorganite.com/Using-Milorganite/Why-Use-Milorganite.aspx

    July 3, 2012 at 10:32 am
  6. Jennifer

    A trusted plant lady said I should use miloganite in heavy doses around my hydrangeas 2-3 times from early spring through early summer to help with flowering and growth. Most of my hydrangeas have been affected by late freeze and few have bloomed or had early growth to test out this theory. I am concerned though because I have read that over fertilizing stunts blooms. Is miloganite different?

    July 1, 2012 at 8:47 am
  7. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    I think the dying one suffered transplanting shock or damage to its roots. The only thing I can suggest is keeping it watered, but this might not be enough.
    I am going to guess that the plants are getting too much water or the drainage is poor. As a result, the roots rotted. Too much water will kill them faster than too little.

    June 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm
  8. Reb

    I have recieved Knock-out roses for mothers day for the past several years. Last week I lost 3 of them in a quick death! When I pulled them up, the roots had white stuff on them. How do I save the rest ! ! !

    June 27, 2012 at 1:57 pm
  9. Cathi Paxton

    We transplanted 2 red twig dogwood bushes in March and one is dying and the other is fine. Help please , any ideas? At first it did alright, leafed out just like the other one.

    June 25, 2012 at 7:15 pm
  10. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Few insects attack rosemary, but the little moth you describe is one. It lays eggs that turn into webworms that eat the foliage. If they’re only on one or two branches, clip off the branches and throw them away. Otherwise, spray your plant according to label directions with a biological insecticide called Bacillus thuringiensis. It’s sold as Dipel and Thuricide.

    May 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm
  11. deb

    I have tiny white mothlike insects swarming above me rosemary hedge. Also, the dying branches are covered by seedlike rustcolored spheres that resemble insect eggs. How do I get rid of these?

    May 27, 2012 at 4:37 am
  12. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    While some climbers bloom repeatedly, others bloom only once in spring on growth made the previous year. I think you have the latter. By cutting it down every fall, you’re removing all the flower buds. Don’t cut it back this year and it will probably be loaded with blooms next year.

    May 15, 2012 at 1:35 am
  13. jon wiggs

    dear grumpy we have a rose bush that will not bloom ??
    it has many vines yet not a sign of any buds…we have used the bayer all-in one product for years with much success on our other rose bushes yet for the past 2 years this one has none. we cut it to about 6 inches each fall to cone as we do our others as we live in northern indiana and this keeps them coming back each year any suggestions —
    …a bed of thorns ain’t that pretty .!!!
    thanks jon

    May 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm
  14. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    For some reason, probably unfavorable growing conditions such as drought, the top part of your pink dogwood died. There is nothing to do now but prune out the dead.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:41 am
  15. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    From your description, it sounds like your plant is suffering from transplanting shock. Perhaps you didn’t get enough roots when you moved it. The best thing you can do at this point is make sure the soil stays moist. Some parts of the plant may die. If they do, prune off the dead. But the shrub itself may recover in time.

    April 19, 2012 at 12:05 pm
  16. Lorine

    I have a hydrangea that I replanted to a new location a few weeks ago. It is in a sunny location. I have noticed that the new stem and leaf growth inside the plant is wilted as if it was overwatered, however the new leaves on the old wood are beginning to dry and become brittle. I live in New Jersey where it has been extremely dry so I do not think overwatering is the problem. Because it is wilting in the middle with dry leaves on the outside at the same time, I am confused. I have several types of hydrangeas all over my yard and they are all flourishing. This hydrangea was planted in the same flower bed but not too close to a Crape Myrtle as well as brand new red twig dogwoods. Please help…I love all of my hydrangeas and don’t want to lose any of them.

    April 16, 2012 at 9:10 pm
  17. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Did you actually see them bloom purple or was that the color on the tag?
    There are so many reasons this could be happening. Did you spray around it? Did you use any weedkiller near it? Did you accidentally cut the bark around the base?

    April 16, 2012 at 10:37 am
  18. jamie jarboe

    I planted a crepe myrtle last spring. This spring it came back, but it is dying. What can I do, please help.

    April 14, 2012 at 8:41 am
  19. Martha

    I planted purple Irises last spring, when they came up they were copper. I have read that if you planted them where herbicide was sprayed, that may account for the color switch. What I would like to know is if they will go back to purple or will they stay the copper color?

    April 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm
  20. Lisa

    My loropetalums are around 3 years old. We recently transplanted them and just about all the leaves have turned brown and fallen off. I’m watering them and giving them a transplanting solution. Any chance they’ll recover?

    April 9, 2012 at 9:54 am
  21. kaydie

    I have a 4 year old pink dogwood (unusual for Gville, Fl) and it was growing quite well, but I just noticed that the top 1/3 is leafless and looks dead. All of the other branches are filled with spring green leaves.
    Is it possible that the cold spells were to much for the top part? My older white dogwood doesn’t appear to have any issues.

    April 9, 2012 at 8:55 am
  22. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    It shouldn’t hurt the crepe myrtle. But if you cut roots for the walkway, you’ll get lots of suckers coming up.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:39 am
  23. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Lantana rust is a biological control for lantana released in Australia where lantana is an invasive pest. I haven’t heard of it being present in Georgia. I rather suspect your plants have spider mites. Applying a systemic insecticide/miticide, like Bayer Advanced Rose & Flower Care, should help.

    April 7, 2012 at 7:38 am
  24. Melody

    I have a 15-ft crepe myrtle. Will a 3-4 ft paver walkway under one side of the crepe myrtle suffocate the tree?

    April 3, 2012 at 9:42 am
  25. Susan Briscoe

    Dear Grumpy,
    I live in Rutledge, Georgia (30663)
    In the past few years my Miss Huff Lantana have developed a rusty looking leaf after mid-summer. The plants look bad and the blooms are little to none. I’ve heard this is a disease called “Rust”. Can it be treated? If so, what do I need to do?

    April 2, 2012 at 9:29 am
  26. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    I’d wait until spring to feed. Depending on where you live, you can then either seed the spots with cool-weather grass seed (bluegrass, fescue) or patch it with warm-weather sod (Bermuda, Zoysia, etc.) Moss is a sign of too much shade and compacted soil. You’ll have to fix these problems or the dead spots will return.

    January 3, 2012 at 11:33 am
  27. Darryl

    I had a nice lawn until summer drought then noticed my lawn died in spots now I have all kinds of weeds and moss growing back since we have had a very wet fall and early winter. Any advice should i Winter feed it or just wait until Spring to get things going?

    December 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm

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