Can I Plant and Prune Yet?

February 13, 2014 | By | Comments (10)


One of the many incredibly great things about “The Grumpy Gardener” is that anyone anywhere can ask me a question and they always get a totally correct answer. (Well, except for queries about my lavender boxers. That’s really none of your business.) So let’s get right to answering some of your most pressing gardening questions right now.

Pruning Roses
Question: We have new ‘Knockout’ roses that are a year old. Can you tell me how and when to prune them? I love your article in the magazine each month! Rachel

Answer: Rachel, it is bright people like you who give me faith in the future of our species. ‘Knockout’ roses, despite their reputation as “no-care plants,” do need pruning from time to time to keep them blooming well and prevent them from getting too big. Cut them back by one-third in early March. They’ll quickly send out new growth that will soon be smothered in flowers. Also remove old flowers through the summer to keep new ones coming on. Wear leather gloves — those thorns could spear a rhino.

Planting Iris
Question: When is the correct time to plant an iris root that has been in the fridge all winter? Sam

Answer: Before somebody mistakes it for a ginger root and uses it in Thai food. Go ahead and plant it now.

Pruning Camellias
Question: Here in the midsection of South Carolina, we’ve had two hard freezes. All of my camellia flowers are brown. Should I cut them off or let them fall naturally? Ann

Answer: If you can, remove any brown flowers and rake up any that are on the ground. Old flowers that lay around can lead to a disease called petal blight that causes brown spots on flowers and ruins the show.


HEY!!! How did those get in here? Photo:

Planting Azaleas
Question: We’re going to plant 3-gallon azaleas in sandy soil here in southeast Louisiana. Should we put something like Miracle-Gro potting soil in the ground around them or just put 8-8-8 fertilizer around them after planting? Laura Jane

Answer: I’ll bet those azaleas already have slow-release fertilizer in the pots. So don’t fertilize right away. Dig a nice, big hole for each plant (at least twice as wide as the rootball, but no deeper) and fill in around the roots with a half-and-half mix of excavated soil and Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Garden Soil (not potting soil). After the plants bloom, feed with an organic, acid-forming product like Holly-tone, rather than 8-8-8.

Planting Grass
Question: We live in Tennessee and our yard is a mud pit. It is quite shaded too. When is it time to plant grass seed and what type would you suggest? Amy

Answer: I suggest you go with a fine-bladed tall fescue blend that contains at least three different kinds of tall fescue. You can find this at most garden and home centers. Sow 8 pounds per 1,000 square-feet in early spring. Gently rake the soil after you sow to barely cover the seed with soil. Finally, put down a thin layer of straw on top to keep the soil from washing and then water. Keep in mind that no grass likes shade, but tall fescue tolerates it better than most. Removing low tree limbs to let in more sun will help.


Other questions for the one unimpeachable source for horticultural know-how? Just click on “Ask A Question” at the top of this page. How easy is that?


  1. Kay

    I meant commercial potting soil or commercial garden soil. We buy both in large plastic bags. I know not to use soil from my yard.

    February 24, 2014 at 7:57 pm
  2. Steve Bender

    ALWAYS use commercial potting soil in pots. NEVER use soil from your soil. Soil from your yard is too heavy, doesn’t drain well, and may contains insects and diseases.

    February 24, 2014 at 11:28 am
  3. Steve Bender

    M Cooper,
    I’d wait to see if your lilac is going to bloom this spring before you prune it. If you prune it now, you’ll cut off the flower buds. The best time to prune is right after blooming.

    February 24, 2014 at 11:27 am
  4. Steve Bender

    Fallen One,
    I don’t know where to start. It sounds like you inherited a yard where most plants have been either terribly abused or neglected for a long time. I think maybe you should ask your neighbor with the nice yard if they can help you identify the mystery plants in your yard. Then you can decide whether they are worth keeping or it’s better to throw them out and start over. You might find that having fewer things to take care of is better. And if you’re new to gardening, try gardening in pots. Almost anything grows better in a pot — provided you care for it — than in the ground.

    February 24, 2014 at 11:25 am
  5. Steve Bender


    Spring is the time to till, but it is important not to till wet soil or you will turn it into concrete. To see if the soil is right, squeeze a clump of it in your hand. If it forms a hard ball, it’s too wet. If it crumbles easily, it’s just right.

    February 24, 2014 at 11:17 am
  6. Kay

    I live in coastal zone 8 and garden in huge plastic pots. What is best dirt to use – garden soil or potting soil? I grow vegetables, annuals and perennials. Thanks.

    February 18, 2014 at 8:08 pm
  7. M. Cooper

    When and how do i prune Lilac scrub? two years old and tips have last year now fozen flower tips. Thank you

    February 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm
  8. Fallen One

    You will cringe if you compare my yard to my neighbor’s. Excluding the chopped up tree with part of it’s trunk blown to smithereens! It has Bermuda grass, perfectly maintained daffodils, and other flowers that are hard to name.

    February 15, 2014 at 1:33 pm
  9. Fallen One

    My lawn is awful. I have native Floridian wild grasses and inherited 4 giant oaks that shed leaves on the driveway. Not only is that I have leaves on my driveway, I now have acorns. Yay!(sarcastic moment) The area surrounding my house is filled with weedy red mulch and I have a scrawny but healthy gardenia, that had at one point in its miserable life, been whacked by a crazy bored gardener. The gardenia is attached to a mysterious berry bush that only houses spiders. I have a (once) pretty flowering bush that had been pruned by my father one too many times. The other flowering bush has not been pruned, except for when I find my scissors, Then we have 2 mystery bushes. Squat, grotesque things planted by the previous owner. Sadly, those too were attacked by a crazy gardener. The desert rose that was planted was eaten by mad squirrels. The blood lily shriveled up, also attacked by the very same squirrels. Then you see my neighbor’s lawn. Perfect except for what the rest of the neighborhood thinks is a myrtle. It is chopped up, and half of it is green and filled with bees. the other half is dead. So yeah, my yard is bad. Then you meet the back. We have another scrawny gardenia and a row of invasive, poisonous plants we inherited. Then we have a stretch of woodland. It has palmettos, fruit stealing snake, and Brazilian pepper. The neighbor diagonal from us decided to chop up a random pine tree and a Brazilian pepper. We now have a few moldy logs in plain sight. Then my dad has his garden and I have a few sprouting sunflowers. Then we have a fallen pine tree that decidedly crashed in from the woods. We now have moles, and tortoises stealing our cabbage. We have a sad remnant of dead basil. We have an unsightly row of big plastic pots, filled with plants. Then right next to them, I have planted wildflowers, and roses that refuse to germinate. We have a big tub of water and floating watercress. I think it is very ugly. I like your ability in the garden ,Grumpy. Please help!

    February 15, 2014 at 1:29 pm
  10. Kayla

    When’s the best time to get the area your gardening a tilling?

    February 15, 2014 at 7:41 am

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