Throw-Down Thursday — Grumpy’s Mailbag

April 10, 2014 | By | Comments (19)
Grumpy's Mailbox

Illustration: Michael Witte

Grumpy’s making a little change is order to provide you with even more timely gardening info. Every Thursday, I will open my voluminous emailbag and answer vital gardening questions that are preying on people’s minds right now. Let’s get to it. 

Japanese Maple
Q: Is it too late to plant a laceleaf Japanese maple? Virginia
A: No. It is an excellent time. A wide selection of these beautiful, small trees is just now hitting the garden centers. Treat yourself. As a Grumpy reader, you deserve it.

Q: I love hydrangeas and would like to know how to best prepare the soil for them. Can you help? Susana 
A: Of course, but first I will require your credit card information. (Nah, just kidding. I’d rather have your SSN.) Anyhoo, hydrangeas like moist, fertile, well-drained soil that contains a lot of organic matter, such as sphagnum peat moss, composted cow manure, chopped leaves, ground bark, and kitchen compost. If you’re growing the French or bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), add a cup of garden sulfur to the soil to get blue flowers or a cup of lime to get pink ones.

Crepe Myrtle
Q: How can I propagate a crepe myrtle? Ann
A: Crepe myrtles are easy to grow from seed. You can also root cuttings taken in June. Just dip the cut ends in rooting powder and stick them in moist potting soil. One difference between the two methods is that the latter is guaranteed to produce a perfect copy of the mother plant, while the former is not.

Q: Last year my roses bloomed beautifully, but soon two of the three bushes were covered with what looked like tiny spider webs which resulted in the leaves dying and the blooms being stunted. Can you help? Joan
A: I always do. It sounds like your roses had spider mites. I suggest you treat your plants according to label directions with Bayer Advanced All-in-One Rose & Flower Care. This product controls mites, insects, and diseases.

Plants For Shade
Q: We have a raised bed courtyard that is shaded by crepe myrtles. We are looking for shade loving plants to plant in it. We’ve tried impatiens but they tend to not bloom much. Any suggestions? Dianne
A: I would try ferns, heucheras, hostas, hellebores, caladiums, variegated Solomon’s seal, and lily-of-the-valley. Most of them bloom, all but the caladiums are perennial, and they all have attractive foliage. Most garden centers will have them this spring.


That’s it until next Throw-Down Thursday (or Throw-Up Thursday, depending on how you’re feeling.) Keep those gardening emails coming!


  1. Steve Bender

    Mary Ellen,

    You can feed it with any tree-shrub fertilizer you find at the garden center. I don’t think lack of fertilizer is the problem though. More likely, your hydrangea isn’t getting enough sun. You might consider moving it to a sunnier spot this fall.

    May 30, 2015 at 7:15 am
  2. Mary Ellen Upton

    What specific fertilizer do you give Hydrangeas. I’m not concerned about getting a blue or pink. This plant has never bloomed, so I thought I’d feed it. I’m sure it is a hydrangea because of leaf comparisons to others in our development.

    May 29, 2015 at 10:13 am
  3. Tom

    Shouldn’t you mention that if you use a systemic insecticide like Bayer, you should never make rose hip tea from the plant? And that it will kill the bees and butterflies that gather its pollen and nectar? And disclose any financial remuneration you receive from Bayer?

    I receive no money from Bayer. Do you? GG

    April 23, 2014 at 8:12 pm
  4. Lori F

    I planted 3 Purple Pixie Loropetalem 2 winters ago in suburban Atlanta. We had extended periods of below freezing temps this winter. One of the pixies looks withered and puny. Is there any hope for resuscitation, or should I plan on replacing it?

    My Purple Pixies did the same. I pruned off the obviously dead twigs and now they’re leafing out again. Hopefully, yours will too. GG

    April 22, 2014 at 2:25 pm
  5. Steve Bender

    I would apply a granular lawn insecticide that’s labeled for mole crickets according to label directions.

    April 21, 2014 at 3:35 pm
  6. Steve Bender

    Scratch the bark of the branches to see if you can find green. Green means that part of the branch should leaf out again. Cut back the branches to the topmost point where you can find green.

    April 21, 2014 at 3:34 pm
  7. Sherry L Earley

    How can you kill mole crickets?

    April 17, 2014 at 4:37 pm
  8. Mary McMillan

    I live in Little Rock, Arkansas and planted gardenias (august beauty) in the fall. Due to severe weather this winter, they suffered quite a bit of damage. The shrubs are now mostly brown, but there is still some green. While they are rather unpleasant to look at now, I am holding hope that they will revive. Do you have any suggestions on how to nurture them and should I cut out the dead parts or wait?

    April 16, 2014 at 11:19 am
  9. Steve Bender

    Just wait a little while longer. As long as there it green under the bark, you have hope. If it doesn’t leaf out in a couple of weeks, you probably should replace it.

    April 15, 2014 at 11:06 am
  10. Steve Bender

    Val C,
    I do not think this will work. Bees could bore into that 4×4 and still bore dozens of other holes elsewhere.

    April 15, 2014 at 11:04 am
  11. Steve Bender

    It depends on what kind of evergreen it is.

    April 15, 2014 at 11:01 am
  12. Steve Bender

    Given the extent of your problem and the potential damage the bees can do, I would contact an exterminator.

    April 15, 2014 at 11:00 am
  13. Steve Bender


    Japanese maples generally don’t sucker that much. Just cut off the branch within 1/4-inch of then trunk or larger branch and you shouldn’t get suckers.

    April 15, 2014 at 10:58 am
  14. Tammy

    Hi Steve,

    I live in the DFW area and am fairly new to gardening. I have several new crepe myrtles that I planted last year throughout the front and back yard. Different colors too. But I have one lavender crepe myrtle that I planted in a flower bed in October of last year. This bed gets plenty of afternoon sun. It bloomed for a bit then lost its leaves and flowers before the hard winter hit. A landscaper took a look at it, said it was planted too deep and wasn’t getting enough oxygen with the clay soil that we have. So it was pulled up a bit and winter hit. To this day it hasn’t had any new growth since I first planted it, but I’ve done the ‘ol scratch test and the lower trunk is still green. I’ve recently pruned off all the dead ends down close to where it’s still green. What’s the latest that crepe myrtles can sprout out new growth? Any suggestions on what I could try next? Or is it time to throw in the towel with my favorite crepe myrtle?

    April 14, 2014 at 12:12 pm
  15. Susan Clayton

    Thank you so much for the suggestion regarding the carpenter bees. I will try I on the front and back of my house. Susan Clayton

    April 12, 2014 at 12:56 pm
  16. Val C

    Where is the best location to place a “bee house”? I would like to put up a section of 4 x4 with holes in it to encourage carpenter bees to nest there and not into the beams of my deck or cedar siding on the house. Thanks. Val C., N.Carolina

    April 11, 2014 at 10:17 am
  17. Tom Matuszak

    How can I propogate an evergreen tree??

    April 10, 2014 at 10:05 pm
  18. Susan Clayton

    My cedar siding house is getting eaten by carpenter bees. They are all around my house and there is no way to “find a nest” I do have azaleas planted in the front yard. The only way to kill them seems to be a bug zapper. Please help. Susan Clayton

    April 10, 2014 at 5:52 pm
  19. Mary C, Pindar

    I would like to take out a few of inconveniently placed limbs on my Japanese Maple.IIs there a way to prune without getting clusters of new shoots at the site of the cut?

    April 10, 2014 at 1:53 pm

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