Steve Bender

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 '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.

 

Nearly 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.

 

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.

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