Help Grumpy! I'm a new gardener and planted my first crepe myrtle two years ago. It was growing fine, then I noticed this morning all of the bark is peeling off. Is it dying? Should I spray it? What have I done wrong? Precious in Pine Bluff

Answer: Don't worry, my Precious. You've done right by asking me. There is nothing wrong with your crepe myrtle. As all crepe myrtles grow, they shed last year's bark in summer, often revealing colorful, mottled bark beneath. In this regard, crepe myrtles are like snakes -- except, of course, that they don't slither on their bellies, tempt humans in the Garden of Eden, and women like them.


When I cut hydrangea blooms for bouquets, most of the flowers go limp within a day. The leaves don't wilt, just the blooms. Is it the weather or what? Willie

Answer: Nope, not the weather. The problem seems to be air getting inside the hollow stems and preventing the uptake of water. So try this. Cut the blooms early in the morning when it's cool. Immediately plunge the stems into water and take inside. Fill a tall container with boiling water and place the hydrangea stems into the hot water for 30 seconds. Then remove the stems and place them in room temperature water. Don't know why this works, but it keeps the blooms looking fresh -- just like Grumpy.


Stump the Grump! Can you help me identify this plant? It has pretty flowers and tentacles for climbing. Bull in Durham

Answer: Tentacles? Only if you've hooked onto the world's first flowering squid. Actually, the plant in your photo is a Gloriosa lily (Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana'). It's a tropical vine native to Africa and Asia that climbs using tendrils. In summer, the plant bears showy flowers divided into six, recurved segments that are brilliant red banded with yellow. Gloriosa lily won't survive winter except in south Florida, but you can dig and store the tubers over winter if you want to keep the plant.


Dear Grumpy: When I was potting annuals this spring, I ran out of potting soil. So I mixed up some degraded compost, a bit of vermiculite, some perlite, and some soil from last year's pots. My plants are doing well. Is there a real reason for using potting soil? Carol in Charlotte

Answer: There are two main reasons. The first is that bagged potting soil that you buy at the garden center is free of bugs, fungi, and weed seeds. The second is that potting soil is lightweight and well-aerated, making it ideal for growing things in containers. Potting soils may also contain fertilizer, as well as water-holding granules that reduce the need to water. Using soil from your yard in containers is usually a death sentence, because it's heavy, it compacts, it may contain pests, and it doesn't drain well.