Grumpy Solves Your October Gardening Woes
1. Deer keep eating my pansies and violas. What cool-weather flowers that they won't bother can I plant now? —Aronna
Grumpy Says: Snapdragons would top my list. If you set out transplants now, you'll get flowers in both fall and spring. Other good choices include petunias, pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis), and wallflowers. Or, just plant whatever you want and spray with Liquid Fence Deer & Rabbit Repellent (liquidfence.com). Both deer and Gordon Ramsay will think it tastes terrible.
2. My loropetalum has turned brown on one side. As I was starting to cut it down, I discovered some limbs with creamy yellow-and-green leaves. Should I continue to trim it all the way down? —Cindy
Grumpy Says: If the leaves turned yellow with green veins before they turned brown, your plant has a condition called chlorosis caused by a lack of iron in the soil. You can correct this by sprinkling Ironite, iron sulfate, or garden sulfur around the plant and watering it in. You can also feed with an acid-forming fertilizer, such as Espoma Holly-tone.
3. How do I keep the squirrels from digging up my newly planted bulbs and eating them? The bulbs were expensive! —Helen
Grumpy Says: The simplest solution is to plant bulbs that squirrels and other rodents won't eat. These include glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa sp.), daffodils, alliums, grape hyacinths (Muscari sp.), snowdrops (Galanthus sp.), snowflakes (Leucojum sp.), Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), squills (Scilla sp.), and spring star flowers (Ipheion uniflorum). Tulips and crocus are squirrel chow.
4. I love my cannas, but every year, a bug rolls up the leaves and "stitches" them together. Can I spray anything on the ground to prevent this problem? —Thaddeus
Grumpy Says: This is the work of the infamous canna leaf roller caterpillar. To control it, do two things. First, cut to the ground all cannas in fall, and either burn the stems and foliage or put it all out with the trash. After the new foliage emerges next year, apply a systemic insecticide called Bayer Advanced Rose & Flower Insect Killer.
5. I have a pecan tree that did not produce for 15 years, so I set it on fire in an attempt to kill it. It got the message, because after the burn, it is now producing LOTS OF PECANS. However, they are full of fat, white worms. How do I get rid of them? —Yvonne
Grumpy Says: The worms are larvae of an insect called the pecan weevil. The bugs emerge from the ground in August and September, climb up the trunk, and lay eggs in the pecans. There are several things you can do to control them. First, collect all of the infested pecans that drop to the ground, and throw them out with the trash. Second, next August, spread a band of a sticky product called Tanglefoot (available at garden centers) all around the trunk several feet from the ground. Weevils that attempt to cross it will get stuck and die. Third, in mid-August, spray the ground beneath the tree according to label directions with Sevin. Repeat this process every two weeks through September.
6. All my citrus trees have some curly leaves! I've used neem oil, but it's gotten worse. Any ideas? —Peggy
Grumpy Says: Because you already used neem oil, we can rule out sucking insects like aphids. If the leaves are cupping (curling up), this is likely caused by high temperatures and overly dry soil. Give your plants extra water. If they are curling downward, that is normal for this time of year and will fix itself when new leaves emerge.
7. I have a large French hydrangea. It has black spots on the foliage, and its leaves are falling off. Should I cut it back to the ground after it goes dormant to keep the spots from coming back? —Rebecca
Grumpy Says: Questions like this are why people all over the world depend on Grumpy for advice. Do NOT cut it back this fall or you won't get any flowers next year. Instead, pick off and throw away any spotted leaves as well as any fallen leaves. This reduces the number of fungal spores that cause the spots. As soon as you notice the first spots next year, spray the foliage according to label directions with Natria Disease Control or Immunox.
8. I plant many different kinds of tomatoes, but none ever get any larger than a golf ball. What am I doing wrong? —Robert
Grumpy Says: First, stop planting any tomatoes named "Titleist," "Callaway," and "TaylorMade" or this will happen every year. Second, improve the growing conditions. Tomatoes need full sun and fertile, well-drained soil that contains lots of organic matter, such as composted cow manure and chopped leaves. Feed your plants every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer labeled for tomatoes. Put down a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch over the soil to keep the roots cool and moist. Water several times a week during summer dry spells.
9. Is there any safe way to rid my lawn of violets? They're coming up everywhere. —Elizabeth
Grumpy Says: Common dooryard violets (Viola sororia) may be sweet, little native flowers, but Grumpy hates them with a passion! Each one produces hundreds of seedlings a year that grow in either sun or shade. Left to their devilish devices, they'll quickly form a solid carpet. No weedkillers I know of touch them. The only control is a royal pain: You must dig up every violet by hand, leaving no root or the offending violet will grow back. Grumpy does this three or four times a year. My next violet eradication party is this Saturday, and you're invited—so bring your weeder. Yes, there will be beer.
10. I recently purchased five amaryllis bulbs to give as Christmas gifts. I'm afraid they'll bloom too early. Is there a way to store them until December? —Ginny
Grumpy Says: Place these bulbs in the crisper section of the fridge until you're ready to give them away. But don't store them with ripening fruit. Fruit gives off ethylene gas that can harm bulbs.
11. If I bring my Boston ferns into my garage now, will they survive the winter and be ready to hang outside next spring? —Valerie
Grumpy Says: It all depends on whether your garage is heated and has a source of bright light. If not, simply chuck your old ferns (yes, I know this sounds cruel) and buy new ones in spring. If it is and does, though, you're in luck. Before your first frost, use sharp scissors to cut back all of the side fronds to the rim of the container, leaving the topgrowth about 10 inches high. Place the pot next to a bright window all winter, and keep the soil fairly moist. Come spring, your fern should be bushy once again and ready to hang on the porch.
12. We have a magnificent large Southern magnolia in our yard that has roots running out on all sides. Would it be okay to cover up the tree's roots with topsoil to make the surface less bumpy? —Catherine
Grumpy Says: It's actually never a good idea to cover the surface roots of a large tree with soil, because they need air to breathe, just like you do. Soil will smother them. Instead, spread something that's more porous and lightweight over them, such as a few inches of pine bark mulch.
13. I would like to grow paperwhite narcissus indoors. Can you tell me what to do for the best results? —Natalie
Grumpy Says: People love growing paperwhites because they bloom indoors in fall and winter without any soil or special treatment. You just nestle the ends of the bulbs into a container filled with an inch or so of gravel or glass beads, add water up to the bottoms of the bulbs, and place it in a sunny spot. BUT—one night you'll hear a tremendous crash and run downstairs armed with a badminton racquet in case there's a burglar, only to discover that the dimmer indoor light and warmer inside temps have induced the flowers to grow so tall they've pulled over the container and smashed it on the floor. To prevent such a heart-stopping disaster, once the bulbs sport green shoots at the tips about 1 to 2 inches tall, replace the original water in the pot with a mixture of 1 part gin or vodka to 7 parts water. This results in paperwhites that are one-third shorter but three times happier. Bottoms up!
14. I have an unsightly chain-link fence. What pretty, fast-growing vines could I use to turn it into a living fence? —Marty
Grumpy Says: You need evergreen vines that bloom and grow fairly dense. Good candidates are Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), and Armand clematis (Clematis armandii). All three are also fragrant.
15. The older I get, the less I want to prune. Any suggestions for designing a low-maintenance landscape for the front of my house that doesn't have too many shrubs? —Ruth
Grumpy Says: Consider planting boxwoods—maybe one on each corner and one by either side of the steps—and then link them with a sweep of ground cover.
16. My 'George Lindley Taber' azaleas have gotten out of hand due to neglect. Will I wind up with green blobs in the spring if I prune them now? —Pamela
Grumpy Says: Yes, absolutely. Azaleas have already formed their flowerbuds for spring (and Encore azaleas have for fall). If you prune your shrubs now, you'll cut off all the flowers and have nothing but foliage. The best time to prune azaleas is immediately after they finish blooming in spring. Eschew blobification!
17. My yard is filling up with stickers! We tried spraying with weedkiller, but nothing works. I was told to spread sugar on the grass to make it grow thicker and choke out the weeds. Does that sound right? —Valerie
Grumpy Says: Who told you that ... Paula Deen? Your "stickers" sound like sandburs. These annual grassy weeds produce burs that stick to socks and other clothing. To control them, apply a crabgrass preventer according to label directions in spring. Also, fertilize in spring to thicken up the lawn. But use lawn fertilizer, not sugar. No butter either.
18. I recently dug up my sweet potatoes and was very surprised by what I got. Even though the potatoes tasted delicious, they were the ugliest things I have ever seen! What did I do wrong? —Lori
Grumpy Says: First, console yourself with the fact that ugly sweet taters that taste good are better than beautiful taters that taste awful. Your soil is probably responsible. Like most root crops, sweet potatoes prefer loose, light soil. If yours is heavy or rocky, the roots can turn "spud ugly." To avoid having a repeat performance, lighten your soil by working in lots of organic matter before planting. Or just embrace their repulsiveness and start an Ugly Spud Contest. Your sweet potatoes can win—or at least get Miss Congeniality. Grumpy believes in you!
19. I'd like to replace the euonymus shrubs in front of my porch with prettier bushes that bloom in fall. Any suggestions? —Bobbie
Grumpy Says: Good for you. Try sasanqua camellias. Check out the light pink 'October Magic Orchid' and the red 'Bella Rouge' sasanquas in our Southern Living Plant Collection (southernlivingplants.com).
20. I would like to grow a type of wisteria that isn't invasive or destructive on my fence. Does such a variety exist? —Dick
Grumpy Says: Absotively! What you want is a selection of native American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) called 'Amethyst Falls.' Ask for it at your garden center. It has very pretty flowers in spring but doesn't strangle trees, crush arbors, or invade your hot tub the way its uncouth Japanese and Chinese cousins do.
WATCH: Grumpy Gardener's Guide to Gardenias
21. When I moved into my house, I inherited six very large gardenias. I would like to cut them back, as they're blocking the windows. Is this the right time? Do they bloom on new growth or old? —Jennifer
Grumpy Says: Gardenias set their flowerbuds in late spring after the new growth starts. Go ahead and prune yours back this fall. Remember that after you do this, people will be able to see in, so behave yourself.
22. This summer, I cut seedheads of Queen Anne's lace. Is this plant invasive? Would it be crazy to sprinkle the seeds in my garden now? —Jill
Grumpy Says: Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota carota) may not be native, but this sister of the carrot is one of Grumpy's favorite early summer wildflowers. It's biennial, growing foliage the first year and then flowering, setting seed, and dying the second. Sow seeds now or in spring for flowers the next year. One seedhead per garden is plenty. If too many seedlings sprout, just pull up the ones you don't want—no problem. When you see the pretty blooms of the ones you left, you'll go bonkers. But leave the inedible roots for Bugs Bunny to enjoy.
23. What can I do to get rid of all the squirrels in my yard? My husband got bitten by one and had to go to the hospital and get a shot. —Claire
Grumpy Says: The main reason you have so many of these fluffy-tailed rats is an ample food supply. So consider eliminating any bird feeders or trees such as oaks, pines, and hickories that produce nuts and seeds. But don't stop there. Get yourself a Jack Russell terrier or a Bengal cat, and put squirrels on their menu. Pretty soon, no more squirrels!