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Should I cut unsightly stems on crape myrtles?

By By Amelia O’Brian / horticulture columnist
Sept. 21, 2003
Amelia O'Brian is a native of Meridian and a graduate of Mississippi State University. If you have a horticulture question, e-mail her at
Dear Gardener: I have several crape myrtles in my yard. The bases of the trees have small stems growing everywhere. Some of these small stems actually bloomed this year. The growths are very unsightly, but I am not sure if I should trim them off or not. What should I do?
Dear Reader: The stems you mention are suckers. They are a common problem on many different types of trees and shrubs. Crape myrtles are some of the worst trees for this type of behavior.
The suckers should be removed. They provide no benefit to the plant. They are also quite unattractive. Simply cut the stems back to the ground or the base of the tree. More suckers will sprout up continuously throughout the summer; just keep trimming them back.
Dear Gardener: Some of my summer annuals still look really good, but I am tired of them and would really like to plant pansies now. I am having a hard time finding pansies, though. Am I starting too early? When is the best time to put them in the ground?
Dear Reader: Depending on the type of annual (and what shape it is in), I usually wait until first frost to remove the summer stuff. Impatiens are a big exception I do not like handling the mushy stems after they freeze.
In any account, it is too early to start planting pansies. Middle to late October is the earliest that I would plant them. The weather needs to be a bit fall-like. Pansies surely do not like hot weather, and will not perform well in it. Pansies can be planted up through the last of November usually (depending on weather).
Dear Gardener: I have seen spring blooming bulbs available for purchase. Can I go ahead and plant these, or should I wait awhile?
Dear Reader: It is way too early to plant tulips. These should not go into the ground until late October or early November. I usually put my pansies in first. After letting the pansies root in for a couple of weeks, I plant tulips in between pansy plants. Daffodils can be planted in October for a spring bloom.
Dear Gardener: I have ornamental grass as the center point of a large urn on my front porch. It bloomed beautifully this summer. The leaves are dark purple and the flower heads are purple also. Can I plant this in the ground? If so, what type of conditions does it need?
Dear Reader: Purple fountain grass is not hardy in the Meridian area, which is Zone 7B. If you wish to save the plant for next year, you will have to put it in the house, the garage or the basement. Anyplace that is frost-free should work.
I would cut it back to about 3 inches and move it inside just before first frost. Water lightly from time to time, just enough to keep it alive. You do not want to promote new growth.
When new growth starts appearing in the spring, move it to a sunny window. After the last frost date, the container can be placed outdoors.
You may want to acclimate it slowly, by placing it outdoors only on warm, sunny days at first. Still bring it inside at night for a couple of weeks. Then you can start leaving it out all the time. This reduces shock.
If your grass is growing in a flower bed, the process is pretty much the same, except you need to dig it up in the fall and put it in a pot.