15 Tips To Keep Your Hydrangeas Blooming All Season Long
If you've planted hydrangeas in your garden, you may be wondering how to keep their blooms going as long as possible. Hydrangeas can be picky plants, which makes perfect blooms a never-ending challenge. In this article, gardening expert and hydrangea enthusiast Jill Drago gives you her top tips for longer and brighter blooms.
The only thing that can be more disappointing than your hydrangeas not blooming at all, is a poor showing. Sometimes hydrangea flowers will come in smaller, or your shrub may only have a few blossoms instead of being covered in beautiful blooms. There are even times when your flowers just seem washed out.
So what’s the deal? Is there a special secret to ensuring your hydrangeas produce big, beautiful blooms? What about their color? Is there something you can do to influence the vividness of the blues and pinks that these famous flowering shrubs are so well known for?
The short answer is yes, there’s a bit of an art when it comes to getting you hydrangeas to bloom to their fullest potential. Let’s take a deeper look at some of my favorite tips for amazing hydrangea blooms in your garden this season!
Give Them Space
Before you start planting hydrangeas, reference the tag on your nursery pot for the recommended plant spacing. Depending on the species of your hydrangea this spacing can be anywhere from three to ten feet apart.
It can be really tempting to plant your hydrangeas closer together so they will fill in your garden spaces quicker, but that can be detrimental to the overall health of your plant, including the blooms.
The main issue that arises when you plant too closely together is the lack of airflow that the plants will receive. If your plant doesn’t have enough breathing room fungal diseases will begin to creep up and begin to damage your plant.
Flower buds and flowers themselves are not immune to fungal diseases, in fact these types of disease can greatly discolor your flowers and cause them to be stunted.
If you have established hydrangea plants that you believe are too close together there are a few things you can do to alleviate the above issues.
When it is time to prune, be sure to prune selectively and remove branches within the plant and between two plants that are touching or rubbing against one another.
Another option you have is transplanting and moving your hydrangeas to a new spot. This can get tricky, and depending on how old your plant is you may not have a ton of success getting the plant re-established. The best time to do this is in the spring or fall when the plant is least active, and when there is less foliage that could get damaged while moving.
Choose The Right Plant
When it comes to choosing the right hydrangea for your yard you will need to consider how much sunlight it will receive. You will not want to plant a full sun variety in the shade for instance.
Something to consider is whether or not the hydrangea you have chosen for your yard is cold hardy in your area or not. The USDA hardiness rating system breaks the United States up into “zones” that are distinguished by average low winter temperatures.
For example, if you live in zone 6 but the hydrangea at hand is only hardy to zone 7, you may have an issue with your buds dying over the winter due to the cold. While you are shopping for your hydrangea, be sure to check the tag on the plant to make sure you are making the best selection for your garden.
Get To Know The Hydrangea
While you are still at the garden center choosing your plant, or if you are lucky and saved the plant tag that came with the plant, it is a good idea to get familiar with the recommended growing conditions on the tag.
These plant tags will have information such as sunlight requirements, bloom time, and spacing. Using this information will help get you started on the right foot.
While you are looking to boost your hydrangea blooms it can seem tempting to fertilize your plants. Unfortunately, fertilizing blindly can cause damage to your plants. A soil test is very easy to do, and can tell you exactly what nutrients your soil may or may not be lacking. Once you have your results you will be ready to make a feeding plan.
Hydrangeas don’t require anything too extensive once they are established when it comes to feedings. The best way to fertilize your hydrangea is to use manure or compost around the base of the plant. Not only does this produce excellent results, but it will improve the conditions of your soil over time.
All flowering plants need phosphorus to produce their best blooms. Choosing a fertilizer that is labeled for flowering shrubs and trees will be your best bet. You can find these fertilizers in a slow release formula.
Do not fertilize hydrangeas after August as the plants are already preparing to go dormant. This could damage your flowers for the next year.
Avoid Direct Sunlight
We all know that most hydrangeas require a bit of shade. But while it is possible for your hydrangea to get too much shade, it can also get too much sun. Hydrangea paniculata loves the sun and can tolerate six hours or more per day and thrive with beautiful blossoms and healthy green leaves.
However, the other varieties really prefer partial shade, or four to six hours of sun. Too much sun can stress the hydrangea, and can cause the leaves and flowers to appear burnt or scorched. If this is the case, your plant will be conserving energy and skipping the production of flowers.
You can purchase a sunlight monitor at garden centers to check the amount of sunlight in your garden if you are unsure. While it may seem like planting them under a tree for some extra shade is a good idea, this is usually not the case.
Too much sun can also cause your hydrangea to become dehydrated. This will further damage your flowers by causing them to begin the drying out process. Below we dive deeper into making sure you are watering your hydrangea in the best way possible.
Enrich Their Soil
Hydrangeas really do best when they are situated in well draining soil. This may mean amending your soil with some compost or other organic material. You can also topdress your soil with compost every year as fertilizer.
This is a great way to give your plants a great boost each season. This is an easy process for anyone to do. You can purchase high quality bagged compost at your garden center. Add about an inch of compost to the entire drip line of the plant.
Water Them Properly
Hydrangeas are well known for being water lovers. If they are not receiving enough water this will cause the plant to stress and go into survival mode, focusing on root production, and leaf production. Those two systems are what keep the plant alive. Producing flowers takes a lot of energy from the plant, and while flowers do attract pollinators, they are not necessary to the survival of hydrangeas.
It is easy to spot hydrangea blossoms that are in need of water. The petals will begin to fade, and lose their luster. Another way to spot a hydrangea that can use a drink is by checking out the leaves. Their leaves will droop down towards the ground.
I prefer to water my hydrangeas in the morning, before the stress of the summer heat has a chance to get to them. The good news here is that a good soaking should relieve these symptoms.
Hydrangea Watering Steps
- Ensure you have well-draining soil.
- If soil is sandy, add organic material for amendment.
- When watering by hand, aim at the base of the plant.
- Watering the plant directly will add risk for fungal disease.
- Drip irrigation is best if you are not watering by hand.
- Watch the weather so you don’t over or under water.
- Their leaves will tell you when they need more water.
Mulch, and More Mulch
Mulching around your plant has many great benefits. An inch or so of your favorite high quality mulch will help to keep weeds at bay. This may seem like a small thing, but weeds are aggressive when it comes to stealing water and nutrients from larger plants.
Their root systems tend to be more shallow than those of shrubs or perennials which means they get dibs on rain water and your fertilizer. Hydrangea blossoms are at their best when they are well watered and well fed.
Mulch also provides an evaporation barrier. Keeping your soil moist in the heat of the summer, which is also the flowering season for hydrangeas, will help to maintain the healthiest version of your plant.
You will know when you need to deadhead your hydrangeas simply by examining the flowers. They will begin to fade, and the once lush petals will begin to dry out. If you are deadheading correctly you will not need to worry about damaging your flower buds for your second bloom or for next season.
Don’t wait too long, and be sure to deadhead as the flowers pass. Make a pass through your garden once or twice a week with your pruning shears in hand and you will be in good shape.
Once you have located the flowers that are ready to be deadheaded, run your fingers down the stem of the hydrangea until you reach the first set of big leaves. You will want to make your cut just above this set of leaves. If you cut too low and you could potentially damage those leaves, if you cut too high you will leave a stump that will turn woody and become unattractive.
Prune According To Wood Type
A great way to ensure that your hydrangeas will be the biggest and brightest they can be is to be sure you are pruning them correctly. This can get tricky, but it will be worth it when you see the robust blooms taking over your garden. To get started, the most important thing you need to know is that there are two ways that hydrangeas bloom: new wood, and old wood.
Some hydrangea species bloom on “new wood” which is the growth from the current season. These species are: arborescens and paniculata.
If you are working with a new wood bloomer you really can’t go wrong, but it is best to prune in the fall after blooming has finished.
The hydrangea species that bloom on old wood are: macrophylla, serrata, quercifolia, and anomala.
The old wood species don’t typically require a lot of pruning. They are at their best when they are left to grow freely, and pruned only for containment and to remove winter-kill. Quercifolia can be left until April before they are pruned. For anomala it’s best to prune after flowering in late June by simply removing the spent blooms.
The good news here is that this will only be an issue for one season, so long as you prune correctly (or not at all) this season. Your buds will form properly and will bloom beautifully next year!
In some instances it may be easier for you and your hydrangea to just move it to a new location. Transplanting is best done in the fall or early in the spring before too much growth comes in. You may want to consider transplanting if your plant is not receiving enough shade, or if the soil is too tough.
Treat Diseases Early
Hydrangeas are prone to fungal diseases. This could be because of lack of air flow, humid weather, or leaf litter that has gathered around the base of the plant. Purchasing a bonide fungicide, such as the copper fungicide, will help to keep these fungal diseases from appearing and from spreading. As mentioned earlier, fungal diseases can wreak havoc on your hydrangea flowers, as well as the rest of the plant if untreated.
Prevent Wildlife Snacking
If you live in an area with a deer population, your flower buds could be at risk. Hydrangeas that bloom on old wood form buds in the fall and early winter. A flower bud probably looks like a nice snack to a deer in the middle of the winter.
Deer have a tell-tale way of nibbling. They prefer green (new) growth to the old wood. They also rip leaves from the plant, this leaves an appearance of torn leaves on your hydrangea. Other critters may be neater about their nibbling, and just grab a bud or two and go. Covering your hydrangea with burlap over the winter will protect them from being eaten.
There are ways to prevent critters from munching on your hydrangeas. You can find many different deer and wildlife repellant sprays at your local hardware store or garden centers. These sprays typically need to be sprayed frequently because the rain will wash it off. These sprays work by giving the plant an unpleasant odor and taste.
Another method of hydrangea pest control is by planting deer or rabbit resistant plants near your hydrangeas. Critters tend to avoid plants such as astilbe, daylily, and marigolds. This type of companion planting can become tricky with hydrangeas because they require shade. Astilbe might be your best bet here.
Aluminum sulfate is readily available, and the best product to use to enhance the blues of your flowers. Use a “less is more” approach when applying this to your plants. A drench of one tablespoon of aluminum to one gallon of water is the safest application rate. If the plant is dry, water before applying this solution.
This method should only be used twice a year; once in April and once in May. Also, make sure you’ve picked a hydrangea variety that can actually produce blue flowers, otherwise you may have unmet expectations!
If you are wishing to enhance your pinks or reds, using garden lime will be your best tool. Apply a powder form of lime to the base of the plant in April and again in October. Lime works by raising the pH of the soil which will eventually inhibit the ability of your plant to utilize the aluminum and in turn enhance the pinks and reds of your plant.
If you follow these above tips your hydrangeas will showcase their amazing blooms all season long. While hydrangeas can be very low maintenance plants, they can sometimes be a little tempermental depending on where they’ve been planted, and the soil they live in. But, with a little TLC and some patience, your hydrangeas can show off the bright flowers they are so well known for!