Learn tips about hydrangea care - Specifically Hydrangea Macrophylla, how you can get them to grow and bloom in your garden, and alternative choices.
Hydrangeas are one of the most popular garden flowers and are coveted by many, including me. Many people have asked me about growing hydrangeas, and though there is tons of information out there I thought I would share my experience. I hope it will help with some of you and maybe shed some light on what you can do going forward.
Blooming on Old vs New Wood
For most, this is the main issue. The beautiful hydrangeas with big leaves and huge flowers like the ones you see in florist shops, bloom on old wood. Hydrangea macrophylla, commonly called Bigleaf or mopheads” with blooms in hues of blue, pink and purple aren’t always easy to grow.
What does this really mean?
It means that the flower buds for this year’s plant were formed last year and will need to get through the winter for your shrub to produce flowers this year.
So you’ve read the label and it says hardy to USDA zone 4. You buy one and plant it carefully, but the next year there are no blooms.
Here in zone 6a, I have this problem too. However, my bigleaf hydrangeas make it through the winter, but in the spring once the weather warms up, my H. macrophylla starts coming to life, only to have a frost literally nip them in the bud-and guess what?-No flowers.
What Can You Do About Frost Killing Hydrangea Buds?
Protect and Cover Over Winter
Well, you could cover them with landscape cloth or burlap, or you could bury them with mulch for the entire winter. Landscape cloth should let the light in and theoretically could be kept on through all danger of frost. I don’t do this.
Quick Cover During Frost Warnings
You can, and I’ve done this once or twice, run outside and cover them with plastic bags, tarps or anything on hand when there is a frost warning in the spring. But if you have several plants or if you get busy with the many other things in your life that may not be possible.
What Else Can You Do If Your Hydrangeas Don't Bloom?
Purchase Alternative Hydrangeas
Buy Some with Pretty Foliage
I enjoy the beautiful foliage on a couple of my mopheads that are pretty on their own. If we have a warm spring, the flowers are a bonus. Check out H. macrophylla "Variegata and Lady in Red" in the gallery below.
Buy More that Bloom on New Wood
I continue to buy hydrangeas that are newer varieties that bloom on both old and new wood such as the "Endless Summer" and "Forever and Ever" series. This way if the buds that were on the old wood die there will be new blooms on new growth in the same season. However, sometimes I don't see blooms until late summer.
Easiest to Grow Hydrangeas
I also enjoy growing hydrangeas that only bloom on new wood such as H. paniculata varieties and H. arborescens (aka smooth hydrangeas).
They are different from the macrophylla and I don’t believe there are any that are blue. However, there are some that are pink, such as H. arborescens, 'Invincibelle Spirit II,' and H. paniculata 'Pinky Winky'.
In addition, Hydrangea quercifolia or Oakleaf hydrangea, tend to grow well even with the threat of late frosts. They have beautiful foliage, white flowers and grow well in the shade.
Many people think hydrangeas love the shade when in reality they need sun to bloom well. However, they don't like the high heat of the afternoon sun. So ideally an area that gets morning sun by some shade in the afternoon is the perfect setting for a hydrangea.
Hydrangea Soil - Changing the Color
Hydrangeas tolerate a range of soils and interestingly, the macrophylla or bigleaf will change color depending on the PH of the soil they are grown in. If your hydrangea macrophylla has blue flowers and you want them to look pink or purple you just need to add some lime to help turn the soil more alkaline. Conversely, adding aluminum sulfate will give you more acidic soil and turn the flowers blue.
If you do have any H. macrophyllas (bigleaf), and this is also true for H. quercifolia or oakleaf hydrangea, don’t prune them at all unless there are dead or diseased branches. Or, if it really needs shaping realizing that you may lose some blooms if you do. Deadheading spent flowers is okay.
If you have H. arborescens or H. paniculata you can prune them in the late winter. The pruning keeps them in line, helps promote flower growth and prevents them from getting too big and floppy.
Here in zone 6a, I’ve found planting mopheads near the foundation of the home seems to work well in normal winter conditions. I don’t know if it's the heat from the home or the protection it provides, but unless we have an unusually brutal winter, they perform well even with a frost.
Hydrangeas seem to love water. Maybe that's why they have the word "hydra" in their name and often will droop during a hot afternoon. A little drooping is okay. Some call this "mid-day wilt". If they still are drooping in the early evening when the weather cools down, get out the hose.
Using Hydrangeas Home Decor
Do you love the look of dried hydrangeas? Wait until the flowers begin to dry out a bit on their own. Then cut them and place them in a vase with two to three inches of water. Once the water dries out, they will begin to naturally dry. In a short time, you will have an everlasting bouquet. Read more about drying hydrangeas.
Panicle hydrangea 'Limelight' is so easy to grow and can get quite large as you can see in the image above.
Gallery of Hydrangea Varieties
When it comes to growing hydrangeas, I often think of my mother saying, “patience is a virtue.” Well, I don’t think she or my father passed that gene along to me. However, when it comes to plants, it is sadly true. If your plant is a new one, do not be surprised to have to wait one year or so for it to come into its own.
The saying, “first year sleep, second year creep and third year leap,” is so true.