Hydrangea drama in my garden

Kathy Henderson

Garden Columnist

Why didn’t my hydrangeas bloom this year?

A lot of gardeners are asking this question. I am venturing a guess on that one. The plants that were damaged, as many of mine were during the last late freeze of winter this year, developed new growth slowly. That new growth is now mature, healthy and ready to bloom. Late! I have a few blooms developing on my plants now - just not time of year and day length enough to produce a massive number of blossoms. Those plants that were less damaged have produced a number of flowers. Hydrangeas bloom best and earliest on new growth that develops on old stems. When those old stems are severely damaged or killed back to the ground, the new growth does not form quickly. Should we have a mild winter, the stems that are now healthy will survive and produce new shoots and many flowers. Should we have a severe winter or late freeze, history of this summer will repeat itself. In which case we probably should fertilize well with 10-10-10 as soon as new growth emerges in the spring. Penny McHenry, famous for her hydrangeas, was known to cut hers back every year, fertilize well and produce thousands of blooms each year.

Kathy's hydrangeas with late blooms. Special photo

When you cut them back, you can root the cuttings (6”) in a pot of potting soil or water. The best and the laziest way to produce new plants is to carefully bend down low-growing limbs into the soil and put a bricks on them. The limbs will produce new roots and once this is evident, you can cut them away from the main plant and plant the new shoots in other places in the garden. That is called “layering.” You can do this with many plants in the garden - especially shrubs that are more difficult to reproduce. If your hydrangea is not performing well in the location that it is now planted, this is the best way to move it to a better spot. Saves a lot of back work that is necessary when transplanting.

There are so many hydrangeas on the market now, it is hard to recommend one that produces better than others. They all have their good points and most have problems when planted in too much sun, poor soil and drought conditions. You need to choose a place that gets mid-day and afternoon shade, provide good rich soil and deep drainage (no wet feet) and near an outdoor hydrant so you can supply water easily during a drought. Then if it does not provide you with pleasure, you can blame it on the cultivar!