Hydrangea Heaven

Hydrangeas are blooming beautifully right now. Follow these tips for watering, fertilizing, and pruning your hydrangeas. One of the biggest reasons why people plant hydrangeas is that they’re relatively low maintenance throughout their impressive bloom seasons. They’ll add great structure to your landscape, but they don’t require careful attention to do so. Low-maintenance does not mean no-maintenance, however, and there are a few things you can do right now to make sure you season stays strong.

Watering Hydrangeas

HydrangeaThe water vessel. The word hydrangea comes from the Greek words hydro (water) and angeion (vessel). Like the name suggests, these plants love their H2O. They need constantly moist soil—none of this back and forth between wet and dry stuff—and absolutely no bone-dry soil. They tend to like heavier clay soil, just for the access to moisture (so long as it’s not leaving their roots water-logged). The best thing about watering though? You can tell pretty easily what a hydrangea needs. Check the soil, and if it’s still moist, don’t water. Overwatering does just as much damage as allowing them to dry out. There’s a few other things you can check for: if they’re brown around the edges, your soil probably isn’t draining too well and they’re getting too much water. If you’re getting rust on the leaves, you might be “overhead watering” them, meaning you’re watering up over the top of the plant—keep the water down near the base.

Fertilizing Hydrangeas

You have options. Many gardeners don’t use fertilizers on their hydrangeas, or at least wait for the hydrangea to give a sign it needs some. Soil pH actually has a lot to do with a hydrangea’s nutrient uptake, so we suggest testing your soil to see what nutrient deficiencies you need to be aware of first. If a hydrangea isn’t getting enough nutrients, the leaves will turn yellow in the center. Fertilizer can also get you brighter flowers and stronger root systems, however, so you have some options: If you do the slow-release, once-per-year fertilizer, you’ve most likely already applied it by now. Congrats! Just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. If you haven’t yet, wait until early next spring. You don’t want to risk it with a late application, because incorrectly applied fertilizer could cause growth when it should be preparing for dormancy or bring tons of foliage that’ll steal energy from flower production. On the other hand, a good 10-10-10 fast-release fertilizer can be applied two or three times a season for an impressive season, and the final application would be right about now. You could also use a high phosphorus formula (the middle number in the fertilizer formula, like 15-30-15) right around now, once we’re done with the first wave of flowers, which could also bring more flower buds this season. If you’re going to fertilize, just be sure of a few things:
  1. Fertilize at the dripline—don’t pack that fertilizer right around your hydrangea stems, as it’ll cause burns. Instead, you’ll want to water it down over the roots, where nutrition for the plant is gathered. Imagine your hydrangea is an umbrella and picture where the water would drip off the edges, so right beneath the outermost branches. Sprinkle your fertilizer there for better results.
  2. Don’t fertilize once August has started. Soon it’ll be fall, and your hydrangea should be preparing to go dormant for winter. If you encourage growth then, you’ll be leaving it exposed to damaging winter weather.

Deadheading Hydrangeas: Tidy, Don’t Prune

Clean up the display and promote new growth. First thing first: by deadhead, we definitely do not mean prune. It’s midsummer right now, and pruning should only happen at certain times of year. Hydrangea pruning deserves its own post, so we won’t dig too far into it here, but Macrophylla, Serrata and Quercifolia tend to be pruned immediately after flowering and only to shape the shrub. For everything else, wait on pruning until late winter/early spring. Deadheading, on the other hand, is simply removing any spent blooms, and it can be done around this time of year. It’s not necessary on hydrangeas, and in the later season flushes, some gardeners leave the dried flower heads to provide architectural interest through winter. However, many gardeners deadhead to clean up the display, promote new growth and allow for good airflow. Just use your pruning sheers to snip the stem of a faded flower right below the flower head. In early spring, you’ll likely have noticed some stems are completely finished, likely from winter kill. Break off these pale stems, and you’ll notice they have no trace of green left inside. These can be taken all the way to the ground to improve airflow around your hydrangea.

Cutting Hydrangeas for Bouquets

Hydrangea The fresh bouquet Right now, you can make the most of your blooming hydrangeas with some fresh-cut arrangements (we love the look of these Strawberry Sundae Hydrangeas). With hydrangeas, you only need one or two flower heads in a mason jar or pitcher, and it’ll fit well into a farmhouse or French country style. When done right, hydrangea cut flowers can last around 2 weeks in the vase. However, hydrangeas produce this thick sap, which can impede water intake and cause them to wilt, so they’ll need a little prep before their performance.

How to create a hydrangea bouquet:

  1. Wash your vase out with soapy water and put flower food and cool water into it. If you don’t have flower food, use 1 tbsp of regular granulated sugar in a bleached vase (if it’s not bleached, the sugar will feed bad bacteria).
  2. Bring a bucket of room-temperature water to the garden with you. Cut the stems extra long and at an angle, and put them right into that bucket.
  3. Cut off all lower leaves—leaves are very thirsty, so they’ll hog water and energy.
  4. You’ll want to do something to remove the sap and bacteria from the end of the stems. Cut the stem again to the length you’d prefer and crush the end a little bit to open it up. You can either put that end in boiling water for a minute or dip it in alum. Both options remove sap and bacteria that would clog up your stems. Once dipped, put it immediately into your prepared vase.
  5. Display it in a cooler space for a longer vase life.
  6. Recut stems periodically and change the water every other day to keep the display looking fresh and performing its best as long as possible.

The dried bouquet

The Dried hydrangea flower arrangements can last months (we even had a dried bouquet last about a year in our office). They’re unique and memorable as interior décor, and they’ll give a sort of vintage feel to the room. You can also use dried hydrangeas in an autumn wreath. However, if you’re planning on dried hydrangeas this year, you can wait a little longer. They really should be picked closer to the end of August (depending on zone and climate), when they’ve had some time to dry on the stem first. Some choose to pick hydrangeas for drying when they have some of their color from the season left, others let them dry into their fall tones first. The fall bloom tends not to last as long, but you can simply pick it, strip the leaves and arrange it in an empty vase. If you pick earlier, you’ll want to strip the leaves and fill a vase so ½ the stem is submerged in water. Let the water evaporate naturally, which takes about 2-3 weeks, and you’ll have colorful, dried hydrangea blooms to decorate with.