Top 10 Questions About Hydrangeas

By Liz Baessler | December 2, 2018
Image by Busenlilly
by Liz Baessler
December 2, 2018

Here at Gardening Know How we get lots of questions, and our goal is to provide answers to those inquiries to the best of our knowledge. Hydrangea plants are a garden favorite offering spectacular beauty to the landscape. That said, they are not without their fair share of problems. The following information includes the 10 most commonly asked questions about hydrangea shrubs.

1. Why isn’t my hydrangea blooming?

If your hydrangea isn’t blooming, it’s almost always because it only blooms on old growth. Some varieties bloom on new growth, and these hardly ever cause problems. Old growth varieties, however, can run into a number of issues. If you’ve pruned your plant too much, or if it’s died back to the ground in the winter, it’s not going to bloom this season. The plant is still okay, and it will grow just fine, but all its growth will be vegetative until next summer. The only thing you can do is wait.

2. How/when do you prune a hydrangea?

Hydrangea pruning varies depending upon the kind of plant you’re growing. There are two major types of hydrangea – those that bloom on old growth and those that bloom on new growth. If your hydrangea blooms on old growth, you should prune it in summer or autumn after it has finished flowering. If it blooms on new growth, you should prune it in late winter or early spring before new buds set. Both kinds of hydrangea benefit from deadheading throughout the growing season to encourage more flower production.

3. How or when to transplant hydrangeas?

The best time to transplant a hydrangea is in late winter or early spring, when the plant is still dormant. Water your hydrangea thoroughly before moving, then use a shovel or spade to dig a ring around the root ball. You want to get as many roots as possible. Lift the root ball out of the soil and transplant it to a pre-dug hole in its new home. The goal is to keep the roots out of the ground as little as possible. Make sure the soil line is at the same level on the crown of the plant, and water it thoroughly and frequently for the next several weeks.

4. How do I protect and care for my outdoor hydrangeas in winter?

Many varieties of hydrangea are cold hardy, but they still benefit a lot from winter protection. If your hydrangea blooms on old growth, this is the best time to prune it. Don’t cut it down to the ground, or you won’t get any blossoms in the spring, but you can remove any dead or weak stems and trim the bush to the size you want. Build a protective cage by sinking four wooden stakes into the ground around the plant and wrapping it in chicken wire. Fill the cage with loose material like pine needles or oak leaves to provide a nice insulating layer. If you keep your hydrangeas in pots, the best thing to do is to bring them inside before the first frost.

5. How to care for hydrangea in pots?

Hydrangeas do well in pots, as long as they have adequate care. If you’ve received one as a gift, transplant it right away into a pot that’s several inches wider and has good drainage. Give it lots of sun and frequent water. Potted hydrangeas do best if brought indoors for the winter, or at least kept in a protected but unheated garage or shed, where they should be mulched and watered a little once a month. It’s alright if the plant freezes, but best if it stays frozen throughout the winter – lots of thawing and refreezing is bad for the roots.

6. How to propagate my hydrangea?

Hydrangeas almost never produce seeds, which means they need to be propagated from cuttings. In the fall, take a 6-inch cutting of new growth that has no flowers on it. Cut it just below a set of leaves. Remove all but the top two leaves, dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and sink it in damp potting medium. Place a plastic bag over the cutting, put it out of direct sunlight, and keep it moist. New roots and leaves should start to grow in two to four weeks.

7. Should the hydrangea flowers be deadheaded?

It’s not necessary to deadhead hydrangea flowers. But it’s not harmful, either, and it can keep the bushes looking nice. Feel free to remove spent blooms throughout the growing season. It’s important to remember, however, just to cut off the flower head itself. If you cut farther down on the stem, you might be inadvertently removing buds and thwarting your plans for future flowers. Just snip off the spent blooms, taking care to leave the top set of leaves intact.

8. How to change color of my hydrangea flowers?

Hydrangea flowers come in different colors, but those colors are dependent upon soil makeup rather than plant variety. If a hydrangea has blue flowers, this means the soil it’s planted in is high in aluminum or has a low pH. If a hydrangea has pink flowers, it’s planted in soil that is low in aluminum or has a high pH. You should test your soil before making any adjustments if you want to change the hydrangea color. You can turn your hydrangeas blue by lowering the pH, or making the soil more acidic, with the addition of vinegar or an acid fertilizer. You can turn the flowers pink by raising the pH with lime or a phosphorus-heavy fertilizer.

9. How to grow hydrangeas in warm climates?

Hydrangeas can be grown in warm climates, but as a rule they don’t like very hot weather. The best way to keep your hydrangeas happy in the heat of summer is to plant them in a spot where they receive some afternoon shade. It’s true that hydrangeas like sun, but not as much as they like keeping cool. They also need lots of water, so you should irrigate them frequently and deeply, especially if they get lots of hot sun. If your summers are hot and moist, space them far apart to encourage airflow and prevent the development of fungus and disease.

10. Why does my hydrangea droop?

Hydrangeas love water (that’s why they have “hydra” in their name. If your hydrangeas are constantly drooping, it’s almost definitely because they’re not getting enough moisture. Hydrangeas should be watered deeply at least once per week. If they’re getting lots of direct sunlight, and especially if they’re in containers, then the watering should be even more frequent. Newly planted hydrangeas also need more water than usual. If you just planted your bushes this summer, make sure to keep their soil nice and moist and put up a shield to protect them from the brightest afternoon sunlight. This should help keep them from drying out and give their roots a chance to grow and find their own moisture.

We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.

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  • Penny Barr
    Comment added October 10, 2020Reply

    Question: I live in NC. Last year I cut my hydrangeas back in the Fall - result, no flowers this year but lots of big leaves. What should I do so they bloom next year?

  • Robert R. Forget
    Comment added October 29, 2019Reply

    Do I cut the flowers before winterising the hydrangea?

  • Candy Kister
    Comment added October 6, 2019Reply

    I pruned my hydrangea improperly about 6 years ago. It has not bloomed since. It had roundish blue flowers. I don’t remember if it bloomed on new or old growth. Is this the time of year to prune the dead branches back? I’m afraid to touch it.

  • Elizabth
    Comment added August 18, 2019Reply

    Why are my hydrangea flowers turning green

  • Evelyn Weide
    Comment added August 14, 2019Reply

    My hydrangeas were a bright pink and now they are beigh. What did I do wrong and how do I fix it.

  • Kathi Muss
    Comment added August 7, 2019Reply

    My hydrangeas get a leaf disease every year now. We live in a hot and humid climate. I have cut them down and hope to plant them in a shadier spot in the fall. What are my chances?

  • Anna Dreer
    Comment added July 16, 2019Reply

    My Hydrengea only has 3 buds on one side on the lower stems. Other years it hasn't bloomed at all.
    I tried cutting it back, no blooms, the next year I left all the branches on, still no blooms.

  • Sandra
    Comment added July 5, 2019Reply

    I have moved my hydrangea to several locations. But the spot where it is now I have had it there several years but it will not bloom. What can I do to encourage it to bloom. Do they have to have a male and a female in order to bloom. It has only bloomed one time and it only had one bloom.

  • Linda
    Comment added June 22, 2019Reply

    I mistakenly cut back all the dead wood on my hydrangea plant. After reading this article, I believe it is the type that grows blooms from the old wood. So, the leaves have all come back, but absolutely no blooms this year. I’m confused about how far to prune it back and when it should be done. It’s a little unsightly right now as the leaves are also turning brown on the edge and shriveling. My plant is in a pot, and it doesn’t seem very happy this year. Can you help me?

    • Michelle
      Comment added August 23, 2019Reply

      I would put the pot in a spot that gets morning Sun and afternoon shade. When watering try to not get the leaves wet. It should flower next year but the leaves turning brown and shivering would have me a little concerned. Where did you have your hydrangea over the winter and where do you live? Hydrangeas like to go in to dormancy. If you kept it indoors in a heated area and then started exposing it to sunlight, feeding, and watering it too early in the winter it may be the reason. I did this once to one of mine that isn’t hardy in my zone. I live in Boston, zone 6. All the new growth died except one stem which had a few leaves. I kept it on my porch, watered it and fed it after I saw some growth. It is coming back. I have more stems coming up and the one that survived has grown a lot. I have it in a sunnier location now but it will not flower this year. When I lost all the stems except the one, I cut them back to the base. If you scratch the stem and see green it is a live stem. I prune my hydrangeas in the Spring once I see them starting to leaf out. It’s easier to tell the dead stems from the live ones. I cut the dead off and do not touch the live ones unless there is leaves with bare wood above. Then I cut to right above the last set of leaves. I also will cut any very small stems that are weak. However, I have mature hydrangeas in the ground. The one in the pot is my first trial with trying to keep it through the winter. So, it’s trial and error for now. I’m not sure if yours has the same issue as mine did or even positive that I lost all the new growth from bringing it out too early. If it’s hardy in your area, I would put it in the ground. Plants are happiest in the ground. I would only put it in the ground if you have a decent amount of healthy growth and cut off the brown leaves. This is just what I would do.. I’m not a professional. Hopefully, a professional will answer this question.

  • Pamela Biles
    Comment added June 5, 2019Reply

    How to get bigger flowers on my hydrangea ?

  • concepta Beane
    Comment added April 15, 2019Reply

    My potted hydrangea is drooping and although has had loads of water not recovering. Can it be overwatering to blame?

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