7 Tips for Beautiful Hydrangeas

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Renowned for their lush, eye-catching blooms, hydrangeas add old-fashioned charm to any garden. You might think hydrangeas are high maintenance. But surprisingly, they need little care. With a few tips, your hydrangeas will thrive in a variety of conditions. So, if you’re looking for a stunning garden flower, with large globes of colorful blossoms, then hydrangeas are the perennials for you!  Here are seven tips for beautiful hydrangeas.

Plant the right hydrangeas for your hardiness zone

It’s all about the bloom. So, if your hydrangeas just aren’t blooming the way you want, consider cultivating the species of hydrangeas that grow best for your region. Doing this requires a bit of research. To successfully grow hydrangeas, or any plant for that matter, you need to know the climate that certain plants adapt best in. It’s for this reason that climate zone maps were created. 

You want your hydrangeas to have a fighting chance year after year. For this to happen, your plant must tolerate year-round conditions like the lowest and highest temps and the amount of rainfall in your region. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zone Map divides North America into 11 separate planting zones. Find your zone by using the map or entering your zip code.

Know when to plant your hydrangeas

When hydrangeas arrive at your local garden center, that’s usually the time to plant them. But the time can vary per region. A good rule of thumb: If you live in an area with freezing winters and snow, plant your hydrangeas in early spring (after the last spring frost.) Or, plant early fall (as soon as summer heat breaks and before the first fall frost.) Of course, in warmer regions with mild winters, you have a larger window for planting hydrangeas — from fall right through to early spring. For first and last frost dates, see the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Make sure your hydrangeas get the right amount of sun and shade

Hydrangeas generally need some sun and some shade to thrive. There are six different species of hydrangea that are widely cultivated in the U.S. The hardiest of species is the peegee hydrangea (Hydrangea panicle), which grows best in full sun and partial shade — hardiness zones three through eight. On the other hand, mopheads, (Hydrangea macrophylla,) the most popular type of hydrangeas, are susceptible to drooping from heat stress and grow best in hardiness zones five through nine.

So, if you live in a hotter zone, give them a few hours of sun in the morning, and shade in the afternoon to let them thrive. If you live in a cooler zone, then your hydrangeas will flower and look best in climates with full sun.

Don’t over-prune your hydrangeas

One of the biggest reasons why you do not see your hydrangea bloom is because of over-pruning or lack of pruning. But knowing how and when to prune your hydrangea can be a little confusing. While hydrangeas can handle a bit of pruning, experts agree, little to no pruning is usually best when it comes to these perennials. In fact, floppy stems or no blooms are usually due to over-zealous pruning. Prune as little as possible if you want your hydrangeas to thrive year after year. Prune based on how your species blooms. There are three types of Hydrangeas:

Those that bloom on old growthThese bloom in early summer and finish by midsummer. These should only be pruned after flowering. When you do prune, cut just below where the bloom was.

Those that bloom on new growth — These begin blooming in midsummer and continue until the first frost. They should only be pruned in early spring or early fall when they become dormant.

Those that bloom on old and new growth — The endless summer series bloom from early summer to fall. They should be pruned after flowering and cut just below where the bloom was.   

Know how much water your hydrangeas require

Hydrangeas thrive in consistently moist soil, according to Miracle Grow. That said, hydrangeas cannot endure being waterlogged either. Poor draining soil that remains soggy can cause root rot, causing your hydrangeas to quickly die-off. Check the soil at least once a week to see if the top inch of the soil is moist. If not, then you need to water. And, if you have heavy garden soil, mix in plenty of compost before planting to improve your soil quality. After planting, water well, and make sure to soak the root ball and surrounding soil. If your hydrangea plants are without leaves, you won’t need to water again until growth resumes. Watering your hydrangeas in the morning will help prevent them from wilting during hot days.

Know when to fertilize your hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are fairly low maintenance perennials, but keeping them fertilized properly is definitely part of the puzzle to keep them thriving. Keep in mind each type of hydrangeas species has different requirements and will benefit from different fertilization timing. In addition, too much fertilizer can cause hydrangeas to have beautiful leaves rather than beautiful blooms. 

  • Bigleaf varieties like mopheads need many light applications of fertilizer in March, May, and June.
  • Oakleaf and panicle hydrangeas thrive with two applications in April and June.
  • Smooth varieties should only be fertilized once, in late winter.

You can control hydrangea color

One of the beautiful things about hydrangeas is that you can control their color. However, not all hydrangea types are capable of color changes. Bigleaf hydrangeas, for instance, react to changes in soil pH. A low soil pH allows the plant to absorb aluminum. This turns the flowers a gorgeous blue hue. To turn up the blue hue in your hydrangeas, add sulfur or peat moss to the soil to lower the pH. In addition, you can add aluminum sulfate to your soil throughout the growing season. To make your pink and red hydrangeas glow, add ground limestone to increase the pH. However, avoid pH levels above 7.5 to prevent damaging the plant. Using a soil pH test will help to adjust the hydrangea color accurately.

No matter what color your hydrangeas are, they will naturally fade come fall. But that’s also a beauty in itself. Hydrangeas showcase fresh, colorful blooms in the spring and keep your garden alive well into the fall, or even winter with their beautiful, faded blooms.

-Katherine Marko

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