Hydrangea expert shares ‘habit’ to minimise to avoid ‘killing’ them

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When hydrangeas are in full bloom they are covered in large blossoms that will fill any gardener with happiness and pride. Their ease to grow makes them a popular choice among those with green thumbs and those new to gardening, alike. However, despite that ease, it is possible for home gardeners to make common mistakes when growing these plants. Lorraine Ballato, author of Success with Hydrangeas, has shared with Express.co.uk what a few of these mistakes are when it comes to big leaf hydrangeas – the most common variety to grow.

1. Wrong amount of sunlight

According to the expert, to thrive, hydrangeas need enough sunlight. She said: “Big leaf hydrangeas need a half day of sun, ideally in the morning. 

“Don’t fret if all you can provide is afternoon sun, you can still get flowers. You just need to keep an eye on the moisture level in the soil so that there is enough for them to rehydrate when needed.”

For those living in the south, Lorraine said to be mindful of afternoon sun, but for those northern gardens, the more important part of their siting is protecting them from winter conditions as best as possible. 

She explained: “To do this, consider planting them in the protection of winter persistent barriers like evergreens (conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas) or plants that hold their browned-out leaves likes beeches, parrotias, sumacs, and oaks. 

“Other barriers could be a fence, a neighbour’s house, a shed, or even an Adirondack garden chair or other lawn furniture turned to block the prevailing cold winds and icy precipitation.”

2. Too much fertiliser 

Next gardeners need to make sure their plants are strong and healthy enough to produce flowers (which take a lot of energy from the plant). Lorraine said: “You do that by fertilising your hydrangeas, ideally in the spring up until about August 1. 

“Rose fertiliser or granular shrub fertilisers have the right mix of nutrients to do the job. Fertilising in the fall distracts them from impending dormancy, so leave them alone at that time of year.”

However, if hydrangeas are planted near lawns, they could be taking fertiliser from it – too much and the plant will not grow flowers.

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The expert advised: “Check to see that your hydrangea isn’t getting nitrogen from an adjacent fertilised lawn, especially if the plant is downhill of that lawn or if a rotary spreader is used. 

“If that’s the case, that ‘casual’ nitrogen that your hydrangea gets is encouraging it to make leaves and not flowers. See if you can either move the plant or somehow prevent that fertiliser from reaching the hydrangea’s roots.”

3. Too much water

If excess nitrogen isn’t the issue, the hydrangea pro urged owners to “take a look at their watering habits”. 

She explained: “It’s a normal reaction to water your plant when you see it droop from being in the sun. Most times, that won’t be necessary as hydrangeas rehydrate as soon as the sun is off them. They reach back into the surrounding soil and perk back up within a few hours. 

“Consider holding off on any spot irrigation until the sun is off the plant for a bit to see if it snaps back. You might have to wait until the next morning. If it is still flagging, then by all means go ahead and give it a drink. Then inspect the mulch to see that there is enough to help the soil retain that precious moisture.

“Keep in mind that too much water in the roots is just as bad as too little. That excess water can rob your plant of necessary oxygen and rot it, eventually killing it. But more importantly, too much water will cause your plant to make leaves and not flowers.”

4. Pruning at the wrong time

The last and “most common cultural reason your plant might not flower” is it was pruned at the wrong time. Big leaf hydrangeas start to develop their flower buds for next year from the start of August onward. 

Those buds take several weeks to form and then stay on the stems until the following season. 

Lorraine warned: “Anytime you prune that plant between August and when you see the buds – not just the leaves – you run the risk of cutting off ‘sleeping’ flowers. 

“Despite the fact that there are stems that look dead, most are alive. You can easily test a stem’s viability by scratching it, if it shows green, it’s alive.”

5. Your hydrangea is not hardy for your location

It’s possible gardeners have a plant that is not hardy for their location. To find out, check the tag or ask a knowledgeable gardener. This is especially true if the plants have come in one of those flashy foil-wrapped packages, according to the expert. 

She said: “Those are known as ‘pot plants’ and are strictly grown for the abundant flowers, preferably indoors. They usually show up in all the stores for events like Easter and Mother’s Day. It’s rare that a pot plant will rebloom when put outside.”

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