Oh Hydrangea Please Bloom For Me
by The English Lady
Hello everyone and thank you for inviting me into your garden once again on this nearly spring day; I am Maureen Haseley-Jones, founder of The English Lady Landscape & Home company working eco-consciously here in Connecticut. “We seek him here, we seek him there, those French’s seek him everywhere, be he in heaven, be he in hell, that damned elusive Pimpernel.” The Scarlet Pimpernel could always elude the French and that seems to be the problem with so many of you folks that grow Hydrangea macrophylla; Maureen where are the blooms?
This is the most often asked question put to me by gardeners. My immediate response is what time of year did you prune them; and the answer is always at the wrong time of course and my response to that is “please put away your pruners!” The poet John Dryden called the Hydrangea the plant of heartlessness or the boaster. I am sure that many of you feel the plant is heartless after you have tried for many years to encourage them to bloom and not one blossom has appeared. A native of China and Japan, the hydrangea was introduced to England in 1740; because it was seen to give such magnificent blossoms, and I can hear you say, really, tell that to someone else! Anyway lets get to the crux of the matter and see if we can make the Hydrangea macrophylla thrive and prosper for you.
To reiterate, the most common reason that Hydrangeas do not bloom is improper pruning. Hydrangea macrophylla, which most of you have in your garden and which produce the blue and pink blooms produce flowers on shoots that were formed during the previous season and can be pruned to adjust the shape of the shrub immediately after blooming in late summer. First, cut out or shorten some of the oldest branches, then if the plant seems crowded, thin out the weakest of the new shoots. Always cut just above a vigorous side branch. The Hydrangea arborescens such as Annabelle or paniculata like the Pee Gee Hydrangea, flower on long shoots that have grown in this season.
To encourage fewer but larger blooms the shrubs can be pruned in early April as soon as growth appears. Cut all of last year’s shoots back to two or three buds but do not cut into the older wood. After pruning fertilize lightly with an all purpose fertilizer and mulch around the base with a two-inch layer of peat moss, and my perennial favorite, aged manure. As a general rule Hydrangeas need full sun but can tolerate part shade, they need plenty of ventilation and do well at the seashore with a sea breeze. They require a fertile soil amended with lots of aged manure or compost and constant moisture, as they originally were a wetland plant.
Protect them from strong winds and watch out for powdery mildew. When you see this problem spray with my organic mix which is a gallon of water, a tablespoon of baking soda, and a tablespoon of horticultural or vegetable oil. Many of you want the deep blue color of the Hydrangea and Nikko Blue is one of the most popular. For myself I enjoy the Lace Cap variety in a softer blue. If you want to retain and encourage the deep blue color, add aluminum sulphate in the form of Miracid to acidify the soil. I spoke with my ninety-nine year old father in England about his Hydrangeas, which are a deep maroon color. The soil in my part of Shropshire in the UK is extremely alkaline and Dad would love to grow a blue Hydrangeas and even has tried adding ground up old pieces of slate from the nearby Welsh mountain slate quarries and spreading the slate dust around the plants, but to no avail. So as he says he is just going to remain “Victorian” because depending on what was going on in the environment in any particular year during the Victorian era, the color of the bloom would be different each year and therefore “changeable”; and they were accepted as is and enjoyed.
Water is essential for the Hydrangea to do well and in a hot summer it is essential to give plenty of water to all of your borders, preferably in a morning. If you also want to avoid powdery mildew and “other fungus among us”, lay soaker hoses in the beds so that the water goes directly to the roots and not onto the leaves. Your garden in Connecticut requires at least an inch of water per week, and if you want to know how to measure an inch of water, put out an empty tuna fish can and let the spray hose run, then time how long it takes for an inch of water in the can and you will know how long to water.
As a final thought to you Hydrangea macrophylla growers that have never had a bloom on the plant or perhaps just a few the first year. Don’t prune at all, and I mean never, and quite probably you will get some blooms in the next couple of years. Do not despair because they are well worth waiting for. If you are thinking about having a professional landscape design or simple garden created for your property, now is the time to get on a reputable designer’s calendar. So don’t wait any longer and contact a landscape designer now and make sure that he or she is someone you feel comfortable with and does not create generic landscapes. Spring is almost sprung so enjoy and I’ll see you next time in your garden.