STOP! Before You Prune Those Hydrangeas, Know What Kind You Have

A mix of blooming mophead and smooth hydrangeas

I am famous for saying that if I had a nickel for hydrangea question I got (and specifically the question “why isn’t my hydrangea blooming?”) when I was working in retail gardening, I would never have to work another day in my life.

Even with all the newer types of hydrangeas on the market–the “so-called” reblooming hydrangeas that bloom on old and new wood, in my climate, they can be notoriously finicky and NOT bloom when they’re supposed to–or stop blooming completely for some reason.

This is heartbreaking in a state like Connecticut, which is so close to places like Nantucket and Cape Cod, where so many people vacation. They go there, they see huge mounding shrubs of blue hydrangeas–and they come home to sticks and twigs of their own blue hydrangeas with no blooms.

Or worse yet, they come home to incredibly healthy shrubs of hydrangeas–and still no blooms. It’s enough to make one want to get a backhoe and just rip them all out!

I have advised folks about proper pruning, about knowing the type of hydrangea that you have and about replacing the types of hydrangeas that bloom on old wood with those that bloom on old and new wood (because here, we can get very late frosts–or worse, snows–that kill off those developing flower buds).

But if you haven’t spoken to me back when I was working in retail gardening, Proven Winners has put together and excellent guide to hydrangea pruning. It’s called Hydrangeas Demystified,

https://www.provenwinners.com/sites/provenwinners.com/files/pdf/hydrangeas_demystified_2015.pdf and while you still need to know the “type” of hydrangea that you have,  once you determine that, you’ll be able to figure out how to prune and when to prune. You might be able to save yourself a lot of heartache by not cutting off developing flower buds–or having your landscaper do so.

While we still can’t solve the problem of not being able to grow those gorgeous Nantucket type blue hydrangeas here in Connecticut (at least not in central Connecticut!), this guide can at least help us not prune off any flower buds that we might have developing.  I have more than once cut into wood that I thought was dead, only to discover that it wasn’t–I now only prune my mopheads very, very late!

So I hope this guide is helpful–and I hope that I have posted it early enough for most of you. Enjoy!

Walled Off

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This post is another example of a situation where “garden management” left undone has become a huge asset.

Mind you, I am not advocating for this sort of thing. But for a few years, I had unfortunate surgeries that kept me from doing just about anything in the garden–certainly anything as major as pruning large hibiscus syriacus shrubs after they bloom and before they go to seed, as should be done.

And so they self sowed everywhere. As with all weedy plants, I am still dealing with that unfortunate problem.

But in this one instance, the hibiscus actually solved a problem that I had been battling for 20 years in this garden.

This great wall of hibiscus hedge now keeps my neighbor’s riding mower from throwing all sorts of grass and weed seeds into this garden.

I even lost a viburnum to pesticide drift from their property–because of course we don’t spray at all. So there will be no more of that. If anything, some of the great wall of hibiscus might get hit with their toxins–but there’s plenty more where that came from!

Now I just need to keep the “mother plants” pruned after flowering or it will become one great garden of hibiscus!

Happy Accident

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This all looks so nicely composed, doesn’t it? The hanging impatiens above the ferns and the container below, with all sorts of nice contrasting textures from the ferns and the Japanese maple.

You can see by the title of my post that very little of it was planned. Lately, my best gardening just seems to “happen,” (although perhaps that is my imagination and my perfectionism talking).

But I will tell you that I didn’t plant any of those ferns. Nature sowed them for me. I just encourage them by watering (which is a feat, some years, like this one, when I am getting precious little help from nature!)

There is one spot where they don’t want to grow so I put a planter there. It has an impatiens plant the same color as the one in the hanging basket but you can’t tell. It’s been completely overrun by the oxalis. Oh well.

The color of the oxalis at least picks up the foliage of the Japanese maple leaves, and the cordyline. So you don’t miss the impatiens much.

And after I went out to get the impatiens plant, the Spoiler said, “oh. I thought you were going to plant a pot for the lawn.”

So I had to make a second trip to the garden center–not generally a hardship except in a pandemic–for more plants.

And that’s why he’s called the Spoiler.

Hydrangeas as Food for Pollinators

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You probably remember this photo from Wednesday. It’s not one of the ones that has the real mist and fog behind it.

If I want to work around these plants, I try to do so either very early in the morning or later in the evening. As soon as the sun hits them, the bees find them–and they are covered in bees.

You may remember my remark from Monday about not being able to get good photos of bees. I see lots of good photos of bees on social media and I marvel.

I think with me it stems from 2 things: the first is my own limitations. I am not nearly patient enough to wait for the right shot, to set it up, etc.

I also don’t use the right equipment. A tripod would help steady the camera and a macro lens would get me closer to the bees without getting on top of them.

But all of that comes from me believing that a bee has to do its thing without any more interference from us humans. Isn’t its job already hard enough? Do you really need to see a picture of a bumblebee? We all know what a cute fuzzy bumblebee is.

But I digress. And yes, bumblebees are one of the bees on my hydrangeas. As are honeybees. And smaller bees that I haven’t identified.

And even a couple of steel blue cricket hunter wasps.

So you can see that these hydrangeas are magnets for pollinators. Or you can at least hear about it.

This Year I Finally Didn’t Hate My Tree Peony

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Hate is really the wrong word for the way I feel about my tree peony. Colossal waste of space would generally sum it up much better. I am not one who generally hates blooming plants (or any plants or other living things).

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What generally happens to this glorious plant is that its bloom tends to coincide with our first heat wave. And so its flowers tend to want to do this.

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Notice the flower in front hiding behind the leaf. They tend to bloom for all of one day, then fry, and burn up and they’re done. It’s so disappointing.

This year, we didn’t have an early heat wave. The plant bloomed for over a week. In over 25 years living in this house, I have never seen this. It’s been spectacular.

So all is forgiven.