Hydrangea Flowers Turning Brown

Hydrangea Flowers Turning Brown

In the late summer we hear our customers asking this: “Why are my hydrangea flowers turning brown?” and then “Should I cut off the brown hydrangea flowers?” Since there are many types of hydrangeas, the answer to why they are browning and what to do about it isn’t necessarily thte same for all plants. Here are some reasons that various hydrangeas turn brown quickly, along with some photos of standard (sob!) dried flowers.

1. The main reason that mophead hydrangea flowers such as Endless Summer and Nikko Blue turn brown is hot mid-day to afternoon sun. If mophead varieties are planted in full sun, or where they get hot sun during the noon hour, they will brown quickly. But if those plants are placed where the direct sun is in the early morning or late-afternoon and evening the flowers will last into the fall.

2. Lacecap hydrangeas also brown quickly if planted in full or mid-day sun. Although some lacecaps last longer than others, and a few such as Twist n’ Shout put out some new flowers later in the fall, in general lacecaps tend to go by faster than other hydrangea varieties. So plant these in early morning or evening sun and enjoy them while they last.

3. The white flowering Hydrangea paniculata varieties are the best able to grow and remain attractive in full sun. Varieties such as ‘Grandiflora,’ ‘Limelight’ and ‘Pinky Winky’ will turn pink as they age, but the flowers won’t brown out as long as they are well watered through hot weather.

4. All hydrangeas will turn brown if they wilt too many times in hot weather. Water these shrubs deeply every few days in the heat of the summer (note that hand watering isn’t deep enough) and mulch around plants to hold moisture in the soil longer.

5. When all hydrangeas are splashed with water on a daily basis, however, this alone can cause browning. Avoid daily irrigation and when watering try not to get the leaves and flowers wet as this promotes leaf-spot fungus that will brown both leaves and flowers.

What to do if your hydrangeas have brown flowers? Clip those toasted blooms off. See the photo below for where to cut. Removing browned petals improves the look of the plant and for re-blooming varieties helps to promote the production of more flowers.

Brown mophead flowers indicates that the plant is growing in too much sun, or that the flowers have wilted too many times from not enough watering.

Brown mophead flowers indicates that the plant is growing in too much sun, or that the flowers have wilted too many times from not enough watering.

Lacecaps also brown in too much sun, but even in shade these types of flowers might not last as long as other varieties.

Lacecaps also brown in too much sun, but even in shade these types of flowers might not last as long as other varieties.

Hydrangea paniculata varieties do better in full sun but they can brown if they've dried out in between waterings, or if the flowers are getting hit with irrigation on a daily basis. Newly planted H. paniculata might need watering every three or four days in hot weather but established plants can go longer. Water deeply less often.

Hydrangea paniculata varieties do better in full sun but they can brown if they’ve dried out in between waterings, or if the flowers are getting hit with irrigation on a daily basis. Newly planted H. paniculata might need watering every three or four days in hot weather but established plants can go longer. Water deeply less often.

Once the flower has browned it won't look good again so clip it off where I am pointing, by cutting the stem right below the bloom.

Once the flower has browned it won’t look good again so clip it off where I am pointing, by cutting the stem right below the bloom.

36 Comments

  1. Althea Green on August 27, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Thanks for the info on Hydrangeas. I have been wondering what to do with the brown spotted ones. I did not have as many flowers this year so I have been enjoying the few I did have.
    I was overjoyed to read in the intro letter that many of you went to Chicago and loved the way the city has flowers/plants everywhere. We try to go yearly to Chicago in the spring as we love that city. Clean, friendly and flowers/plants everywhere, we just love it. I am glad you did also.
    Althea Green

  2. Linda Lord on August 27, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Many of my Nikko Blue ‘s only grew flowers at the bottom. But I have a lot of very tall green leaves at the top of the plant with no flowers. Should I cut them back? They have gotten very tall this season and I don’t want them that tall to flower next season.
    Thanks

    • CLFornari on August 27, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      Linda,
      Nikko Blue forms it’s buds for flowers in August of the provious year. Take a look at the place where the leaves meet the stems on those tall canes – see that tiny bud that’s tucked in there? That’s the germ of next year’s flower. If that tiny bud makes it through the winter and doesn’t get zapped by cold winds and single-digit temperatures, it will grow into a stem with a flower on the end next year. So the shorter you cut those tall canes, the fewer flowers you’ll have, and once again they will all be at the bottom of the shrub. A mature hydrangea will replace its growth by July the next year – so if you cut those tall canes down not only will you have fewer flowers and flowers at the bottom, you’ll once again have that dome of all green leaves at the top with no flowers and they’ll be just as tall by next July. If your Nikko Blue is too tall in the location where you have it, move it to a new place and replace it with a shorter growing Hydrangea such as one in the CityLine, Forever & Ever, Everlasting or Let’s Dance series of plants.

  3. Joel B on August 27, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    I always thought to prune back Endless Summers in the spring to just above the 2nd bud. This has worked beautifully each year and the plant doesn’t get too tall. Right or wrong?
    I have been using a trickle hose and mulch the plants.

    • CLFornari on August 27, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Joel – I’m assuming you’re saying that you prune down to just above the second set of buds you come to moving from the top of the cane down. That method is fine. It’s not controling the ultimate height of your Endless Summer Hydrangeas, however – that is geneticly determined. Endless Summer doesn’t get as tall as Nikko Blue. Most Endless Summer Hydrangeas top out between 4 and 5 feet while Nikoo Blues grow 6 to 8 feet tall on Cape Cod. Trickle hoses and mulching help to keep Hydrangeas well hydrated!

  4. Shelly Stirling on September 3, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Hi, CL,
    Just curious… My Limelight Hydrangeas are going crazy. They are enormous!! Should I continue to fertilize or is it too late in the season?

    Have a new pink/lavender colored hydrangea that I planted about 3 weeks ago. Should I fertilize it again?

    Thanks!
    Shelly

    • CLFornari on September 3, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      Don’t fertilize now – just water regularly and sit back and enjoy! Apply an organic fertilizer next spring.

  5. Jane on May 28, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    Hi, I just planted hydrangeas but the next day the petals turned brown. What am i doing wrong?

    • CLFornari on May 28, 2018 at 9:39 pm

      Jane,
      If hydrangea flowers browned from one day to the next, it could be any of the following (or more than one) reasons:
      1. If the plant was purchased from a store that let it wilt a couple of times before you bought it, you might be seeing the results of their tardy watering.
      2. If the plant was grown in a greenhouse and has never been in “real sunshine” before, and you planted it directly into a sunny day, the flowers can brown. It might have been better to gradually introduce it to the “real world.”
      3. If the plant was given too strong a fertilizer, that could cause “fertilizer burn” – if this is the case, however, you’d see the edges of the leaves turn brown too.
      4. If the plant was watered with a hose and the water was hot from the sun when it hit the flowers, that could cause them to brown overnight.

      I hope this helps!

      • Nicole on May 29, 2018 at 5:59 pm

        I’m having the same problem. Is the plant salvageable? I have a warranty on mine. It’s only three weeks old and it’s severely browning!

        • CLFornari on May 29, 2018 at 11:29 pm

          Nicole,
          See my response to Jane. Only time will tell if it’s salvageable… not sure a warranty covers browning flowers, only the life of the plant. Flowers are fleeting, even in the best of situations.

  6. Sara on June 8, 2018 at 11:45 am

    We have hydrangeas that are only two months old but foolishly we planted them in direct sun … the blooms were vibrant pink they are now dull and scorched . New leaves are coming further down the stem .We have moved them so that they have sun in the early morning then shade … should we dead head the blooms and burnt leaves ? Will we get another bloom this year ?

    • CLFornari on June 8, 2018 at 6:08 pm

      Sara – By all means deadhead the brown flowers by clipping just below where they attach to the stem. The plant will shed any leaf not capable of photosynthesis on its own. Some varieties bloom again on new growth and many don’t…you’ll have to wait and see about whether it will flower again this year. But you did the right thing by moving it to the new spot!

  7. Karina on July 27, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    Hi! Hoping you can help. Your post was very informative! But my troubles currently are with my oak leaf hydrangeas not my mop heads or even paniculatas! (Not yet anyway) 😉
    My oak leaf hydrangea flowers have browned very early this season- I am assuming perhaps they’ve fried in the hot summer. The leaves are all green and pretty healthy. Mine are established and quite large.
    Should I cut off the spent blossoms? If I cut them should I cut them down into the canes? Thank you so much

    • CLFornari on July 27, 2018 at 6:09 pm

      Karina,
      Yes, it’s probably the heat. When it’s hot a hydrangea looses lots of water from both leaves and petals, and so dry out quickly. The white flowers show this by turning brown, which is noticeable right away because the flower are white. Just clip off those brown flowers below the bloom. Leave the canes and leaves as the plant will be making the germ of flowers for next year soon.

  8. Dody on July 29, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    Hi, thank you for this very informative article which already helped me quite a lot! But, the more I read the more confused I get about watering. About 3 weeks ago I bought my first 5 Hydrangas but don’t know of which species guessing they are the most ordinary type. One is blue, 2 had tiny little pinkish flowers, and the rest are supposed to get pink/red – I bought them without flowers. They have to live in pots outside, so I instantly re-potted them with acidic soil in fairly large ceramic pots. Living in Portugal, it’s the height of summer now so I give them each about 3.5 L of water every evening, excess-water just drains away. Little new shoots are coming up everywhere, the leaves look green and healthy, but on one plant the tiny pinkish flower died (the leaves directly beneath it didn’t look good the moment I bought her). The blueish one lost 2 of her flowers by wilting, so I placed another plant closer to give her some shade. Now, in your artice you state one shouldn’t water every day. Is this also true for potted plants? And what should I do better? I don’t guess I’ll have flowers this year if I read your article right? Thank you very much in advance!

    • CLFornari on July 29, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      Dody,
      Good questions and we’re happy to help you with this. You are right – watering containers is different. When it’s hot they often need to be watered daily. Just know that like plants in the ground, a good deep soaking (which with pots means applying lots of water, waiting a few minutes and then doing it again) is better than a little more often. But hydrangeas are different than many other potted plants in that when they are in the sun and it’s hot, they lose moisture through their leaves and petals more quickly than other plants which makes them wilt even if the soil in their pots is moist. The roots just can’t take the water up fast enough to replace what’s being respired out of the pores of the leaves. This will cause flowers to wilt and brown on plants that are in strong sun, especially if the sun is in the afternoon.

      So hydrangea flowers last longest when the plants are only in direct sun early in the morning or in the late-afternoon/early evening. If your plants are in the sun in the hottest part of the day, that’s why they browned so soon. It was a good idea to place another plant close to it for shade…in fact, once I got a small paper umbrella made for party decorations and put that on a stick so that it was above one of my plants that didn’t like the strong sun. So don’t hesitate to get creative about the shade!

  9. Darlene Mawbey on August 6, 2018 at 10:34 pm

    I have white Hydrangeas they are only 2 weeks old but it has rained here everyday and is hot and sunny the flowers turned brown and the leaves are crispy I cut the brown flowers off but leaf on the leaves is this okay. I hope they come back what do you think?

  10. Janice McCord on September 8, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    It is September in SC – hot. My limelight hydrangeas turned brown and dropped leaves while we were on a trip. It was very hot and a neighbor only watered them once or twice while we were gone. Can I go ahead and cut the brown leaves and flowers off now?

    • CLFornari on September 8, 2018 at 5:27 pm

      Janice,
      Yes, by all means clip off the brown flowers. If you want you can remove the leaves too, but the plant will naturally shed them soon so you can wait and let nature do the grooming for you if you’d prefer.

  11. Kristie on September 28, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    Hello. We planted a limelight tree about a month ago (full sun and hot weather in upstate ny). The leaves were wilting and falling off after about two weeks so we upped the watering and the flowers starting perking up and improving. Now the flowers are turning brown. I’m not sure if we watered too much or if it’s from wilting several times. After reading some of these posts it looks like it’s ok to clip the flowers. I’m just nervous about what the tree will look like in the spring if it never fully developed. Any suggestions are appreciated! Thank you!

    • CLFornari on October 1, 2018 at 8:35 pm

      Kristie – it’s natural for these flowers to turn brown at this time of year. Even long lasting blooms like Limelight don’t last forever! Clip them off. In the spring you’ll look at the plant once the leaves start poking out (mid-May, usually) and at time you can clip off any dead branches. But since these plants bloom on the end of the new growth each year, your plant should flower very well next summer. Enjoy!

  12. Kathy on April 25, 2019 at 2:42 am

    PLEASE HELP, I am a real estate agent and I hire someone to put together many vases with cut flowers for photo shoots and the “go to” flowers are hydrangeas. I put them directly in the refrigerator when I get them for use the following day at the shoot. When I take them out of the fridge most of them have turned completely brown and the entire vase of flowers is not usable….. what is happening? I am super frustrated as is the person that I have put these gorgeous vases together. At least they are gorgeous when I get them… but not the next day

    • CLFornari on April 25, 2019 at 5:19 pm

      Kathy,
      You don’t mention if these flowers are from a garden or you’ve purchased them as cut flowers. You also don’t mention if you’re putting them in a florist cooler or home refrigerator. If it’s a home refrigerator that might be the problem – while florist coolers are humid, home refrigerators have dehumidifiers that take water from the plants. If there are any fruits in your refrigerator that would be a problem – they give off gasses that cause cut flowers to wilt. If the flowers are actually wet when you put them in the cooler you might be seeing fungal action. Have you tried keeping the flowers in a place that’s cool but not a refrigerator? Making a fresh cut on the bottom when you get back from buying them? See this tip as well: https://www.thehappierhomemaker.com/the-secret-to-long-lasting-hydrangeas/

  13. Rebecca on June 8, 2019 at 11:12 am

    Great article and responses to readers. I cannot view the picture with the caption “Once the flower has browned it won’t look good again so clip it off where I am pointing, by cutting the stem right below the bloom.” Is this a problem on your end that can be remedied?

    • CLFornari on June 18, 2019 at 6:49 pm

      Thanks, Rebecca. When we switched web providers a few years ago they dropped the photos out of some of our blog posts. Maddening!

  14. Angela Berghefer on May 21, 2022 at 1:10 am

    I bought mine from the store and it turned brown the next day can I still plant it in the ground. I had it placed in full sun not knowing this would happen.

    • CLFornari on May 24, 2022 at 2:25 pm

      Clip off browned flowers and plant in the ground. Morning sun, afternoon shade best.

  15. Beth R Allen on May 30, 2022 at 9:59 am

    i BOUGHT A GORGEOUS HYDRANGEA FROM THE STORE. i DECIDED TO TRANSPLANT IT INTO A LARGER POT AND PUT IT OUTSIDE ON PATIO. I LEFT HOME AND WHEN I RETURNED SEVERAL HOURS LATER THE BLOOMS WERE COMPLETELY WILTED AND LEAVES TURNING BROWN; IT IS LOOKING WORSE. I NOW HAVE IT IN THE HOUSE BUT DISCOVERED THE BOTTOM CONTAINER HOLE WAS PLUGGED. CAN YOU ADVISE ME?
    BETH

    • CLFornari on May 30, 2022 at 10:49 am

      Beth – It sounds like your plant got too dry. A plugged hole might make soil too wet over time, but that would not cause wilted leaves and browning so fast. Too much water usually causes foliage to turn yellow first. We’d advise you to be sure that the pot you’ve planted it in have a good drainage hole, and that you water it well in the morning so that it isn’t likely to dry out during the day when you’re gone.

      Hydrangeas are thirsty plants…we have to take the “hydra” part of their name seriously. Your plant will most likely live, but any leaves and flowers that turned brown when they dried will not be as attractive as they once were. If you decide that the plant is no longer good for a pot on our patio, you can plant it in a part-shade location of your yard and it will grow new leaves and bloom in the years to come.

  16. Donna Rehm on June 26, 2022 at 2:24 pm

    Just received a gallon sized wee bit gitty hidrange its just the leaves aren’t a nice green.Just a much pailer green. Should I go ahead and plant,or is there something I can do first to make sure its healthy?
    Also I have one in full sun,but bought a netting to put over them for sonic I keep this over them for 4 to 5 hours of hot sun should this be ok?
    Donna

    • CLFornari on June 27, 2022 at 2:47 pm

      Go ahead and plant but take a photo in case it doesn’t recover and you need to go back to where you bought it. In 4 to 5 hours of hot sun a Hydrangea flower will brown very quickly. Find a more shady location.

  17. Cathy on July 26, 2022 at 12:08 pm

    I have a white hydraenga that is supposed to be for full sun and it gets full sun beating down on it more than 6 hours every day here in St. Louis. It was just planted in November and the blooms started out beautiful and now have
    quickly turned brown on the bottom part of the bloom. The leaves are a cross between green and brown. I am guessing I have been watering the wrong way this season as I have been spraying with the hose and not letting
    the hose run around the roots into the soil. Should I cut the full bloom off? The plant looks terrible.

    • CLFornari on July 26, 2022 at 5:03 pm

      Yes, cut the blooms off. And yes, water the roots not the leaves or flowers. A DEEP SOAKING every 4 to 6 days is best.

  18. Teri on August 4, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    I bought 2 Little Lime Punch Panicle Hydrangeas and planted one about 2 weeks ago. Today when I went out, about half of it’s leaves on one side were gone or hanging on by a thread, and brown. I gave it a big drink of water, but when I looked again, it seems some leaves on the good part were starting to wilt. I did see that the dead looking branches still are green under the bark. Should I cut anything off, or leave it as it is, hoping it comes back? The weather is 90’s here every day, it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. It was planted with half top soil and have mulch. What should I do?

    • CLFornari on August 5, 2022 at 8:49 am

      In general, you should never mix mulch with soil when planting. High carbon materials such as bark mulch take nitrogen from the soil when they decompose. It’s impossible to know if the mulch contributed to the decline of this plant, but if this was in my garden I’d dig it up, move the mixed mulch & soil to the compost pile, and replant with only soil. Then I’d refrain from any cutting back this year. Keep it watered well – it might need a good soaking every other day when the temps are in the 90s, since it doesn’t yet have an established root system. Next spring cut it back and shape it.

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