Spring Hydrangea Care

Spring Hydrangea Care

There are several ways you can help your mophead and lacecap hydrangeas to do well this summer. After all, tending to our favorite shrubs is a way we can stay focused on better days to come. Here are your Hydrangea tips for success.

  • Clean all the leaves out from under and around the hydrangea canes. This not only makes your landscape look better, but it helps to prevent large populations of chilli thrips that damage hydrangea leaves. See photo below for how chilli thrips (Scirtothrips dorsalis) damage looks on hydrangea foliage.
Clean leaves out from under shrubs. This allows new canes to grow better and removes the materials where chilli thrips over-winter.
If your hydrangea’s leaves looked like this, in previous years, be sure to clean all the fallen foliage and debris out from under the shrubs. Chilli thrips, which caused this, overwinter in the debris. Removing those leaves and keeping them out of the compost (burn or otherwise destroy) will help control this pest.
  • After the leaves are cleaned up from in and around your hydrangea canes, it’s a good time to fertilize with a light application of Holly-tone. Scatter this organic fertilizer around the plant and beyond the dripline. Spread one inch of compost around plants if your soil is sandy, and top that with one to two inches of mulch.
  • Once the soil is taken care of, you can turn your attention to pruning.
Wait to prune your lacecap and mophead hydrangeas until you see the leaves actually opening up on the canes. In most years this is in mid-May, but our spring in 2020 is a bit earlier so some of your shrubs could be pruned now.
  • Prune in the following manner: wait until the canes have leaves that are opening. When the buds are dark or green and dark, it’s impossible to tell if they are viable or not. So don’t start to prune until those buds start to open as pictured above. First remove any cane that is clearly dead. Dead canes will have no buds or green leaves on them at all. If many of the canes have opening leaves, but some continue to have black, hard buds, chances are those with the unopened buds are not viable and can be removed. Cut dead canes down to close to the ground. (If you don’t want to get down on the ground to do this, use a lopers.)
  • Once the dead canes are removed, clip off the old flowers, making the cut just above any green leaves you come to. If there is a green bud at the top of the cane, don’t cut it off! Every green bud that is opening into leaves has the germ of this summer’s flowers in it.
Cut the old flowers off but leave any green buds. That is where the flowers for this summer already reside.
  • Do not try and make your mophead and lacecaps shorter. You will have fewer flowers and the plant will be just as tall in July as it was before. There is no way to keep these plants shorter once they are mature. If your hydrangea is too large for the location its in, move it.
Here is an example of a Nikko Blue Hydrangea that was “neatened up” in the fall or spring. The canes were cut down shorter, but by July the plant is once again 6 feet tall and wide. In the year this photo was taken most hydrangeas were totally covered with flowers – this one only has a few because it was cut down. If you try to make your blue hydrangeas shorter you will have fewer flowers and a large green dome of foliage.
Here is the lacecap hydrangea that has been pruned. Note that I did not try and make it shorter so that it is below the windows. Doing so would result in the plant growing just as tall or taller, and I’d only see those green leaves through the kitchen window. Several of these canes have green buds opening on the top of the stem and these will produce big, beautiful flowers in late June.
  • If your lawn near a hydrangea has been repeatedly limed, or the shrubs are growing close to cement foundations or walkways, the soil might be alkaline enough to turn your flowers pink. If this is happening to your plants, use sulfur to make the soil more acidic.
The depth of color is genetically determined. Pale to medium blue flowers on Nikko Blue or Endless Summer will be that pale to mid-blue or pink, but not dark blue or dark pink.
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