Heirloom Hydrangea Help

mrsbrookebryantMarch 28, 2008

We moved into an house that is about 90 years old. We have discovered some of the original garden which included hydrangeas (look like mophead). Last summer one of the plants bloomed. While cleaning out the rest of the back, I discovered three more. I did not see them last year so I know that they did'nt bloom. Any tips on getting them to bloom.

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Hello, mrsbrookebryant. Here are some possibilities.

1. Getting caught in a late spring freeze is a very common problem. You can usually tell if this has happened if you notice whether new growth in spring originated from the base of the plant as opposed to the old stems.

An early Fall freeze can also kill the flower buds. To help prevent damage due to this, stop all fertilizing in August/September and maintain four inches of mulch through the drip line.

2. Incorrect pruning of hydrangeas that bloom on old wood is another possibility. Most Macrophyllas bloom on old wood and should be pruned between the time that the flowers bloom and early August (September in the northern states). But these are approximate dates and could vary one year from next.

Pruning in August/September could leave you without flowers if the buds had formed when you pruned. That happened to me when a friend came and cut off all flowers in the middle of August 2006. I had authorized her to do that in early Spring but forgot to tell her about when to prune.

3. Planting hydrangeas that are not hardy to one's zone can result in plants that return every year but whose flower buds do not make it. Or seldom make it. For example: When first planted, the hydrangea blooms fine but, as it gets taller/wider and its microclimate cannot protect the flower buds any longer, flower production goes down considerably or even ceases.

4. After many years of growth or so, hydrangeas can suddenly begin to bloom less or their flowers appear smaller. To rejuvenate them, some people prune the oldest stems in a 3-year period: remove the oldest third of the stems right to the ground -immediately after the blooms appear-; then on Year 2 you prune the next third and on Year 3 you prune the last third so that, in three years, you should not have any "old" stems. This will obviously affect flower production somewhat while you are doing this but lots of people claim it has worked for them (I have not tried this).

5. I suspect that these plants were not well cared for and this too contributed to the problem. Maybe their soil was not kept moist so the plant "killed" the flower buds when the soil dried up. Lack of sun (because weeds or plants were covering the hydrangeas) would also reduce the number of blooms.

So what to do:

* maintain the soil moist as much as you can. Water when the soil feels almost dry or dry. Water the soil and not the leaves. Allow for good air circulation between the shrubs and other plants nearby. Make sure that the plants get some sun. Most of the plants I saw while living in Atlanta got morning sun, about 2-4 hours. More than that can be problematic during the height of the summer.

* fertilize in May and July with manure or cottonseed meal. A general purpose slow-release chemical fertilizer will also work. During the warm months, you can also add coffee grounds, liquid seaweed, etc. But make sure you stop in August. Allow the plants to prepare for winter by not fertilizing in or after August.

* prune only when you need to. And if you need to, prune after the plant has bloomed. Heavy pruning (like when you are rejuvenating an old shrub) is best done in winter.

* keep the area around and under the plant clean from debris. Keep it mulched with four inches of acidic mulch.

* You may want to do a soil test as soon as it is practical just to rule out mineral deficiencies.

Good luck,

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 9:43PM
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Thank You so much, Luis. I will let you know how my endeavors go!

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 9:56PM
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