My pathetic hydrangea??!!

edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)April 7, 2013

We moved into our house in late 2009, so this will be the 4th year with our existing hydrangea. It has never looked much better than this, and only gets a few pink flowers. Mistakenly, I pruned it to the ground the first year, but it wasn't much taller than this anyway. the second year I just removed the dead sticks, had a soil test done, and added some peat, sulfur (imo not too much), and fertilizer. Some of the "few" blooms turned a bit blue, and the rest stayed pink. Now it kinda looks dead in the middle with a clump growing at 3, 8, and 10 o'clock. Should I continue to rehab it or start over? My neighbor has a beautiful blue hydrangea, and last year I asked them how they keep it looking so nice, and the looked at me like I had 3 heads, and said they add a little peat. I'll post a photo, and a follow up post with the soil report. Maybe someone can help me read it. All suggestions appreciated. Thanks. Ed.

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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Here's the soil test results:

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 2:21PM
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Hello, Ed. A few question...

Do you know the type of hydrangea and the name of this variety? Does it rebloom? From your description, it sounds like a macrophylla. It sounds like it is not hardy to your zone and is not getting winter protection. It does not have mulch either which minimizes moisture problems, like getting dry spells followed by wet spells and back to dry spells.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 9:20PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Not sure what type it is but the area was professionally landscaped several years earlier before we moved in. It has bloomed every year, but doesn't get very tall and only a few blooms. I'm guessing that it is hardy to the zone, and I haven't supplied any winter protection. We get plenty of snowpack. As you can see the recently melted snowpack has bent over a few of the stems. I forgot to mention that the neighbors also told me that they water theirs often, which I wasn't doing either. So mid last summer during a dry hot spell, I bought a soaker hose to take care of all the plants in front of the house. I ran it once a week or so to keep things moist. I can add a little mulch this year. The people that owned the house before us didn't maintain anything. I revived an azalea that was down to almost nothing, but this hydrangea has me stumped. Thanks. Ed

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 11:10PM
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Does it rebloom?

Hydrangea macrophylla produces blooms in two forms called mopheads and lacecaps.

A mophead bloom look similar to the one in the picture that this link will take you to:

A lacecap bloom looks similar to the one in the picture that this link will take you:

A plant about the size you descrine can do well with waterings of 1 gallon at a time. To determine when to water, use the finger method. That is, for the next 2-3 weeks, check the soil moisture early in the mornings and water when a finger inserted to a depth of 4" feels dry or almost dry. Then make a note in a wall calendar every time you water. After 2-3 weeks, review the information in the calendar and determine about how often you had to water. Say every 4, 5, 6/etc days. Then set your sprinkler or drip system to provide 1 gallon of water on that same frequency (every 4, 5, etc days). As temperatures change, say 10-15 degrees, and stay there, use the finger method again to determine if you need to water more or more frequently. As the summer months approach, you should end up watering more/more often. As Fall and Winter approach, you should water less. Once the plant goes dormant, you can water 1 gallon weekly and finally stop when the soil freezes. If the winter is mild and dry such that you get little precipitation and the soil does not freeze, consider manually watering.

To protect the shrub from the elements in winter, consider winter protecting when it goes dormant. Maintain 3-4" of mulch year-around to protect the roots in winter and lengthen the times between waterings. I suggest mulching up to the drip line or slightly past it.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:23AM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Luis thanks. Yes, I said it had rebloomed every year. The blooms are of the mophead variety.

I will be much more vigilant about the watering as you described.

I notice that you didn't mention anything about fertilizer or my soil test. Is it not that important?

I appreciate your advice. Thanks. Ed.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:23PM
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A rebloomer is a good choice for your zone. Mopheads normally are NOT rebloomers and only produce invisible flower buds in July-August; the flowers bloom in Spring. Cold winters like yours can kill the stems so normally, you would get only growth from the base or crown every spring. In a normal rebloomer, these new stems would not have flower buds yet so the result would be a hydrangea that stays green, whose stems grow from the base every Spring and a plant that never blooms. Rebloomers will bloom several times throughout the year so those new stems that originate from the base will produce flower buds/blooms but they will do so later in the year. I normally get blooms in April; a rebloomer planted here would rebloom again around June. More or less; Mother Nature tweaks things every year a bit.

The information on the bottom of your soil test was hard to see so I decided not to comment in case someone else could see it clearly. I copied your report picture into my PC and tried to enlarge it but I ended with the letters and number "fractured" and hard to understand. Normally, the bottom part of those reports contains what they suggest that you amend the soil with. They give you estimates of how much nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) to add. These numbers are given in pounds per 1000 square feet. The amount of nitrogen is given in a range; I think yours was 1 pound to 1.3 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet. Phosphorus and potassium recomendations are given in a discrete number like 1 pound per square inch; I could not make out your numbers.

The graph lists those minerals that are either low or high (no point in listing all the ones that are fine). Phosphorus is low; many people address that by amending with bone meal or Super Phosphate per label directions. Calcium is high and many people treat this by lowering the pH of the soil (making the soil more acidic).

Example of a bone meal product:

Example of a Super phosphate product:

After three-four months or so, you may want to retest and see how your minerals and soil pH are doing. To save money, I would use soil pH test kits and soil test kits available in most plant nurseries. They are not exact but they are cheap. You mix a pill, water and a soil sample. The solution turns into a color that means something (low or high). One type of pill checks for nitrogen levels; another pill does phosphorus and another checks potassium. The soil test kit checks the N-P-K minerals only. You would have to do a "real" soil test to check the levels of other minerals like Calcium, Aluminum, etc.

Terms in the report: N refers to nitrogen. P2O5 is basically "phosphorus". It is the molecular structure of the phosphorus that plants absorb. In other words, plants do not absorb pure phosphorus but a molecule that contains some oxygen tied to the phosphorus. Similarly, K2O is the molecular structure of the potassium that plants absorb.

To fertilize hydrangeas, I suggest you use about 1 cup of cottonseed meal, compost or composted manure per year. These are general-purpose slow-release fertilizers that will last 3 months. You can also use a chemical fertilizer like Osmocote 10-10-10 per label directions. In addition, you can use "weak fertilizers" like coffee grounds, liquid seaweed or liquid fish after leafout. But in order to make sure that the plant goes dormant in time for winter, stop all fertilizers by the end of June.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 7:33PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

Luis, can't thank you enough. I stand corrected. It's not a rebloomer. It's definitely a mophead, so it must only bloom once. I guess the cold winters are killing the stems, because every spring at least half the stems are dead and the crown is dying also. I think the middle of the major part of the crown is dead and there are 3 pieces of crowns that are still alive on the perimeter of what 'used to be' the crown. Will the center of the crown regrow, or it history? I'll fertilize lightly, and see if I can test the soil with an inexpensive test kit. I have the stuff to add phosphorus and lower the pH. How much sulfer should I add to lower the pH? I added sulfer 2 years ago, and some of the pink turned blue, but most stayed pink. Will also think of a way to maybe protect it better in winter. I'll ask my neighbors how they protect theirs.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 9:45PM
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Hmm, will the center regrow? It is hard to tell what a plant will do. All you can possibly do is use fertilizers that will be high in nitrogen and phosphorus. Nitrogen is used to grow stems and foliage while phosphorus is good for roots. Lastly, I would also add alphalpha meal that contains Triacontanol, a hormone that is a natural root stimulant, and some magnesium sulphate (a.k.a., epsom salts) to provide extra magnesium that the plant absorbs poorly now with your high calcium levels.

As for how much sulphur to add, once every two years is not enough. The amount/frequency of sulphur varies depending on the product so review the product label's instructions. You will need to re-apply it often and every year; just see what the product label recommends.

Sulphur and products ending in sulfate can burn plant roots if you apply way too much so do not go overboard. If you happen to drop too much by accident, pick up the excess with your hands (use gloves), add garden lime to counteract the sulphur and water a lot often. Sometimes that helps.

Below is a link to a table that tells you how much sulphur you need to add to acidify the soil from a given soil pH level to a more acid soil pH. It points out that you can use either garden sulphur or aluminum sulfate (but you have to apply 6 times as much a,s, than garden sulphur).

Since the plant is not a rebloomber, you can also consider getting a rebloomer mophead from the Forever and Ever Hydrangea Series, the Endless Summer Series, the Let's Dance Series, etc. Or like I said earlier, winter protect it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Clemson University: lowering soil pH

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 10:56PM
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