Fertilize or Not???

Soni123(7)July 11, 2014

Hi, I'm new to gardenweb and to gardening in general. I'm not great at it but I love it. Hoping to get some advice about my ES hydrangeas. I have three ES shrubs that are leafy and green but I don't see any buds. I've had two of them for a few years that have had blooms in the past - northeast facing that get morning sun and afternoon shade. I have another ES that is southwest facing and gets morning shade and afternoon sun. This one I planted in Spring 2013. I'm so sad at the thought of no blooms this year!! I haven't fertilized or pruned. Should I fertilize? I've been hesitant b/c from what I read it can impede blooming. I'm confused and looking for feedback. Thanks!

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luis_pr(7b/8a Hurst, TX)

Hydrangeas need only a little fertilizing every year but, nothing bad will happen if you happen to forget (I have in some years). However, do not add high nitrogen fertilizers expecting a spurt of growth as it happens with roses though.

For a recently planted shrub, a 1/2 cup to 1 cup of organic compost or cottonseed meal in Spring will be fine. You can also add a general purpose, slow release fertilizer like Osmocote with a NPK Ratio of 10-10-10 per label directions. Throughout the growing season, you can also add some coffee grounds, liquid seaweed or liquid fish but stop fertilizing by the end of June or thereabouts so the plant will go dormant as expected in the Fall. Too much nitrogen makes hydrangeas continue growing and produce nice and dark green lush leaves but no or few flowers. And some of these nice leaves and new stems may die off when cold weather hits and the plant wants to continue growing.

Plant nurseries sell some cheap kits that can tell you if the soil has too much or too little of the major nutrients (N-P-K) so see if you can get a handle on one of these kits and determine if you have too much nitrogen. Other sources of lots of nitrogen can be lawn fertilizer that has been thrown around for the lawn and landed around the hydrangea. Being now late in the growing season and being faced with hot weather, I would skip fertilizing this year.

An even, constant supply of moisture to the soil is important so try to provide this as best as you can. No periods of dry, followed by wet ad nauseum as these can make the shrubs abort the -at first- invisible flower buds. About 3-4" of organic mulch up to the drip line can also help; recheck levels as often as necessary. Mulch can reduce the need for frequent waterings and make the moisture last longer. One gallon of water per watering per plant is fine.

You did not display your geographical location or your zone so it is possible that your old wood blooms died during the winter and new blooms are still on the way. The 2nd set arrives either in June or July, depending where one lives. Your plants are also quite young and they may be busy developing a good root system. Give them 2-3 years before considering more extreme measures.

ES grown on the ground has been finicky in this department around Zone 5 but I would expect that the new growth would still yield flowers in mid to late summer.

One caution: "morning shade and afternoon sun" is opposite of what is recommended for these plants. Hydrangeas are understory shrubs in the wild. This planting location can work in the northern states, where the summer sun is not as strong as it is here, for example. If the sun turns out to be too much for the leaves, the leaves in direct contact with the sun may turn all yellow or white-ish while the others remain dark green. Transplant the plant if this happens.

Good luck, Soni123.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 2:42AM
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jazzmom516(Zone 7 LI, NY)

It really depends on how north your state is if you want to site the plant in morning shade and PM sun. Here in NY, we site most hydrangeas to have morning sun and PM shade with the exception being the Paniculatas that tolerate sun.

I fertilize all my shrubs and perennials in April/May with Espoma Plant Tone which is an organic low nitrogen fertilizer.

Re: the lack of blooms/buds as someone said previously, depending on how cold your winter was and how long that cold stayed around--- could have killed any of the buds formed from the previous year and thus no flowers this year. All you can do is hope for a less intensely cold winter this year.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 11:52PM
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springwood_gardens(6B Pittsburgh)

If you live north of say, the Mason-Dixon line on the map, do not fertilize after early July. Technically you're missing the cutoff for that. A dose in April or May and then late June / early July is recommended. In my case, In late May I just empty a whole canister 10-10-10 pellets around my property on anything that I feel could benefit from it.

Provide basic winter protection every year beginning in late November but before January.

Example: most people rake leaves in October. If you've a house that disposes of leaves by bag, save the bags and pile to a minimum height of 2' over the plant. You can either use the bags whole and stack them like a pyramid over the shrub or dump the leaves out in a conical pile over the shrub.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 5:39AM
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Thanks so much for all the advice! I'm in zone 6b/7. always thought I was 6b but garden forum says I'm in 7. In any event I'll heed your advice and hold off fertilizing. We did have a rough winter so it's possible blooms were affected by the cold. I have some neighbors with blooms and others without. I will plan to winter protect this year too. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 11:07AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

building a good soil.. thru compost.. is the best way to go ...

please.. learn this fast ... plants are not like children.. they do NOT need to be fed ..

especially if you build a good soil over the years ..

a little of this or that wont hurt.. key word LITTLE ...

but again ... they dont NEED it.. like a child might ...

have a soil test done.. and find out if anything is lacking in your soil .... and then start adding compost ... it is truly worth it ...

and this has nothing to do with H in particular.. a plant is a plant.. dont think.. you need different rules.. for different plants... its simply not that complicated except in extremely rare circumstances ...


    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 11:14AM
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