what to do with browning flowers and leaves?

newflowergardenerAugust 10, 2007


I have this Hydrangea for about half a year. After the first month, the flower and leaves start browning and have holes. It has been 6 months, and no improvement. Please see photos below.

Should I cut off the brown flowers and leaves? So, it can focus on growing new leaves and flower. Or should I leave it alone and wait until October pruning period?


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What variety is this hydrangea? Or is this a florist hydrangea? Browned leaves -specially on the edges- could be an indication that it needs more moisture. From your pictures, the top soil looks dry and does not appear mulched. Add 3-4" of mulch and try to maintain the soil moist (as opposed to either dry or wet). If you wish, you can deadhead the flowers.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2007 at 4:12AM
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Hi Luis Pr,

I think it is Hydrangea macrophylla, commonly called big-leaf or French hydrangea. Thanks for the advice. I will add mulch to it.

I am new to gardening. What do you mean deadhead the flowers?

Also, there are some small new leaves growing. Would it help the growth of new leaves if I cut off the old leaves with brown edge and holes?


    Bookmark   August 11, 2007 at 2:58PM
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Good morning, newflowergardener. If the label on the plant uses generic names like those, it indicates that the plant is a florist hydrangea. As the name suggests, these plants are normally sold by florists and grocery stores. The other types of hydrangeas are named cultivars, i.e., Endless Summer Hydrangea.

Florist hydrangeas tend to be tender, difficult to grow outside and unable to tolerate diseases. They have been bred to grow quickly, grow large blooms and bloom just in time for very early spring so they can be shipped in time for Easter and Mothers Day. The plants usually do not last more than several months before succumbing to harsh winters, not enough moisture or fungal diseases.

That being said, some of them will prosper so let's try and see how yours does. I included below a link with much more information that I can provide in this space so check it out afterwards.

Sun - in the lower half of the country, hydrangeas need morning sun and afternoon shade. Dappled sun is ideal. Aim for no more than four hours of direct sun.

Soil - should be well draining. Acidic soil (soil whose Ph Level is measured below 7.0) produces blue/purple hues. Alkaline soil (soil whose Ph Level is measured above 7.0) produces pink hues. Hydrangeas prefer acidic soils but tolerate alkaline soils up to a point. If the soil becomes too alkaline, the plant develops iron chlorosis. This temporary condition is distinguished by leaves that turn from deep green to light green or yellow, except for the leaf veins which remain dark green. Local nurseries carry iron chelated liquid products that can be added to the soil to correct this.

Water - start with a gallon of water and adjust higher if your soil is sandy. Then check soil moisture daily: move away the mulch and insert a finger to a depth of four inches in an area close to the plant's roots. If the soil feels dry or almost dry then water. If it feels moist, leave watering for another day. If it feels wet -it should not- then do not water and also analyze why it feels wet. After a while, you will notice that you water on a certain frequency such as every two/three/etc days. Stop checking the soil moisture manually and set your sprinkler to water 1g on that same frequency. If the temperatures go up/down 10-15 degrees and stay there, check manually again to see if you need to change the sprinkler frequency or increase the amt of water per sprinkler station. If your soil does not freeze in the winter, water on dry winters (once a week will probably work).

Deadheading refers to the process of removing spent blooms. You basically cut the flower bloom off the stem without cutting the stem itself. You do something similar with roses. It is optional, not required. If the blooms look ugly, some people deadhead them. Others leave them in order to watch the color changes that hydrangea blooms are famous for.

As for the old leaves with brown edges and holes, it sounds like minor damage. The browned edges in plants usually indicates insufficient watering. I would leave them there. When the plant goes dormant in the fall, you can throw the dried leaves, blooms and plant debris on the trash. As for the holes, I am not sure what they could be. Perhaps the leaf developed a fungal infection or a browned area just dried so much that it fell off. Or it could be one of the few pests that nibble on hydrangea leaves. Hard to say without looking at it.

Fertilizing - startiung next year, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of manure or cottonseed meal in early May and July. Coffee grounds are optional but do not apply any more "food" starting in August. That allows the plant to go dormant in preparation for winter.

Pruning - there is a very interesting section on pruning in the link below. Your hydrangea blooms on 'old wood'. That means it develops flower buds starting in August, holds on to them thru fall and winter 'til it blooms in Spring (May-June). Pruning during August thru bloom time is discouraged because you end up cutting off the blooms.

Does that help you, newflowergardener? Any questions?

Here is a link that might be useful: Hydrangea Care

    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 9:48AM
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Old or spent flowers will never get any better looking :-) They can/should be removed when their appearance starts to detract. Cutting them off just under the flowerhead right before the next set of leaf buds is best - this is deadheading. You don't want to cut back any further as this will interfer with the plant's ability to produce new flowers. And leave the old foliage alone. It may not look the best but it is providing a service to the plant and needs to be there. It will not prevent the growth of new foliage. Just make sure the plant is well watered and you'll be unlikely to see more of those browned edges.

And to expand on Luis' question - where did you get the plant? A bigleaf hydrangea that was in bloom 6 months ago (February?) is very likely to be a forced or florist's hydrangea. While it will eventually adapt and perform well in your California climate, it will not do so immediately. Forced hydrangeas are stimulated to bloom precociously and out of season through the manipulation of hormones, fertilizers and greenhouse conditions. It needs time to adapt to its inground situation and the outdoor climate.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 9:51AM
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Luis and I apparently posted almost simultaneously :-) His information is very good and should give you a sound basis for caring for your plant. I'd only add that depending on where you are located in California, a florist's hydrangea will transition into the garden pretty easily. And it will be far happier in the ground in mild climates than it will be grown as a houseplant, the purpose they are most often grown and sold for.

IME with hydrangeas grown in coastal Southern California, they bloom for a very extended period, only going through a semi-dormancy in late winter. I'm not sure exactly when these very temperate conditions allow for bud set, but I'd avoid anything other than the most superficial pruning (i.e., deadheading) to ensure you maximize the bloom potential.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 10:01AM
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Hi luis_pr and gardengal48,

Thank you so much for the advice and information. I really appreciate it. It gives me a better understanding on how to help my poor hydrangea. Hopefully, next year I can report some good news. Thanks again.

New Flower Gardner

    Bookmark   August 13, 2007 at 3:25AM
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I purchased my first hydrangea from supermarket in May. I transplanted to a pretty pot & placed outside in mostly shade with only early morning sun. But we're in the high desert of so. Calif..very hot in summer & over 100 degrees almost daily. I water daily but blooms are drying out and shriveling, as well as leaves. Can I save this plant?

    Bookmark   July 6, 2011 at 5:33PM
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