Why didn’t your hydrangeas bloom this year? Most likely they were either pruned at the wrong time of year or their flower buds were damaged by winter weather or foraging deer.
With so many species and numerous cultivars, hydrangeas confuse many gardeners and even landscape designers when it comes to understanding the best time of year for pruning. Many gardeners prune at exactly the wrong time, eliminating almost all flower buds for the entire season.
Most early blooming shrubs, including some hydrangeas, develop their flower buds during the summer and fall of the previous year. This is known as blooming on old wood. Other hydrangeas develop their flower buds in the spring every year, then bloom later in the season. This is called blooming on new wood. Hydrangea cultivars such as Endless Summer™ bloom on both old and new wood.
Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) and smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) develop their flower buds on new stems (new wood). Therefore they can be pruned back severely in the late fall or early spring to manage their size, and they will still provide flowers. Even after exceptionally cold winters where stems are killed to the ground, new spring stems will produce flowers. In our climate and soils, panicle hydrangea and smooth hydrangea are typically the easiest species to grow and provide the best show. Panicle hydrangeas, for instance, can bloom from July through October.
Common panicle hydrangea cultivars include: Limelight’, Vanilla Strawberry, Little Quick Fire, ‘Grandiflora’ aka PeeGee, ‘Fire and Ice’, Bobo®, ‘Bombshell’, ‘Little Lamb’, Quick Fire®, ‘Pee Wee’; Pinky Winky®, ‘Praecox’, and ‘Tardiva’. You can recognize them by their cone-shaped flower heads.
Common smooth hydrangea cultivars include: ‘Annabelle’, Invincibelle Spirit®, Incrediball®, and ‘Grandiflora’.
By contrast, hydrangeas that bloom in the spring bloom predominantly on old wood from flower buds that were formed during the previous summer and fall. They include bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata) and climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris). These varieties should be pruned immediately after the flowers start to fade. You can cut off the just the flowers or cut the stem at any point you need to in order to control the size and shape of the shrub. If you prune later in the year, you’ll be removing next year’s flower buds.
If you know the type of hydrangea you have in your garden, it can take some of the mystery out of understanding why they’re not blooming as you expected, and knowing when to prune them. If you do not know what type of hydrangea you have, do not prune them. Remove only the dead wood in spring, then wait until they bloom to determine when to prune them the following year. If they’re planted in a favorable position in your landscape, they’re well worth waiting for.
Imagine that when you were a child your parents loved gardening, and over time you helped your family create secret gardens and woodland paths that changed daily with new sprouts pushing up from the earth, turning into a bounty of ever-changing blooms, and you loved every petal and leaf of it all.
Now, imagine that you’re middle aged and still living in that same beloved 1950’s ranch, but you’re ready to tear it down to build your dream home, and save as many of your family’s horticulture heirlooms as possible. You’ve come to appreciate that many of the plants your family selected and nurtured are quite unique.
Sharon, MA homeowners in this situation called in Carol Lundeen, owner of Garden-911 Boston, for landscape renovation consulting and horticulture services to help them make their decisions. The excavation crew was expected to start in a couple of days, and we needed to establish priorities, make a plan, and get a move on.
How do you decide which heirloom plants to keep and which to abandon to the dumpster? Here’s how we worked together:
First, we contrasted the emotional and financial value of various plantings. The client had many childhood memories in specific areas of the property, especially around the patio, past the boxwoods (Buxus sp.) and up the path into the woodland, past the doll’s eyes plants (Actaea pachypoda). There was also the giant Wygelia whose branches arched over the front door entryway, and if it could talk it would tell more than half a century of stories.
I reminded the client that financially it costs money to remove existing plantings (and manage their debris); to lift and temporarily relocate and care for existing plantings, then replant and reestablish them; and to purchase (plant selection and delivery) and install and establish new ones (site preparation and irrigating). Existing shrubs on the property were mostly well established beauties that would be costly to replace with same-size specimens, and perennials seemed to be everywhere. This client kept her sense of humor and broad perspective of the past and future, she asked lots of questions and we figured everything out together.
While he was already on the property, we had the excavator dig a trench in well-protected areas in the front and rear of the property, and with machines he lifted and placed many of the larger shrubs into the trench. Garden-911 Boston carefully backfilled by hand, irrigated, and mulched these specimens for the best possible outcome. Perennials were dug together by hand by the client and Garden-911 Boston owner Carol Lundeen, and we placed them into a long-overgrown garden area that we first had to clear of all manner of wild invasives vines and weeds, fallen-down raised beds and tangled chicken wire as the mini-excavator went to work nearby.
Eventually, as in all renovations, comes a period of being okay with not knowing when enough is enough. But most all very important plantings are safely stashed for the fall and winter, and spring will bring a new house and new possibilities for the client’s heirloom plants to re-establish in their new places. We’ll be working on the design together over the winter.
When a Sharon homeowner wanted to meet about redesigning her front yard gardens, Garden-911’s Carol Lundeen suggested expanding the vision to include improved circulation from the driveway to the front door, adding ease of use and curb appeal at the same time.
Eager to learn more about native plants? Join Grow Native Massachusetts‘ Evenings with Experts this winter!
This free public lecture series is held at the Cambridge Public Library on the first Wednesday of each month, from February through May from 7:00 — 8:30 pm.
On February 7, Dan Segal, owner of The Plantsmen Nursery, will present The Beautiful Adaptations of Native Plants: Inviting the Wild into our Gardens.
Native plants have evolved a broad array of adaptations in the wild, yielding not only the ornamental features embraced in horticulture but many fascinating mechanisms for survival. Dan will take us beyond ‘pretty’ plant features to explore the origins of these adaptive traits, and the critical importance of regional variation. This insight helps us to select plants that are genuinely suited to our landscapes. He will also compare and contrast large-scale nursery production that favors the cloning of cultivars, with small-scale nursery propagation that favors seed-grown straight species. To know and source native plants effectively, understanding their propagation can be just as important as species selection.
As the owner of The Plantsmen Nursery, Dan Segal specializes in native plants, local seed collection, and natural landscaping. Dan has collected and propagated over 1,000 species of native plants in his three decades of work as a nurseryman, giving him great insight into the fascinating variety of adaptations that plants have evolved to survive. His nursery is in Ithaca, NY, where founded the Ithaca Native Plant Symposium in 2009.
My general idea of a successful organic garden is to plant the right native plant in the right place in the right plant and soil community and let nature have its way. Native plants thrive in our native soils, support the local ecosystem by helping our birds and bees thrive.
Just today in my backyard I observed a wren arriving at its birdhouse with a caterpillar and heard the choir of baby wrens competing with open mouths for that nutritious meal.
Think about it. Everything we eat was once a plant, and without insects such as caterpillars and bees, we’d have no plants and no food. So plant a native next time, and you’ll be doing yourself and your neighboring ecosystem a big favor.
#1. CAUTION: WET SOIL – DO NOT ENTER YOUR GARDEN – OR WORK ON YOUR LAWN!
- Our recent rains have left our soils saturated, and if you step into your shrub and garden beds now you’ll be causing mostly invisible but meaningful damage that makes it harder for your plants to thrive.
- Compacting your soil: plant roots depend on the spaces between soil particles to hold water and oxygen. When you step on wet soil, you compact these spaces and your plants suffer.
- One cup of soil may hold as many bacteria as there are people on Earth, never mind the fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and earthworms – most of which are beneficial to you most of the time. Together, these tiny beings are a living system called the Soil Food Web, and it’s best to not to step on them when the soil is wet.
- To test if your soil is dry enough, take a handful of soil and squeeze it. If the soil crumbles easily when you open your hand, it is ready to be walked on or tilled. If it does not crumble, it is too wet. Allow the soil to dry for a few more days and test again before digging.
#2. GET YOUR SOIL TESTED – BEFORE YOU PLANT!
- Before planting is a good time to get a Routine Soil Analysis from the UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab to check pH and fertility. This economical soil test will provide recommendations for liming and fertilizing as needed, as well as indicating the lead level in the soil.
#3. START YOUR COOL-SEASON VEGETABLES – ONCE THE SOIL DRAINS!
- Now is a good time to sow seeds of cool season crops such as peas, lettuce, chard, kale, arugula, spinach, carrot, radish, beet and turnips.
- Plant the seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. Sow your spinach, beets, radish, carrots and lettuce thickly in rows and thin later to the desired spacing (read the label) and to allow them to develop properly. Root crops such as carrots, beets, and radishes should be thinned to a 2-inch spacing to allow the roots to develop properly. They can be thinned as soon as they reach small edible size.
#4. EAGER TO JUMP START YOUR LAWN?
- Your doctor wouldn’t give you a treatment without first making a diagnosis, right? Same goes with your lawn. Why treat your lawn for grubs or other turf insects if you don’t first discover what’s causing a problem? Grub populations are easy to evaluate, as are other sub-surface and surface insects. Once you diagnose properly, you can treat with a reasonable solution rather than automatically throwing money and chemicals at the situation.
- Start weaning your lawn off the expensive, stepped conventional petrochemical-based fertilizers by switching to a slow release, low-nitrogen organic fertilizer like Roots Fresh Start. Apply once in early spring after the soil has begun to warm up and apply again in early fall. The water-insoluble nutrients will be recycled and released by your friendly soil microbes slowly over the entire growing season as they’re needed by your turf, rather than getting flushed (along with your money) away with rain and any irrigation.
- Doing a lawn renovation this year? Wait until September for best results and return on your investment.
#5. MONITOR FOR WINTER MOTH CATERPILLARS
- Winter moth caterpillars cause damage to many different deciduous plants such as oaks, maples, cherries, ash, crabapples, apples and blueberries. their eggs typically hatch early-mid April, and the young larvae quickly start feeding on flower buds, leaf buds and young developing leaves.
- Winter moth egg hatch has not yet been observed for this growing season as of 4/5/17 in Massachusetts. Scouts are still reporting that winter moth eggs are orange in color and have not yet turned the blue color that indicates hatch is imminent. Eggs can be sprayed with dormant oil before they hatch, but the eggs can hide under pieces of bark and be hard to reach with spray.
- Once the caterpillars hatch, they’re eager to eat their host plants. Dormant oil will no longer work, but there’s a fairly safe treatment that simply takes their appetite away. It’s a kind of bacteria called bacillus thuringiensis var. Kurstaki. In some forms it’s approved for use on organic farms. Always read and follow the label.
(BONUS #6.) CELEBRATE ARBOR DAY BY PLANTING A TREE ON APRIL 28
- Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. The best tree selection may be a native tree that is well suited to thrive in your yard with your existing soil, sun, water, and other cultural conditions. Have your soil tested before investing in your new tree or shrub.
AS ALWAYS,PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR NEED A HAND!
EMAIL CAROL OR CALL 617-327-9254
Hairy bitter-cress is very pretty up close, but is it a weed? If you could ask your MA soil if it’s a weed, the soil would say, “Yes, it’s a weed.” If you ask the whole ecosystem of your MA yard, the system would agree that it’s a weed.
This is hairy bitter-cress, a native to Asia, that as an exotic invasive plant has an unfair advantage over our native plants, blooming and casting its seed well before most of our natives have even formed flower buds. So, is it a weed to you? If so, better destroy those pretty flowers before they turn to seeds. If you need more info about how, please let me know!r-cress, Cardamine hirsuta, in bloom now in Sharon, MA.
Enjoy a free, fun-filled, family oriented afternoon, and discover how you can make a difference for the next generation!
If you want to support pollinators, come find my table at the Sustainable Sharon Coalition’s Green Day on May 7th from 12-4 on High Street, Sharon Center, between the Sharon Public Library & Congregational Church. I’ll be selling perennials with high horticulture and pollinator value, and Rudbeckia fulgida v fulgida will be the star of the show.
(In case of inclement weather, the event will be held inside the Congregational Church Parish Hall.)