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.
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.
I love to garden until after sunset and well into dusk. That magic hour of dusky sky and light turns flowers and bugs and leaves and all things natural into a magnet for me. Like the way snow changes the way everything looks, the fast fading sky changes each bud and leaf and petal, minute by minute. And the biting bugs? I make sure I’m their least appealing option so I can stay out in the night’s coming as late as I can…and I can already detect day lengths shortening even as the days become warmer.
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.
Fun honey bee facts from Sharon Garden Club presenter and beekeeper Barbara MacPhee, at our February meeting:
- Among honey bees, it’s the worker bees (who are all females) that you see (and hear) collecting nectar and pollen. The males, called drones, maintain the hives.
- It takes 1,152 honey bees flying a distance of 112,000 miles, harvesting from 4.5 million flowers, to produce one pound of honey. Now that is impressive, ladies!
- In early spring, bees need early-flowering plants like snowdrops, Claytonia and dandelions to support their hives. Forsythia, while a traditional feel-good sign of spring for humans, has zero pollen and zero nectar. Consider replacing one with a pollinator-friendly native shrub like redbud or viburnum.
- Later in the season, agastache, clover (yes, in your lawn!) and borage, plus winterberry and American holly, are some of the other plants that honey bees favor.
And my two cents: Think about it: just about everything you and I eat was once a plant, most likely a flowering plant. No pollinators, no food. Are you hungry to support pollinators now?
Trees and shrubs, vines and weeds getting the best of the perimeter of your yard? Reclaim it! That’s what I did for a client in Sharon, MA, They were getting ready to sell their house, and I wanted to leverage their back yard with an expansive view to a trio of established but hidden ash trees on the edge of the property. So I cut down a few small trees and hacked out their roots, removed lots of exotic invasive plants like multi flora rose, Asian bittersweet and garlic mustard…though the knot weed is still a work in progress.
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.)