Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Caring for and maintaining Bigleaf Hydrangeas

Photos by Morgan Shaw
(Hydrangea macrophylla)

Hydrangeas add lots of color to a garden for relatively little effort. Most varieties bloom for months at a time and the big clustered blooms make lovely cutting flowers. And if these benefits weren’t enough, they require little pruning and fertilizing so they are easy to maintain.

I have been fortunate to inherit Hydrangeas in two gardens now. My first experience was with a large well established bush of the Bigleaf variety. While my hydrangea was full of shiny dark green leaves, I had few blooms my first summer with it. I knew very little about how to care for them at first so I started with a few obvious things. There were a lot of old dried stalks on the plant. So many stalks, in fact, that I could hardly reach inside. I used a sturdy pair of hand trimmers to cut away any obviously dead stalks but refrained from trimming the tops of stalks with leaves. The bush was huge, about 5 feet around, so I also trimmed around the perimeter of the plant because I was afraid that it would crowd the rose bush next to it.

Next I gave it a few good fertilizer treatments. That summer along with the two previous summers had been near draught conditions so I gave it a deep soaking or two each week. I was rewarded the following summer with more blooms than I could count.

Hydrangeas aren’t especially fussy plants and are usually happy to be left alone for the most part. Fertilizing once at the beginning of the season is adequate. If fertilized more often, the bush may grow lush foliage and few blooms.

Nor are Hydrangeas particular about the amount of sun they receive. They prefer morning sun or dappled sun all day, but will thrive in areas with full sun. In full sun they will just require a little more water. Since they don’t like wet feet, let the area around it dry completely between waterings. An extra soaking a week will probably do.

They also don’t require much pruning. Cutting away dead stalks periodically will maintain the bush’s healthy appearance and encourage new stalks from the base. Different varieties set buds at different times of the year so make sure you know what variety you have. Bigleaf, for example, set buds near the end of summer after this year’s blooms die. As a rule, I don’t dead head my Bigleaf in season. I cut random blooms from around the plant now and then to bring indoors and leave the rest until fall. When the blooms dry I harvest them and use them in dried arrangements and for crafts. I don’t take too long a stem though or next year’s flowers may be lost.

Three months of flowers for a few minutes of attention now and them. I wish there were more plants like Hydrangeas!

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