In Which NM Has Inadvertently Given Me Mad Hydrangea Skills!

My front hydrangeas look weird. I don’t know anything about hydrangeas, just that there were some here when we bought the place. The first fall, my mom claims she cut them back (I don’t remember this but, if she says she did, she probably did). So, we had like, I don’t know, five blooms last year. Very disappointing.

And so we didn’t do anything to the last year. I didn’t know when to trim them, so we didn’t trim them. But I thought you had to trim them to force them to bloom. So, I was worried we’d have yet another year of no blooms (really, I should write a column called “the idiot gardener” with the theme being “If I can fuck up this bad and still have plants, so can you!”).

But now, we’re at this weird point where we’re clearly going to have some blooms. I see buds on the hydrangeas. But I also have these sticks sticking up through the green leaves from last year. And I’m still a little like “Oh god, what do I do about/with my hydrangeas?”

So, now we switch over to NM’s advice about the nandina. I have learned, since mentioning that I have a nandina, that gardeners have firm feelings about them–either love or hate. There is no middle ground. But, in spite of people’s feelings, everyone seems to admire their ability to rebound from whatever dumbass thing you do to them.

So, the first year, Mom and I cut the fuck out of the nandina and it promptly got even by dropping all its leaves, sulking, pretending like it might die, and then growing three gangly long branches that stretched all over the front of the house like an angry muppet. This spring, I took NM’s advice and I went in and cut out about a 1/3 of the canes at the ground (in the future, I plan to only do 1/4,  but the nandina was in need of some drastic revitalization). I cut the oldest, thickest looking canes, except for a couple, which I plan to get next year. Then I gave the whole thing a nice shape that I thought it could grow into.

And what do you know?

My nandina looks great. I had no great leaf dropping and it’s filled out nicely.

(On a side note, I really love my nandina, and I have to think that anyone who likes to take a lot of pictures of plants that look really interesting in a lot of circumstances would enjoy having one as well).

So, back to the hydrangeas. It turns out that you don’t have to trim them to make them bloom. In fact, in general, you can just leave them alone to do their thing. Now that I know that those dead sticks really are dead, I can go in and cut them out for aesthetics and eye-poking reasons.

But! If my hydrangeas are old (which I think we can assume mine are) or if they’re in a place where they need to be kept kind of small (which mine kind of are), I can go in this summer and prune about a 1/3 of the stems to the ground! I can use my mad nandina skills on my hydrangea!

I’m feeling pretty darn excited about this.

Because I am a nerd.


12 thoughts on “In Which NM Has Inadvertently Given Me Mad Hydrangea Skills!

  1. Ya know about those people who just don’t know their own strength? I just don’t know my own wisdom.

  2. I really, really love pruning. It’s therapy to me. So yeah, I totally made the same mistake with the hydrangea two years ago and cut it way the hell back ,,, in late October. (In my defense, the thing is huge, and takes over the entire world if left unchecked.)

    Last year I cut it back in July, and it’s covered with flowers now.

    Cut yours back as soon as it’s done blooming and you’ll be fine.

    Can’t wait for tomorrow, when I’ll be wreaking some vengeance on the holly trees! Muah ha ha.

  3. My neighbor has two badass plant guys – both garden gurus*

    One of them, gave some really great advice re: pruning. If you prune all the dead stuff WAY back, especially at first when you plant and it starts to look all dead, prune the crap out of it – that way, the growth is focused on the roots and they take hold and the plant has better strength to power thru and grow and bloom.

    Also, re: hydrangeas… My best friend rooted one of hers. I didn’t know it was possible, but I saw the cutting sitting in water with roots growing.

    *one of the garden guys is HOT – he works with his shirt off. I find that I get very little work done when he’s out there within eye shot from my office window.

  4. Oh my god, I have been having inner turmoil over my hydrangea and the dead sticks too. This post answers a lot.

    I am in the pro-nandina camp, fwiw.

  5. In summer 2009, we had such a heat wave that all the hydrangea leaves burned and most of the canes died and I had to chop the hell out of the poor things. This year? Awesome blooms! Severe pruning for the win!

  6. ok guys good to see your having a go… hydrangeas are normally deciduous [ lose leaves in winter] this is the best time to prune them.. Look at the stems and you will see green lumps [nodes] on the sides, go down the stem until you locate 2 nice green nodes on either side cut above about half an inch, repeat this until all stem are pruned, if there is only one good bud pick the best one lower doen the plant. flower colour will tell you what your ph is…blue acidic….pink alkaline

  7. happy to answer any questions any of you may have.
    P.S. Im a horticulturlist have been for over 20 years and local plant doctor in my area, so enjoy seeing people happy and succeeding with confidence

  8. Hi! Up here in PA I have Hibiscus that the previous house owner had and due to his bad health in 1999 he hadn’t trimmed them before we moved in. I let them die off for the winter and in late March 2000 cut them way down. Later that year they came out beautifully. So each March or April I trim them to about 3&1/2-4 feet, or a little lower if needed and those things have so many flowers it’s unreal. They are beside and in front of an old chain link fence and I wanted them to grow behind it. Lo and behold, those little farts did it all by themselves and now I have a nice neat Hibiscus hedge! Smart little buggers, aren’t they? And pretty white and purple flowers!

  9. Sounds like you have rosa senensis varieties, these are the old fashioned types which are tough. 2 varieties 1 called swan lake has smaller white single flowers with a pink stamen in the centre the other is called wilders white sinilar but larger foliage and blooms. 1 Hawian variety in white is called white kalukau. There are no true purple varieties not in the colour sense they tend to be more grey and not overly attractive or good at flowering. Hope this helps..P.S Hibiscus love food.

  10. Hi! Thanx givittomestraight! Thanx for the info! The white flowers are like what you mentioned and the ones I called purple are like a pinkish-periwinkle color with a burgundy stamen. My dad said my grandmother had hibiscus at a house she moved to in the 50s and someone told him they’re still there and they bloom. I like to water mine with Miracle Gro once a month and more during a drought and they and my lilacs seem to love it.

  11. Im guessing your in the usa somewere? liquid fertilisers are great only down fall is they are designed more for potted plants and only feed for about 7 to 10 days, depending on your soil type clay is full of nutrient, sand is not so by knowing your soil type i can give you more info on how best, easiest and cheapest way to care for your plants…Think i would get enough of gardening questions….lol….Its what I do for a living and have done for over20 years….helping people succeed in their garden… it..

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