Garden Q&A: Seemingly dead sticks are alive
Q: I bought a large, purple hydrangea in 2011. It bloomed beautifully. Last spring, I trimmed the hydrangea back to about 3 inches above the ground. Through the summer, it grew very full and nice, but not one blossom. It was all green leaves. I haven't trimmed it yet this spring. Should I just leave it alone? Will it bloom this year, and was I wrong to trim it back? Thank you. Keep up the great articles.
A: I get more questions about hydrangeas than any other gardening topic. I think it's because we love them so much, but they can be so persnickety.
My recent column on trimming back butterfly bushes and other woody perennials led to a barrage of questions about hydrangea pruning — so you aren't alone! Because you describe your hydrangea as large and purple, I'm going to make the assumption that you have a Hydrangea macrophylla and provide you with some information specific to this species of hydrangea.
Hydrangea macrophylla produce their blooms on last year's growth (also known as old-wood), so those seemingly dead brown sticks you see now are holding this year's flower buds. When you trimmed your plant back last spring, you cut off all the flowers for the coming season.
This is one of the most common gardening mistakes in Western Pennsylvania. We see the brown twigs and think they are dead. The best pruning advice I can give in regards to nearly all hydrangeas is: Don't. Just let the brown stems alone. It may drive you nuts for a few weeks, but soon enough the new green growth will push out and mask their presence.
With all types of hydrangeas, if you aren't absolutely sure how to prune them, don't do it at all.
To maintain the health of your hydrangea plants for years to come, fertilize annually with 1 or 2 inches of quality compost spread over the soil surface around the plant. Organic-based granular fertilizers are another option for yearly fertilization.
You also should be aware that occasionally a late freeze will damage the buds and prevent flowering for the season. Some gardeners wrap the plants in burlap or landscape fabric each autumn and uncover them in early May. This isn't necessary, but it may provide some added winter protection.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to email@example.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates rout Cardinals to keep things interesting in NL Central
- LaBar: Best next opponent for Brock Lesnar
- Rams take down TJ in season opener
- BVA breaks in new field by beating Trinity
- Defense sparks Freeport to Allegheny Conference victory over Shady Side Academy
- Bank of New York Mellon computer glitch examined for harm to investors
- Clairton picks up where it left off, rout California, 72-0
- Leader Times roundup: Karns City rolls in opener
- Connellsville Area School District to honor Hall of Fame inductees
- Charleroi can’t survive Scotties’ thunder
- High temperatures, low gas prices could entice 30.4M holiday travelers