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Once established, caring for hydrangeas in the fall and winter is incredibly easy. Below, I answer your most frequently asked questions about how to best care for reblooming hydrangeas, how to prune them back (and when), and mistakes to avoid to get beautiful blooms in the spring!
Your Fall and Winter Care Guide for Hydrangeas (aka Overwintering)
As most of you guys already know, I’ve been working pretty hard on upgrading my back yard this year. One of the first things I did back in the spring was convert a small corner of the yard into a beautiful new hydrangea garden (one of my favorite flowers) with the help of Endless Summer Hydrangeas. Since their growing season is going to end soon, I thought I’d revisit this area one more time with some tips on how to protect them over the winter. This is one of those gardening habits that if you do it right, they will come back really strong in the spring and produce more blooms (which is definitely what I want!). The tip I want you to burn in your brains? Remember August 1st.
First, let’s go back and look at where I left off on this area during the summer: the Bloomstruck variety is what I chose to grow in the corner. I have the Endless Summer Original variety in other areas of the house and LOVE how their plants bloom and re-bloom from spring to summer, so it’s why I chose to partner with them this year and try out a different variety that’s supposed to come in a bit moodier (the color difference should be fun for bouquets!). During the summer, I checked in to see how things were growing, but you also probably picked up on the fact that I was planning on adding edging stones and gravel right in front of the tea olive tree in the center (aka, the site for my future reading bench once the tea olive grows in a little bigger!).
It’s been a super wet growing season here in Atlanta, so even though I cut off the drip hose some time ago, the hydrangea leaves have recently developed spots (signs of a fungal disease that can be brought on when things get too wet). I was hoping that they’d grow like crazy in their first season (as they often do), but bloom production is impacted by things like disease, overwatering, etc. so I’m giving them some extra care this fall to set them up for a strong recovery (the spots can be treated with a spray/fungicide, but since we’re so close to when they’ll go dormant for the winter, I’m going to just rake up the diseased leaves when they fall off over the winter and treat in the spring if it still needs it… which may not be necessary since taking off the diseased leaves will lessen the spread).
Despite this unfortunate development from all of the rain, that’s specifically what I love about these plants: they can take a beating but still come back happy the next season and will bloom despite what nature (and coughcough, a bumbling, negligent gardener) has to throw at them.
They are still blooming and forming buds and will start to show off their fall colors soon (they bloom really vibrant purpley-blue in the summer but toward the fall will take on more greenish/red coloring).
Just to give you a sneak peek of that, here’s what the Original variety has looked in my garden in years past (the Bloomstruck kind will come in a little darker/deeper in color):
FYI, I’m still getting beautiful bouquets out of these flowers, so I’ll have another post about that (specifically the process of how I get great quality phone pictures of my garden bouquets like this one).
When should you prune hydrangeas back?
Remember how I said to note August 1st as an important date? It’s because these varieties are cultivated to grow on both new and old growth the following year — so to get the most blooms the next season, I avoid cutting them after August 1st (de-leafing the diseased parts is one thing, but I don’t cut back the stems). As you can see in the pic below, they’re headed for a strong comeback. Honestly, the fact that avoiding the extra work of pruning my plants actually makes them better off is one of the reasons I like these as much as I do!
Is it OK to not prune hydrangeas?
Yes! You don’t actually HAVE to prune hydrangeas if you don’t want to. I have skipped some years and all that really happens is that the hydrangea is a lot bigger than the year before (because none of the new OR old growth was removed, so more blooms formed and more stems grew on all of the branches). If I skip a year, I usually prune them back considerably the following year. If you’re trying to get hydrangeas to grow bigger and fuller in the next blooming season, you can leave them alone other than deadheading old blooms and removing spent branches (be careful not to confuse this with “old wood” though). If the hydrangea is getting too scraggly for the space or needs some shaping, by all means, cut it down as you see fit. With these varieties, I’ve even seen them cut all the way down to the ground and come back strong (an unfortunate misunderstanding by my neighbor who thought it was a weed when he was very kindly cleaning some overgrowth in my front yard).
What is “deadheading”?
If you’re new to gardening, you may have heard this word but not known what it meant. “Deadheading” is the term used for removing spent blooms on a flower. In this case, it’s when hydrangea blooms look like they’re turning brown and shriveling up (or in my case, sometimes when they are brown and crispy because I have other things going on, ya know?).
“Old Wood” vs “New Wood” vs “Dead Wood”
This definition is best exemplified in the picture below because there’s a clear difference on mine. Old wood stems are from previous summers, look older and more brown, and may have new branches or buds forming on them (even if they look dead). New wood stems are the ones you see in green and are from THIS growing season. Dead wood stems are ones that are totally spent and have no new growth forming on them, so they serve no purpose and should be cut away.
What happens if you cut back hydrangeas too late in the season?
For many varieties, pruning hydrangeas after August will cut off the next season’s buds, so you won’t get as many new blooms. I’ll admit that sometimes, I’ve been too late myself, or I wanted to drastically cut mine back for the sake of shaping. I have cut them all the way down to just above a new bud to help increase the chances of still getting blooms the next spring while still getting rid of excess length. Plus, because I live in the south, August is sometimes early enough in the season where I will still see lots of new buds forming after a good trim:
Ok, back to the rest of the garden area updates: with my new discovery for inexpensive gravel material, I switched gears about halfway through filling in the gravel area right in front of the garden. I started with marble chips that came bag by bag ($$$) in favor of a larger quantity of crushed granite that is much easier on the wallet ($15 for a half ton!). When the material is wet, the color difference is much more apparent, but when dry, there really isn’t a noticeable change at all (and in time as I fill in each season it will all mix enough to where there’s no difference):
I purchased some edging stones I like a lot better than the red scalloped edging that is so abundant with my yard (I’ve dug it up in so many places) and added a new thick layer of mulch to the garden to help with overwintering (in colder climates, you actually pile the mulch on even thicker, but since it’s still pretty warm here for the next few weeks, I’ve added about 2 more inches which has done well for the other garden areas in years past).
Between this and the landscaping fabric, there is a clear division between the gravel area and the garden behind it, and I’ll eventually add in a DIY bench to create a cute little nook (I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to build the whole thing or restore one of those old wrought iron benches). In my mind, I’m happily sitting in this area a few seasons from now with a favorite book (or at least typing on my laptop in an outdoor setting). In my experience, years 2 and 3 can lead to some massive growth as long as things are healthy, so I’m really looking forward to seeing everything explode with color next year (the tea olive will also eventually bloom with little white, fragrant flowers, so that will be a beautiful mix IMO).
I still plan to add fencing to one side to cover up the chain link (see here for how I’ve already started removing the chain link from other areas of the back yard), so that plan is in the works too and should have an update soon.
Disclosure: This project was sponsored by Endless Summer Hydrangeas. All words and opinions are 100% my own. Hope you enjoy!
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