overwintering hydrangeas - rules to follow

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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.

overwintering hydrangeas
(Can you tell one of my friends just got married?? Ha!)

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!).

hydrangea corner garden

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).

spots on hydrangea leaves

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.

hydrangea area before new mulch

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).

wintering hydrangeas

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):

fall hydrangeas turning colors

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!

hydrangeas already forming new buds

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):

Wet gravel:

Hydrangea corner garden with new gravel and stonework - wet gravel

Dry(er) gravel:

hydrangea corner garden side angle

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).

new gravel and corner garden

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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60 Comments

  1. I look forward to cooler weather for outdoors exercising and yard work, but fall just leads into looooong winter here (MN) so it’s bittersweet.

  2. I love fall! Chili and sweaters and pumpkin bread are definite favorites. And the fall leaf season over here in asheville is pretty amazing! ☺️

  3. I’m looking forward most to having a break in the garden. The Canadian environmental guru David Suzuki put out a blog post about how pollinators often have larvae in the fall leaves, and cleaning up the leaves contributes to their demise.
    So be lazy this fall, grab a cup of coffee instead of the rake, and enjoy the last days in your garden! Rest up for a busy spring :D
    http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/queen-of-green/2015/09/how-to-leave-the-leaves/

    1. Very good to know! I’ll have to think about moving the leaves to a mulch pile or something (just away from the hydrangeas where the fungus has been spreading). Thanks for the info!

  4. I think the thing I love most about fall is that things seem to slow down. It seems like a time to relax even if it isn’t, Preparing for Winter seems easier.

  5. I am looking forward to being able to use our oven a lot more, especially when it comes to baking bread!!

  6. I’m looking forward to taking time off with my newborn and doing some puttering around in the garden, now that it’s cooler!

  7. I’m looking forward to doing some activities and having some fun. My summer was full of house projects on weekends and winter will be holiday-prep mode, so I’m looking forward time for apple picking and estate sales and cooking new recipes.

  8. I am most looking forward to the cooler weather. I love the foggy mornings and the crispiness in the air. It’s just perfect for hot coffee in the morning and hot tea in the afternoon while reading blogs, like yours, and books.

  9. Love endless summer hydrangeas! My nikkos got slammed by the frost again so few flowers. And you are right, just scoop up the leaves to keep the fungus at bay next year. Love your progress!

  10. I am most looking forward to the cool weather, and also an upcoming trip to see my daughter in the Pacific Northwest.

  11. I’m looking forward to being able to get some work done in the garage . . . that’s where all the power tools are! When it’s in the triple digits you can’t stand to be in there!

  12. I love the changing leaves and cooler weather…and warm cozy clothes like boots and sweaters. Autumn is my favorite season, and Im so glad it’s right around the corner <3

  13. Since moving to New Orleans from Michigan, we no longer enjoy the changing colors of fall. However, that doesn’t stop me from putting up my fall decorations and looking forward to Halloween- such a fun holiday!

  14. My favorite thing about Fall is the spectacular colors of the deciduous trees! Not to mention the crisp, NON humid air I finally get to breathe after a long summer of feeling like I was trying to breathe hot molasses lol Love your blog. Most recent project is pasture fence of woven wire, telephone poles cut to length, and t posts so now I can keep my horse here!!!

  15. I love that about a lot of my plants, they get funky throughout the growing season and can start fresh next year. I had hydrangeas at my old house and not at our current house. I miss them oh so much. I tried to propagate some from my grandma’s house, but they ended up getting fried :(

    For fall, aside from football, I am so looking forward to catching up on lost outside time. This summer was so oppressive and hot that nothing really got done outside in the yard and there was not enough park time.

  16. I am really looking forward to the cooler weather, and the beautiful fall foliage!

    Thanks for the chance to win!
    wildorchid985 at gmail dot com

  17. I love the summer through and through, but I LOVE what fall does for my dogs. We live in western NC, so it’s pretty warm from spring through summer. So when fall rolls around, my dogs act like puppies. They want to zoom around my yard and go for all the walks; fall just really really seems to perk them up.

  18. Cooler temperatures. I live in Salt Lake City and this summer has been unbelievably hot. Endless 100 degree days and hot nights. I am so looking forward to cooler temps at night so I can open all my windows and wake up to a cool breeze. Please!

  19. Cooler weather and can work in the garage and outside again, also I love stews and soups so seeing a delicious soup pop up on the men is definitely a highlight..

  20. I was in a fairly toxic relationship for a few years that always seemed to be the worst around the holidays (dude had no chill that time of the year). I left that relationship and am looking forward to an anxiety free holiday season. That and Halloween candy (mmmm, holiday Reeses) :)

    1. I think it’s appropriate I was just reflecting on my toxic relationship from last year this morning (before I read your comment!). Glad you got out and are onto happier things. <3

  21. I grew up with a backyard full of hydrangeas so I just think they are the best plants! For fall I’m looking forward to the new school year and getting to know all my new students a lot better :)

  22. We are definitely looking forward to some moisture. We’ve had record dry weather here in the Pacific Northwest. That and snuggling up a little bit and enjoying warm drinks.

  23. I love the color of all the maple trees here in NH and the smell of the crisp fall air and of course the pumkin spice coffee.

  24. I’m looking forward to the shower for our first child! Also so excited for cooler weather that will (hopefully) allow my body to stay a more comfortable temperature! Being hot and pregnant is no bueno!

  25. I love it when the weather starts getting colder. I’m definitely a cold weather person. Thanks for the giveaway- hydrangeas are my favorite!

  26. All of the fun fall activities, decorating for Halloween and getting my 4-year old excited for Halloween. It also means that Christmas is right around the corner (and Christmas is my favorite holiday).

  27. Im looking forward to preparing and getting ready for what is after fall….Christmas

  28. im looking to going and picking some pumpkins from the local pumpkin patch up here and going trick or treating and thanksgiving and the cool breeze in the evening

  29. I am looking froward to lighting my cinnamon and pumpkin spice candles! It’s my favorite time of year.

  30. I’m looking forward to the cooler weather and being able to wear sweaters & drink tea!

  31. I love hydrangeas. They bring such bright colors to the garden. I have one small plant that is still growing strong and come’s back year after year with it’s fresh new leaves and pretty pink flowers.. I”m most looking forward to planting my winter veggies in the fall. I’m in Florida and Fall is when it’ starts getting a little cooler and I can get out in the garden and start more veggies.

  32. Ohhhh, I love fall! My favorite season! I’m looking forward to warm days with cool nights, football games on Friday nights, and heading into the mountains on the weekends to soak up all the beauty of the changing leaves.

  33. I’m a huge fan of apple picking with my family. I love all the delicious baked apple treats I can make.

  34. I’m looking forward to fair, festivities and football. The cooler weather makes you want to move arounf and enjoy the outdoors.

  35. I love getting out all of my day of the dead decor that I have gathered from trips to latin america. and soup! Fall calls for savory warming meals that I love. good comfort food!

  36. What do I do to take care of my plants during a Colorado winter? Should I cover? Should I cut back? Any help is appreciated?

    1. There’s a link in the post for more overwintering tips from the sponsor (here’s the info!). It says to mound mulch or leaves around the plants at least 12″ high to protect the flower buds that will bloom the following year. Then wait until the last frost has passed before uncovering in spring.