A Spring Hydrangea Checklist: How to Prepare Your Favorite Flowering Shrub for a Colorful Summer Ahead
With their brightly-colored, fluffy blossoms, hydrangeas are an unmistakable garden mainstay. Available in more than 70 varieties, these versatile flowering shrubs are just as happy in coastal soil as they are in mountainous regions. In order to ensure bountiful blossoms each summer, it's important to perform proper maintenance in the spring. Below, Bob Polomski, an associate extension specialist and instructor at Clemson University's Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, shares the steps to take now, at the dawn of the warm-weather season, for the best results down the road.
Watch for new growth.
Regardless of the species, explains Polomski, hydrangeas are ready for attention as soon as you begin seeing new leaves emerge. "The plant has been dormant all winter, so I suggest waiting until you see what the hydrangea is doing and where new leaf growth is coming from on the stem," he says, before you attempt any clipping. For gardeners in mid-Atlantic and southern regions, be on the lookout for signs of life by mid-April; anyone in the northeast should expect growth come May.
Prune with intention.
"Anything dead, diseased, or damaged needs to be removed," explains Polomski, such as dead wood that remains above new leaf growth as well as spent flowers from the previous growing season. But remember to be judicious with your pruning shears. "It's important to know whether your hydrangea variety produces flowers on last year's wood or on new stems," instructs Polomski, as this will prevent you from mistakenly clipping new flower buds.
Mulch around the plant.
Polomski recommends spreading a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around the base of the hydrangea to suppress weeds, minimize water loss, and release nutrients into the soil (your plant then absorbs them). Be careful not to "pile mulch around the stems, shoots, or branches, because it can trap moisture and become a nest for voles," says Polomski, who suggests placing the material about a hand's width away.
Watch for signs of distress.
If the plant's leaves appear smaller than they have in seasons' past, or have a yellow hue, your hydrangea is in distress. "Maybe you're over watering or there may be a lack of nutrients in your soil," says Polomski. Have your soil's pH level tested, he advises, to help determine the root of the issue.