8 Mistakes You Should Never Make With Your Hydrangeas

Avoid these common errors, and you’ll be on your way to stunning hydrangea blooms.

In love with 'Little Lime'? Swooning over 'Strawberry Sundae'? Charmed by 'Vanilla Strawberry'? You're not alone because green-thumbed Southerners have been planting hydrangeas for ages—for a good reason. These stunning blooms have a strong visual impact but require surprisingly little maintenance. There are, however, a few ways to go wrong with your hydrangea care. We've rounded up a few of the most common mistakes that can leave your hydrangeas with bare, woody stems and no blooms. Avoid these errors, and your hydrangeas will flourish in no time.

Of course, these rules vary based on the variety of hydrangeas. It's about understanding the needs of your specific hydrangea variety and tailoring your plans accordingly. Here are 8 mistakes you should avoid when planting hydrangeas.

French Hydrangea: Blue Blooms
Photo: Van Chaplin

1. Improper Pruning

In our guide to caring for hydrangeas, our Editors list pruning with care as the cardinal rule in hydrangea maintenance. "Hydrangeas don't need much pruning, so if you get too bold with the garden shears, you may end up with bare branches come summer," write our Editors. "When you break out the shears and start to snip, you'll want to remove any dead wood. You can also shorten any wayward branches to help shape the plant."

In addition to overzealous shearing, pruning at the wrong time is a common mistake, making hydrangeas fail to bloom. Here's our general rule of thumb: "In summer, you'll need to prune your once-blooming French hydrangeas, oakleaf hydrangeas, and mountain hydrangeas. In winter, you should prune smooth hydrangeas and panicle hydrangeas, while you can prune your reblooming French hydrangeas in summer or winter."

2. Lack of Sun or Shade

Picking a spot to plant your hydrangeas is crucial, considering many factors. While that French hydrangea may look stunning beside your mailbox, growing in an area with direct sunlight is a surefire way to jeopardize your blooms.

When it comes to French or Bigleaf hydrangeas, those varieties famed across the South for their stunning clustered blooms, sunlight is a necessary part of the equation to encourage a strong bloom. "They bloom best if given sun in the morning and a little light shade in the afternoon, particularly during the hot summer. If you plant them in all-day shade, they won't bloom," Grumpy writes.

Oakleaf hydrangeas thrive in the shade and won't bloom in full sun, while panicle hydrangeas love to soak up the full sun and won't bloom in the shade. Every hydrangea is different.

3. Planting in Dry, Poorly-Drained Soil

Planting in infertile soil can be detrimental to the growth of your hydrangeas. Most hydrangeas prefer loamy, well-drained soil with lots of nutrients—avoid rocky, dry soil.

You should also pay attention to the pH of your soil, which can impact the color of your hydrangeas. For more tips, read up on Grumpy's guide to hydrangea care.

4. Planting Under Big Trees

While your hydrangea's sun or shade needs will vary based on its type, one denominator remains pretty much the same: Don't plant under big trees. Growing your hydrangea under a big tree will compete with that established ecosystem for water and nutrients—plant in a spot where your hydrangea can be the show's star.

5. Over- or Under-Watering

French hydrangeas require a substantial amount of water to stay well-nourished and healthy—in the absence of rainfall, you may have to water them every other day. Other varieties, like 'Limelight' or 'Pee Gee' hydrangeas, can tolerate drought.

6. Over-Fertilizing

Adding too much fertilizer can have the opposite effect if trying to get your hydrangea to bloom—The excess nutrients cause fertilizer burn. Hydrangeas grow best with a slow-release fertilizer or an organic material combination of peat moss, compost, and sulfur. Never fertilizer directly under the hydrangea or on its roots. Instead, fertilize the area encompassing the plant.

7. Not Preserving Growing Area

Allowing weeds to grow near your hydrangeas will deplete the plant's nutrient supply, similar to growing under a tree. Additionally, neglecting to remove leaves under your hydrangeas opens up the possibility of fungi and insect infestations. The leaves peaking out from the hydrangea's crown in the spring need to be pruned to promote new growth, typically by cutting it back to the ground. Never remove the leaves from old wood bloomers because this will stop new growth in the following season.

8. Trying to Change Flower Color

In some varieties, hydrangea blooms can change colors because of their sensitivity to the soil pH. In other types, trying to achieve this only adds unnecessary chemicals to the hydrangea plant's soil creating an imbalanced growing environment. Know your hydrangea variety, and always test your soil before trying to make any changes.

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