Photo: Steve Bender

Like a lot of Grumpy's faithful readers, Heather in Raleigh wants to know why her French hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla -- the one with blue or pink flowers) always looks green and healthy, but never blooms, even though it gets plenty of sun and water. Our email exchange reveals the probable cause.

Grumpy: Have you ever pruned it? When?

Heather: I think my husband pruned it in the fall after the leaves had died and fallen off.

Grumpy: And THAT'S why it didn't bloom. Most French hydrangeas set flower buds in late summer and fall. He cut them off.

Heather: OK. So if he doesn't prune them back this year, will we have blooms next year?

Grumpy: I can't guarantee it, but I think it's likely.

Notice that I said most French hydrangeas set flower buds in late summer and fall. If you prune these shrubs then, you cut off the buds. However, many newer types of French hydrangea, like the Endless Summer series, Forever and Ever series, 'All Summer Beauty,' and 'Dear Delores' and 'Big Daddy' from the Southern Living Plant Collection bloom on flower buds that set on both last year's and this year's growth. They're called repeat bloomers. So even if you prune them in fall, winter, or spring, you'll still get flowers.

Two other possible cause for no blooms -- lack of sun and cold winters. French hydrangeas like morning sun and light afternoon shade. Very cold winters can also kill the flower buds. If you have the old, once-blooming type that only sets flower buds the previous year, forget about flowers this year. However, winter cold isn't a problem for repeat bloomers. If last year's flower buds bite the dust, they'll still bloom on buds set this spring and summer.