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Mailbag: What to do with a fried hydrangea

Time to prune after too much heat

Sunburnt hydrangea blossom
Now that's a sad-looking hydrangea. If yours looks like this, or even if it doesn't, it's time to prune. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Q: My new hydrangea was doing great; first blue blooms were beautiful. It’s got morning sun, then filtered shade and evening shade. After triple digits, the blooms fried. Should I clip them off or leave them alone? The rest of the bush seems fine.

-- Elaine C.

A: You’re not alone with sunburned hydrangeas in Sacramento! Too much sun and 110-degree heat browned the edges of big mop-head hydrangeas as well as their big heart-shaped leaves.

Hydrangeas need consistent moisture throughout summer to avoid browning. (Their Latin name means “water vessel.”) But even with regular irrigation, that scorching stretch in July was just too much.

Hydrangeas tend to wilt easily, due to the large surface area of their big leaves. Morning sun and afternoon shade, such as your hydrangea receives, is as good as it gets for these shrubs in Sacramento.

Hydrangea buds
New buds are forming on this healthy hydrangea (Photo: Debbie

Now is the time to prune off those browned flower heads. While pruning, be careful not to prune off next year’s flowers, too. Those flower buds are now forming on the plant’s woody stems.

Hydrangeas can be pruned anytime between now and November, when the flower heads start to brown regardless of the heat. That gives the shrub enough time for its buds to finish forming and be ready for next spring.

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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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