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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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