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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 Sept. 25

This week's warm break will revive summer crops such as peppers and tomatoes that may still be trying to produce fruit. Pumpkins and winter squash will add weight rapidly.

Be on the lookout for powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that may be enjoying this combination of warm air and moist soil.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Plant for fall now. The warm soil will get cool-season veggies and flowers off to a fast start.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with "eyes" about an inch below the soil surface.

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