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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 March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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