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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 June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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