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Prune hydrangeas now for abundant spring blooms

This lacecap hydrangea variety goes from lavender/white to green and red in fall. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Key to consistent flowering? Well-timed cuts

Why don’t hydrangeas bloom?

The answer almost always comes down to pruning, either at the wrong time or too much or not in a long time. For great masses of blooms next spring and summer, prune now.

Hydrangeas can be pruned while they still have their foliage or after they shed their leaves. Don’t wait past November; the bushes need a little time to recover before spring.

Most hydrangea varieties bloom on second-year wood. Those are stems that grew the season before. In late summer and fall, the stems form pointy buds at their nodes, found at the base of leaves. Those buds are next year’s mopheads and lacecaps.

Stems that bloomed this spring will bloom again. Keep those stems, cutting down by a third. Make the cut 1/2 inch above buds.
Hydrangea buds are visible at the base of the leaves.

Leave alone soft stems with lush green growth. They’re still developing.

After that, pruning is a matter of balance and air flow. Remove woody stems that have lost their vitality (they feel brittle and light) or that crowd the center of the bush. Avoid overpruning; the bush should be about one-third smaller than it began – not down to the ground.

At a minimum, deadhead hydrangeas, removing spent bloom heads. That retains the second-year wood and prompts bud development.

Cut now, hydrangea flower heads can be dried and used in wreaths of other decorations. Many varieties turn interesting shades of red or green, a perfect holiday combination.


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For week of Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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