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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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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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