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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

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

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

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

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

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

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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