by Matt Gibson
Hydrangeas have massive, lush, gorgeous blooms that have been turning heads for centuries. It’s no wonder that hydrangea flowers are one of the most popular in the world. Commonly used in bouquets in restaurants and hotels or as a floral arrangement for table settings, weddings and banquets, hydrangeas are seen everywhere. The famous hydrangea blooms burst forth from buds atop large landscaping perennials that grow larger each year with the proper care. Whether in the vase, in a pot, or in the ground, there are few things more disappointing to the eye of a botanist than a wilting hydrangea.
It’s not just an unappealing picture. It’s not just that it’s simply a shame to see such a beautiful flower slumping and sick. The shame and/or pity that a flower lover feels upon gazing at a wilted hydrangea stings deep because there is no good reason for the flower to look that way while in bloom. If the hydrangea is in the garden or in a container, it could be the fault of over-pruning, excessive exposure to direct sunlight, too much water, insufficient nutrients in the soil, you name it.
If the hydrangea is wilting in the vase, it’s sad state is most likely due to being cut incorrectly or improper hydration. The point is, the hydrangea doesn’t have to slump or sag. It is up to its caretaker to revive it when it starts to look sad. Don’t be the botanist that allows a hydrangea to wither. Read on to learn a few tips and tricks on how to revive a sad-looking hydrangea, whether it’s in the vase, in the ground, or in a planter.
In The Vase
When selecting fresh-cut hydrangeas for making floral arrangements, look for blooms that bounce with a little light touch as well as bright green healthy leaves. It’s up to you to pick the perfect bouquet. You want a sturdy plant, nothing soft or spongy. Also, keep an eye out for leaves that have turned brown or have dark spots. If you pick healthy hydrangeas and give them the care that they need, your flower arrangement should last for at least two weeks.
Using clean kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut the most full-looking and mature blooms at a 45-degree angle, and place them in a bowl of lukewarm water while you collect all your specimens. Take the most papery-looking flowers, as they are fully bloomed. Leave the other flowers on the plant to cut at a later date once they have had a chance to mature.
Fresh cut hydrangeas ooze a sticky substance from the cut on their stems that blocks their ability to absorb water. For an easy fix to lose the ooze, just dip the stem in a little bit of alum powder before you make your arrangement. If your spice rack is short on alum powder, you can use the boiling water method. Just dip the end of the stem into boiling water for 10 seconds. This will remove the sticky sap so that the cutting can absorb water. It’s also a good idea to remove all of the leaves from the hydrangea stem as well, or they will drink up all the water in your vase.
Hydrangeas prefer cool, fresh water, and vase water should be changed every other day. The root word for the plant is “hydra” after all, so it makes perfect sense that they require hydration. In fact, once the hydrangeas start to look like a lost cause, a simple tip is to soak the entire cuttings, blooms and all, in cool water for 45 minutes, shake them off, re-cut and dress the stem, and put them back in the vase looking as good as new. Add some flower food, or stir in a bit of sugar in the vase water to increase their lifespan even further. You will be amazed at how long you can keep hydrangea blooms going strong in a vase after shearing them. A little knowhow and some TLC really goes a long way.
In The Ground
The best way to grow hydrangeas is by purchasing a hydrangea plant from a garden center and planting it directly into the ground after the last frost in early spring or well before the first frost in early fall when the weather is mild. Growing from seed is not impossible, but it is a serious time investment. Hydrangeas grown from seed could take up to three to five years before they are big enough to bloom, whereas purchasing shrubs could have you knee-deep in fresh flowers in the first growing season.
Hydrangeas like sunlight and prefer a few hours of direct morning sun, followed by nice afternoon in the partial shade. Dig a hole that is slightly larger than the pot the hydrangeas came in to begin with. Add a small amount of high-phosphorus fertilizer to the bottom of the hole you dug. Make sure that the crown of the plant (where the bottom of the stem meets the soil) is even with the ground level. Then cover with soil, and water thoroughly. Hydrangeas prefer a moist and loamy soil. Loamy refers to a mixture between sand, silt, and clay. Make sure to check the soil often to make sure that it isn’t completely dry or soaking wet, and amend as needed by sticking your fingers an inch or two into the soil to see if the soil is moist or not.
It is better to give hydrangeas a heavy soaking of water once a day during the morning or early afternoon than to water it multiple times per day. Prune dead stems and blooms as often as possible, and during the winter, add a protective layer of mulch, pine straw, and leaves six to eight inches high to protect buds from getting too cold or getting tossed about in harsh winds. For younger hydrangeas, a cage might be a good addition for additional protection, not only from harsh winter weather, but from pests like bunny rabbits who might munch on hydrangeas for a water-packed snack during dry winter months.
In A Container
For optimal growing conditions using a planter, select large containers with ample drainage for hydrangeas. Fill the containers with a premixed, bagged potting soil, leaving about eight inches on the top. Place the hydrangea in the center of the container, and fill with soil, leaving about one inch of space on the top so that there won’t be a ton of overflow when you water the plant.
Whether in the ground or in a container, hydrangeas love water. Because hydrangeas in containers are not firmly established in the ground and have a smaller root system, they may need even more water than those planted in the ground. Use the finger test to see if your plant has enough water and adjust accordingly.
For Both In-Ground and Container Hydrangeas
This blogger and hydrangea gardener swears by watering her hydrangeas with a weak solution of baking soda and water. She uses pictures as evidence of just how much adding a small amount of baking soda to the watering solution used to water her hydrangeas has improved their overall growth and blooming capacity. For three years, her hydrangeas seemed to suffer and lull until she tried this simple trick, then in one short growing season, her hydrangeas began to expand and bloom like crazy. The recipe? Just add one tablespoon of baking soda to every two quarts of water that you use when giving your hydrangeas a soak.
Other Issues That Can Lead To Drooping Hydrangeas
There are some other issues that can end in wilted hydrangeas. Over-fertilization can lead to droopy hydrangeas when there is an excess of nitrogen production in the soil. Excess nitrogen can cause quick growth spurts during which hydrangea stems can’t grow quick enough to provide support. Excess nitrogen in the soil can be solved by adding in potassium and phosphorus fertilizers for balance.
Other environmental factors can attribute to drooping hydrangeas, such as inadequate sun or soil deficiencies. It is rarely disease but usually inadequate growing conditions that are responsible for sagging flower clusters.
If you see a hydrangea that looks less than stellar, I urge you to do something. You are now armed with the tools to keep every hydrangea that you run into looking full, healthy, and strong. You now know the tricks of the trade for keeping your hydrangea floral arrangements looking brand-new and expanding their lifespan exponentially. You know how to keep potted and grounded hydrangea happy and how to give them the conditions in which they thrive. Hydrangeas of the world are now in better hands, and the world is a prettier place because of it.