Can someone please help me understand this hydrangea? I have had it for about 5 years(?) and the most it ever bloomed was three flowers. It grows into a perfect mounded shape with new growth starting from the bottom but not many flowers for such a big plant. I know it's supposed to bloom on old and new wood but for the life of me I am never sure about what should be pruned. I'm going to post a pic of what it looks like right now.
Wow, Toni, your hydrangea is leafing out beautifully! Do you give it a bit of food in the early spring? Looking at that pic, I wouldn't prune it at all. Hopefully one of the resident hydrangea experts will weigh in on the bloom problem.
In your zone if you're not protecting it over the winter you won't get very many blooms on old wood, so you'll never see the maximum amount of flowers. I've seen postings about some of the other reblooming hydrangeas that they can take several years before the new-wood blooms really get going, but 5 yrs seems like it should be enough. Are you fertilizing at all?
I usually spread some Garden Tone fertilizer around the base. Is this how a hydrangea normally leafs out? It always looks so strange to me. Leaves down low, mid stem and then at the very tip? Some stems have leaves at just the bottom and the tip and "naked" in the middle.
I have a Nicki Blue that blooms great and it's younger than the F&E. This is the Nicki:
Some stems do not survive winter unscathed; you see them leaf out from selected parts of the stem. Others have no problems. It is hard to tell in what shape they are so it is always best to leave them alone until mid-to-late May. If by the end of the month there is no leaf out, you can start pruning them. Partly leafed out stems can be pruned down in 1" or 2" increments until you hit "green" or the level were it looks ok to stop at. Some varieties suffer from this more than others.
Any year now, begin to prune the 1/3 oldest stems to the ground. In three years, your plant will have new stems and flower production and size can improve. You can do this every 5-7 years when you notice that flower production is down or that the size of the blooms is small.
However, it bothers me that you have only seen three blooms total per season from a rebloomer like this one. Is this correct? or did you mean that it simply has bloomed poorly ... but has produced more than 3 blooms?
This behaviour is precisely what a hydrangea planted out of zone will do, especially one that blooms on old wood. When the weather is too cold, the blooms are aborted and none or few survive. But a rebloomer like F&E should then produce new blooms later in the growing season though. If you are truly getting getting 3 blooms per season, this may be a mislabeled hydrangea sold in a F&E Pot, one that is not cold hardy in Z5 and one that only blooms in old wood. Winter protection techniques may allow it to produce blooms.
luis_pr, this plant only produces on average 2-3 flowers later in the season which is about August. Otherwise, it is a very nicely shaped leafy bush. I have a like/dislike attitude about it. It fills in a space with greenery but it takes up space where something could be blooming instead.
Blooms that late in the year are the ones on the new wood. You might try protecting it over the winter so that you preserve the old-wood blooms too which should give you a few more, but it still ought to be producing more than 2-3 flowers on new wood. How much sun does it get? While hydrangeas will fry if they have too much sun, if they're in shade that's too deep they won't bloom well.
Odd that F&E would need winter protection in your zone though. Is your Zone 6b as it appear in your post? They are usually hardy to Zone 4 or so. Are you maybe pruning it during the growing season just as it is getting ready to produce flower buds?
ecrane3, the F&E is in a part shade location. It does not wilt in the summer and has continued to grow in size since I planted it, but at most only about 3 flower heads a year. I've never winterized it but perhaps this year I will try that to see if blooming improves.
Hopefully that'll help since it'll preserve the old-wood blooms that you're losing now, but there's still something weird going on, you should have more blooms than that on the new wood. Part shade should be enough light for it to bloom well so I don't know what else it would be. One last thought--any chance deer are coming by and munching on it?
I've been perplexed with this hydrangea for years. What would happen if I trimmed it down to new ground growth each spring? Would that perhaps produce more blooms but a smaller bush? Also, no chance of deer whatsoever. The only critters seen in this city yard is rabbits, birds and an occasional possum. The bunnies eat the clover, the birds eat the bugs, and the possum eats the slugs. All's good! ;)
Rabbits can damage hydrangeas as much as they damage azaleas and rhodies. The damage would be restricted to the lower parts of bushes in such cases (or the whole plant in the case of a recently planted small plant). Wild rabbits were a problem here several years ago but I have not seen many recently.
You can prune as you describe. Pruning off all wood in Spring simply means that you will be sacrificing the old wood blooms developed in the Fall and that the shrub will start flowering late... weeks or a month later than usual (until the new wood blooms develop and open). Would it produce more blooms? No, the same amount as always but this shrub seems to be unable to do "normal".
When there is a problem blooming, identify if the plant is unable to develop flower buds or if they develop but do not bloom. If not developing flower buds, check to make sure that the shrub gets 2 hrs of sun or more as hydrangeas will have redcued bloomage in dense shade; make sure they get enough moisture during the fall and in dry winters... when the soil does not freeze; winter weather can also kill flower buds but you should not need winter protection with this variety; lastly, make sure you are not using fertilizers like Miracle Gro because some versions are very high in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen applied too many times to a plant like hydrangea keeps the plant green and reduces bloomage. Hydrangeas are not hungry plants like roses so they can be fertilized by giving them just one application of compost, composted manure or cottonseed meal in June for the whole year. You can also apply weak fertilizers like coffee grounds, liquid seaweed or liquid fish thru the growing season but stop by the end of July so the plant goes dormant in time for winter.
luis_pr, thank you soo much for taking the time to look at and analyze my finicky hydrangea. I underdressed it today with some composted cow manure and will wait to see what she has in store this year. I do believe that the flower buds on the old wood are probably being zapped by the late frosts we tend to get. I wonder if the blizzard we had this winter will have any effect on it? It was completely buried in about 3 ft. of snow.
I guess I might as well be happy with a hearty bush that gives me 3 pretty flowers a year. At least she's trying!
Snow can definitely help protect tender buds from cold winds, etc...the catch is it needs to be covering them at the right time. So often it's late spring freezes after the snow has melted that zap the buds, but sounds like you may have gotten lucky this year!
Looks like I have to cover it before winter from now on. There are still some old wood branches that are just sporadically covered with leaves. I'm leaving everything alone for awhile longer since our season has been so delayed. It's just now that the warm weather is starting.
Just an update, I have NEVER seen this hydrangea with so many blooms such as this year! I'm truely happy that it's doing so well and I wonder if the big snowstorm we had in winter helped by insulating it.
Here's a pic of the backside facing South where most of the blooms are.
I have not noticed the sunlight effect in that way before (one side of the shrub gets more blooms than another). Very interesting! Have a great 4th of July. That reminds me that I need to call a cousin in the outskirts of Chicago.