A colleague has a 2 year old "Merritts". She says that the plant has always been healthy and gets reasonable sunlight but it has never flowered. My only thought is that incorrect pruning has led to this issue as she has pruned it in the past. I told her not to consider pruning anything until it is fully leafed out in June and at that time just take out any obvious dead stems. What do you think? Anything else I might suggest to her?
She might try burlapping it for the winter. Perhaps she has a cold or windy site. I had hydrangeas that never bloomed until I put burlap over and around them and tied it with a string.
The other big issue is the one you told her. It's the more important of the two. And wow are you right about that. I was pruning the "dead wood" from my Endless Summer hydrangea - except that I didn't get around to it until about June, and low and behold, several branches I took for dead had started sprouting new growth. So in earlier years I was cutting off potential blooms!
I agree, if she's in the same zone you are then I'd definitely recommend some winter protection. I don't believe this is a reblooming cultivar which means it only blooms on old wood, so in zone 5 buds are prone to get frozen in late cold snaps leading to less (or no) flowers.
Thanks for your quick replies. I appreciate it. (When one burlaps an hydrangea does the cloth actually touch the plant or does one put say 4 stakes around the plant and then wrap burlap around the stakes?)
I've done both and burlappling the plant directly is easier. If you attach the burlap to stakes you actually need to use a staple gun to attach the burlap to the stakes. And you have to have at least three layers of burlap to successfully staple it, since one layer won't hold. And it doesn't cover the top of the plant.
Whereas if you just wrap the plant itself with burlap and use some twine to circle the plant at intervals (close to the bottom, middle and a few inches from the top) it is quite secure. The top is open at this point. I then attach a strip of burlap over the top and tie that on. The great thing about burlap is that It's breathable, and so direct contact doesn't hurt the plant. And this way you get complete coverage. It is also a method that works for really big hydrangeas.
And since the burlap isn't damaged by stapling, you can unwrap it in spring, store it, and use it for years.