Why Your Hydrangea Didn’t Bloom

June 21, 2012 | By | Comments (14)

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Many people across the land are very unhappy right now. They’re unhappy because their neighbor’s hydrangeas are blooming and beautiful, their hydrangeas aren’t, and they’re afraid their shrubs’ lack of cooperation is a sign of displeasure from the Big Guy.

If you’re among those unhappy folks, relax. Believe me, if the Big Guy is mad at you, He has much more effective ways of demonstrating disapproval than taking it out on your hydrangeas. No, when hydrangeas don’t bloom (and Grumpy is talking about all types of hydrangeas here), it’s almost always due to one or more of the following reasons.

1. You pruned at the wrong time.

2. Your hydrangea isn’t getting enough sun.

3. The flower buds were killed by a late winter freeze.

4. Your hydrangea doesn’t like where it’s growing.

5. Your hydrangea hasn’t bloomed yet this year, but it will.

OK, now let’s consider the main classes of popular hydrangeas (French, smooth, panicle, and oakleaf) and see how these 5 factors relate to each.

French or Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Let me get the name out of the way first. French hydrangeas come from Japan, not France. They’re called French because many selections of this species were made and named in France. Due to their incredibly gaudy clusters of blue, purple, pink, or white flowers, they’re the South’s most popular kind. Here’s what you need to know about blooming.

When They Bloom: Older, once-blooming selections like ‘Nikko Blue’ shown in the photo up top, bloom for 6 to 8 weeks, starting anywhere from late spring to midsummer, depending on your location and the selection. Newer, repeat-blooming types (‘Endless Summer,’ ‘Forever & Ever,’ ‘Mini-Penny,’ ‘Twist n Shout,’ ‘Let’s Dance’) bloom repeatedly from spring until fall if they’re happy, well-watered, and actively growing.

How Much Light: They bloom best if given sun in the morning and a little light shade in the afternoon, particularly during the hot summer. If you plant them in all-day shade, they won’t bloom.

How Much Water: French hydrangeas are water hogs. Due to the huge amount of water transpired by their large leaves during hot weather, they wilt in a flash. You may have to water them as often as every other day in the South in summer if it doesn’t rain. Repeat-bloomers will not repeat bloom if they go dry. Obviously, French hydrangeas are not good plants for low-rainfall areas.

What Kind of Soil: Rich, fertile, well-drained soil containing lots of organic matter to retain soil moisture. Acid soil (below pH 7) gives blue or purple flowers. Alkaline soil (above pH 7) gives pink or red blooms. White French hydrangeas stay white no matter the pH.

Where Not to Plant: Don’t plant in poor, rocky, dry soil. Don’t plant at the foot of big shade trees that compete with them for water and nutrients.

When to Prune: Once-blooming types flower from buds made last year. If these buds are killed by a late freeze or cut off by mistake, you don’t get blooms. So prune the once-bloomers very lightly. Remove any dead growth in early spring. Shorten live branches only in summer immediately after the blooms fade. Repeat-bloomers, on the other hand, bloom on buds made last year and the current year. So even if a freeze killed last year’s buds or you pruned the plant to the ground this spring, they’ll still make new flowers this year. Just remove old blooms as they fade.

Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)

Native to the South, smooth hydrangeas are less fussy, more cold-hardy, and easier to grow than the French. ‘Annabelle’ (below) is the most popular selection because of its huge white flowers. New pink-flowering types, such as ‘Bella Anna’ and ‘Invincibelle Spirit,’ are now heavily promoted.

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When They Bloom: About the same time as the French. They’ll bloom later if pruned in spring.

How Much Light: They take more sun than the French, but morning sun and light, afternoon shade in the South is still a good rule.

How Much Water: They prefer moist soil, but don’t need as much water as the French.

What Kind of Soil: Fertile, well-drained; pH doesn’t really matter, unless you live in a peat bog or lime pit.

Where Not to Plant: In full shade under big trees.

When to Prune: Smooth hydrangea blooms on new growth. Prune in winter or early spring. If you prune it back severely, you’ll get massive flowers, but fewer of them. These big blooms may need support.

Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)

Native to Japan and China, this is the toughest and most accommodating species described here and a great one for beginners. It tolerates heat, drought, full sun, and bitter cold. In fact, Grumpy considers its most popular selection, the treelike ‘Pee Gee,’ the crepe myrtle of the North. “Pee Gee’ grows up to 20 feet tall, blooms in summer, and thrives all the way to Canada. ‘Limelight’ (below) is a more compact, bushy plant growing 5 to 8 feet tall with upright blooms that age from whitish-green to pink. I’m currently trialing a new dwarf, ‘Bobo,’ that tops out at 3 feet.

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When They Bloom: Summer into early fall. The flowers of most turn from white to pink or rose as they age.

How Much Light: Full sun preferred.

How Much Water: Likes moist soil, but tolerates drought. Needs much less water than French.

What Kind of Soil: Well-drained.

Where Not to Plant: Shade (it won’t bloom)

When to Prune: Blooms on new growth. Prune in winter or early spring.

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

Native to the Southeast, this is a unique hydrangea in several ways. It likes shade and will even bloom in the woods. It’s the earliest to bloom of the species described here. Its oak-shaped leaves turn red, orange, yellow, and burgundy in fall. And it’s far easier to grow than the French. My favorite selection is ‘Snowflake,’ named by nurseryman Eddie Aldridge of Birmingham, Alabama. As each flower cluster ages, stacks of new florets open atop the old ones. The new ones open  white, while the old ones turn rose, giving a beautiful bicolored effect. ‘Snowflake’ grows 7 to 8 feet tall. ‘Pee Wee’ is dwarf and only grows 3 to 4 feet tall.

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When They Bloom: Usually start in mid-to late spring and continue into early summer.

How Much Light: Dappled sun to shade.

How Much Water: Does well in moist soil, but tolerates drought very well.

What Kind of Soil: Well-drained, acid soil containing lots of organic matter.

Where Not to Plant: Full sun; near hot, paved surfaces; in alkaline soil (foliage turns yellow between the veins); in poorly drained, heavy soil.

When to Prune: Blooms on growth made the previous year. Seldom needs pruning, but if you must, do it in early summer.

COMMENTS

  1. TC

    Excellent article Steve!

    June 22, 2012 at 8:39 am
  2. Linda Christine

    A wonderful well written article. I have 50 different varieties and I love them all..In Aiken, some are starting to fade but Ayesha, my favorite is just beautiful and LimeLight, PeeGee, Tardiva and several others are just making their show.

    June 22, 2012 at 9:00 am
  3. Sunshine

    I just planted hydrangeas (macrophylla) for the first time. I have perfect location. Could you explain in detail how to prune, when, how often to fertilize. I have been in love with this plant all my life, finally have time to play around with them. I’m retired, kids are on their own,fight fibromyalgia like a crazy person, and watch husband grow old in his lazyboy. Any info appreciated.

    June 22, 2012 at 10:02 am
  4. Donna Craig

    I have an endless summer that is not blooming. what causes it to get brown or rust spots on the edge of the leaves?

    June 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Linda,
    I love all the hydrangeas you mention. ‘Ayesha’ is my favorite too.
    Sunshine,
    Read the section above about pruning French hydrangea. They need little pruning, but the time to do it depends on the type you have. If you want blue flowers, feed with a acid-forming fertilizer in spring.
    Donna,
    I can’t tell you for sure without seeing the leaves, but the culprit could be spider mites. Trying spraying the foliage several times a week with the hose. Spider mites hate wet leaves. Do this in morning, so the leaves can dry in the afternoon.

    June 25, 2012 at 12:12 pm
  6. Melinda

    My Pee Gee tree was planted in October with a dozen or so brown, dried blooms. Loved looking at it all winter!! Now is beginning to bloom but the flowers seem way smaller than the dried ones were. There are lots of blooms. They aren’t yet fully opened. Is there anything I should be doing to get bigger blooms in the future?

    June 27, 2012 at 8:51 pm
  7. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Melinda,
    This is due to pruning. If you don’t prune at all, your hydrangea will grow bigger and have more, but smaller flower clusters. If you prune in winter or spring, it will stay smaller and have fewer but larger flower clusters.

    June 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm
  8. Dee/reddirtramblings

    You know my favorite is ‘Annabelle.’ I placed ‘Limelight’ in a friend’s garden a few days ago. It’s lovely too. I’m just tired of the macrophyllas. They aren’t consistent in Oklahoma. It’s too hot for them, and don’t even talk to me about the Endless Summer versions. Total copouts here. I am trying a quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ in morning sun. I hope it does as well as it has in Texas. So far, so good. Wonderful post.~~Dee

    June 30, 2012 at 8:24 am
  9. Helen

    I have a black stem hydrangea that has grown massive in size but to date I have only had one bloom. Any suggestions?

    July 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm
  10. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Dee,
    Let me know how your oakleaf does. It needs acid soil, so I’ll be curious to find out.
    Helen,
    Since it sounds healthy, I would give it one more year to bloom. Don’t prune it. If it doesn’t bloom next year, you might consider moving it in fall to a sunnier spot.

    July 3, 2012 at 10:26 am
  11. June

    Forget the hydrangeas. I have a grape vine that is supposed to be a Concord grape, but has put nothing out for the last 15 years but tiny almost ornamental-like grapes. Very bitter, too. What the heck is wrong with it?????

    July 31, 2012 at 11:16 am
  12. Thou Shalt Not (Crape) Murder | Georgia Garden Girl

    [...] Hydrangea.  With hydrangeas, you need to know what kind you have.  Bigleaf, French, and Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood, which means that you should prune after flowering.  Peegee and smooth hydrangeas bloom on new wood and can be pruned back in late February or early March (if you prune back severely, you’ll get huge flowers but not a ton of them).  For information on hydrangea identification and pruning, see http://www.walterreeves.com/landscaping/hydrangea-identification-and-pruning/.  You may also want to read “Why Your Hydrangea Didn’t Bloom.” [...]

    February 22, 2013 at 7:11 pm
  13. nani lucky fitriani

    can’t i planting hydrangeas in asian weather like indonesia?

    April 24, 2013 at 9:52 pm
  14. Steve Bender

    Hydrangeas are native to temperate climates with warm and cold seasons. I don’t think they’d like Indonesia’s tropical climate.

    April 24, 2013 at 11:21 pm