Susan Poneman, owner and head floral designer of Heavenly Hydrangeas Floral Design has shared five tips for keeping your hydrangeas happy in the DC area.
Plant properly. Hydrangeas love well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. THE most important step for successful growth and showy flowers for hydrangeas is to prepare your soil well and properly. Our DC area clay soil must be amended with peat moss and compost or other organic matter. Buy a bag of each at your local nursery (American Plant Food on River Road is a great source) and mix the two together in a bucket or wheel barrow. Or if you have a compost pile, perfect to use. Select a location that receives some sun or alot of sun. My 70+ bushes are in full sun. (There are some varieties that are shade tolerant but most like some sun during the day.) After digging your hole (does not have to be 3x the size of the root ball – I have never done that and my hydrangeas are heavenly!), add some of this clay to your peat moss + compost mixture. Pour some of this mixture into the hole. This is hard work and messy so make sure to drink alot of water and wear old cloths/shoes. Then place your hydrangea plant in the hole. Fill the surrounding area in with you peat moss + organic matter mixture to cover the root ball completely. Pat down lightly to hold in place but do not smother it. Plants need air. Then turn your hose on to a very very slow trickle and place it at the stem and leave it there to soak for an hour or so. If you would like to put some mulch on the top, that will help retain water and keep the roots cooler. Or you can use dried leaves – the perfect, natural mulch.
Water properly. ‘Hydra’ means water. Hydrangeas love and need water. In our dry, hot summers, it is vital to keep your hydrangeas well watered. A soaker hose if the most efficient method. The plants will ‘talk’ to you and when they are thirsty, their leaves will drrop and wilt. Give them a good soak. Early morning is best time to water.
Prune properly. People ask me the most questions about hydrangea pruning. I do not prune my 70+ bushes. And they are heavenly. When in doubt, do NOT prune as you risk cutting off next summer’s buds that turn into next summer’s blooms. Most hydrangeas bloom on old growth so you risk pruning off the buds for next year’s show. Hybradizers have developed varieties that bloom on new growth (the most popular and talked about is ‘Endless Summer’) and these varieties can be pruned if you would like to control size and shape. I personally love the big and natural plants.
Dry Properly. Hydrangeas are wonderful dried flowers that will give you and your home lasting pleasure for years. Harvest blooms in mid-September to late-October when flowers are already starting to age on the bush. (If you harvest at their peak during the summer, they will wilt and not dry.) Best way to retain their pretty color is to turn them upside-down and hang in a dark, dry room. You can also place them in a container without water and they will dry nicely. The upside down method is best for color retention. After they dry completely, you can place them in a pretty pitcher or vase, out of direct sunlight and enjoy their beauty for years. If they receive too much sun, they will turn tan very quickly. That can be attractive too, if you like the natural color. You can also spray them with color – some do this with gold during the holidays.
Educate yourself properly. Read as much as you can about our heavenly hydrangeas. Best online source of information and to purchase plants (best selection of unusual varieties) is http://www.hydrangeasplus.com. Best book is Hydrangeas for American Gardens by Dr. Michael Dirr of the U. of Georgia. And the best source for your wedding and special event floral arrangements of hydrangeas and all other gorgeous flowers is Susie Poneman at Heavenly Hdyrangeas in McLean, VA