Gardening, Other Obsessions

Hydrangea Happiness: Unlocking The Mysteries

Like millions of others I’m in love with hydrangeas.  It’s March 1st, the snow is falling, and I’m dreaming of them.

I’ve never had any of those giant, fluffy, snowball types that are so popular here in the Midwest, the Annabelle hydrangeas.  I stare at them longingly.  Mine are small and sickly looking.

This year, I’m out to change that!  These are my hydrangeas:


I have three varieties:

  • The Bluebird Lacecap Hydrangea
  • The Pinky Winky Hardy Hydrangea
  • The Endless Summer Hydrangea

I have agonized over these shrubs for years.  The Pinky Winky hasn’t been too much trouble, except for the fact that my husband kept smashing it with the trash cans.  It’s now misshapen, but has been blooming very nicely.  My only plan for this one is to hard prune it and move it over a bit.

The other two are a different story.  It’s hard for me to believe, but the Lacecap was planted in 2005, almost 12 years ago!  It was supposed to get 6 feet high, but never got more than waist-height.  Every spring, I was met with this:


Both this hydrangea and the Endless Summer would grow from the base surrounded by dead canes.  From year to year it never got any bigger.  My neighbor’s grew just the same way.  I was mystified, but last year I was determined to figure out what was going on.  I’m happy to say that I finally, via Pinterest, stumbled across the answer.

Like the clematis, hydrangeas have many varieties, and that affects, naturally, how you care for them.  The Pinky Winky blooms on the current year’s growth, the new wood.  That’s why I’ve had no problem getting lots of beautiful blooms and lots of growth.  The other two, however, bloom on the old wood and buds set in the late fall/early winter.  If you have a severe winter, like we often do here in the Midwest, those buds will die, and you will end up with the dead canes that I’ve had every single year since the shrub was planted.  Note:  the Endless Summer hydrangea does bloom on both old and new wood, but the majority of the blooms grow on old wood and may not survive the winter.

Here’s what I did last fall:


I surrounded the Lacecap and the Endless Summer with chicken wire and covered them with dried leaves.  We have very few trees on our property and I had to ask my neighbor for some–she was happy to share!  It’s been a fairly mild winter, so in a few weeks I’ll uncover them and hopefully I’ll have fewer dead canes.  I did the same thing to a nearby Roseum Elegans Rhododendron that was planted at the same time and has also refused to grow.  Fingers are crossed!

So what about those Anabelle Hydrangeas I love so much?

Another experiement!  I learned a lot about plant propagation from Mike McGroarty over at Mike’s Backyard Nursery.  He has some great videos on how to propagate plants from softwood cuttings.  (See one at his site here.) And…my sister has some very large Anabelle’s!  Last June, I rooted about a dozen cuttings and grew them in my mini-hothouse on the patio.  (Read…plastic shoe boxes and white trash bags…) Here they are three months later on my nifty new shed-based potting bench:


In September, a bit later than I should have, I transplanted them into a new nursery bed in the back corner of the yard.  I ordered the cedar raised bed from Costco and it was extremely easy to put together.  I used this site to determine how much soil I needed to fill it–a combination of topsoil, compost and potting mix.  I popped the plants in, and in November covered them with leaves.  Unfortunately, the leaves have all blown away, so I’m crossing my fingers again to see if the hydrangeas will come back.


It’s all very exciting!  I was thrilled to see that the grass is already starting to green up and a few plants are peeking out.  Uh-oh!  I have a lot of late-winter work to get done!  I better get started!

I’ll update you soon with a report on how all my hydrangeas fared.  And if all those cuttings survived, I’m going to have a lot of Annabelle’s!





4 thoughts on “Hydrangea Happiness: Unlocking The Mysteries”

  1. Hi Barb, Loving your “new” blog. Here are some ideas for your hydrangeas. You may be pruning at the wrong time of year, see this article:

    This article has a handy chart down a few scrolls of the mouse 🙂

    My Limelight Hydrangea didn’t bloom last summer but it was its first full summer in the ground. I will cut back dead wood in the next week or two. Fingers crossed it will bloom this year.

    I love, love hydrangeas. Hoping yours bloom this summer and continue to avoid those trash cans.

    (Oh, this is Michelle. I don’t know what my account says. It is my “blog” attempt that has floundered. Possibly, I will start it up again 🙂 )


    1. Thanks, Michelle! For the compliment and the comments :). I don’t prune my hydrangeas! I’m fairly certain that the issue is what I mentioned in the article: severe winters that are killing the buds. Things are starting to pop up, so I will be taking down the chicken wire soon. Only time will tell if my attempts worked!


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