Hydrangea Leaves Turning Brown? Here’s Why, and How to Fix it!

If the leaves on your hydrangea have started turning brown and crispy, there's several reasons why this can happen. The good news is that it can be fixed in most circumstances, and if you catch it early enough, it likely won't cause your plant to die. In this article, gardening expert and hydrangea enthusiast Jill Drago examines the most common reasons for browning hydrangea leaves, and how to fix it!

Hydrangea With Brown Leaves

Hydrangeas are one of the most popular flowering shrubs that gardeners flock to every season. Their popularity is only growing stronger each year.  Their blooms are stunning, and they are relatively low maintenance. They only require deadheading, occasional pruning, regular watering and fertilization.

These plants are not free of issues. Occasionally the leaves of these lush plants will turn brown. This is one of the most common problems that new hydrangea gardeners and experienced veterans go through every season. There are a few, very common, factors that could cause your hydrangea leaves to become discolored and brown.

If your hydrangea is covered in brown leaves, read on to learn about what environmental issues could be causing this, and how to solve the problem!

Transplant Shock

Transplanting Hydrangea
Transplant shock can cause leaves to dry out and turn brown.

Did you recently plant a new hydrangea, or move one from a spot in your yard to another? Or, perhaps you decided to upgrade the pot your hydrangea has been living in? If so, you will be putting your plant through a bit of stress. Your perfectly healthy plants could suddenly shrivel and turn brown. The main reason for this stress is a lack of moisture.

Signs of transplant shock could be dried out and brown leaves, as well as wilting flowers. Hydrangeas do not like to dry out. If you have planted in undesirable conditions and are experiencing these symptoms, it’s quite possible your plant is just experiencing a bit of transplant shock.

How to Fix

Keep in mind your time of transplanting. If you are planting in the summer, or on a day that is unexpectedly warm you will want to take a few extra precautions.

Before planting, water the plant. This can help prevent transplant shock.  If you haven’t done this and the plant is already in the ground this will just take a bit of time and water. Do not soak.

The roots are already struggling, and excess water may lead to rot. Water in small amounts, frequently allowing the water time to drain.

Fertilizer Burn

Fertilizer in Bag
Due to excessive fertilization in summer, a burn may appear on the leaves.

Hydrangeas do not need too much when it comes to fertilization. They benefit from an application of fertilizer in the spring. Fertilizing in the summer heat can get tricky.

If you apply too much fertilizer to your plants, especially if they are dry, you run the risk of damaging your plants. You may notice some brown edges on your leaves. The leaves may become crunchy. This is fertilizer burn.

The burn appears on the leaves, but that doesn’t mean that the fertilizer actually made contact with the leaves. This type of burn usually comes from the roots, and that means you could have zapped the roots as well.

How to Fix

Take a break from fertilizing. Hydrangeas only need two or three applications of fertilizer per year. Using a slow release formula is foolproof, you apply it once, and the fertilizer does the work for you.

Once your plant is burnt you can’t unburn them but you can help prevent any further burning from happening. Water about once a day to attempt to rinse the soil of excess fertilizer. If you used a granular fertilizer you may choose to rake the soil surface to remove any excess fertilizer that may be remaining on top of the soil.

If you have found these crunchy leaves on your plant, you can leave them. Or you can snip them off to help the appearance of your plant.

Insects

Beetle on Flowering Shrub
The most common pests are aphids, spider mites and beetles.

Hydrangeas can have issues with common garden insects such as aphids, japanese beetles and spider mites. The feeding wounds of these pests can turn brown and cause brown spots to appear on the leaves and stems of the plant.

How to Fix

Both aphids and Japanese beetles can be removed by hand. Knock the beetles into a bucket of soapy water, or use a strong spray from your hose to disrupt the aphids. You can also spray soapy water onto all of the plant’s surfaces.

In addition to these simple methods, you can apply an insecticidal soap or neem oil to help get rid of these pests. It is important to read the application rate information that can be found on the label of the insecticide. Using too much of any chemical, pesticides included, can cause further browning of your hydrangea leaves.

Fungal Diseases

Fungal diseases on Plant
All species of this plant can be susceptible to fungal disease, resulting in brown spots on the leaves.

While hydrangeas are tough and resilient plants, they are susceptible to a variety of fungal diseases. These fungal diseases could display themselves as small brown spots that grow to very large spots, rust colored stains, as well as other symptoms.

Most fungal diseases will not cause too much harm, but they may take away from the aesthetic appeal of the plant.

How to Fix

You can try to prevent fungal diseases by keeping your gardens neat and free of debris. Give your gardens a good fall and spring clean up and remove all leaf litter from the ground, as well as from within the crown of the plant. These leaves can be holding onto fungal spores that will linger, waiting to attack in the next growing season.

If you notice symptoms of fungal diseases on your leaves you can use a general fungicide to rid your plant of it. These can be found at garden centers. Remember to follow the instructions on the label of the fungicide you purchase. Copper fungicides are very popular and effective, but if they are overused they can become toxic to your plant.

Removing infected leaves is also a great step. Clip the leaves, and remove them from the garden. Do not compost these leaves, the fungus will continue to spread.

Insufficient Watering

Watering Pink Hydrangea in Garden
If they aren’t getting enough water, their leaves will brown.

Hydrangeas have a habit of drooping in the midday sun, and bouncing back once the sun has shifted and the plants have some time to recover. If this happens repeatedly you may notice brown and crispy leaves that are drooping. This is their way of letting us know that it needs some additional moisture.

How to Fix

This is a simple fix. To quickly remedy this, you will want to water your hydrangeas! Water them slowly so the plants can soak up that water. Usually in areas where plants have become dried out, the soil is dry and the runoff of water becomes a problem. Adding water to very dried soil will not rehydrate your plant and the problem will not resolve itself.

Next, take a look at your watering schedule. If this is a recurring issue, you probably need to rethink your watering schedule.

Established plants may need to be watered one to three times per week, depending on your conditions. These shrubs will do best with one inch of water per week. It may seem tempting to spray the leaves down.

This will not do anything when it comes to rehydration. Water the base of the plant, slowly, once or twice per day until the problem resolves. Once the plant has rebounded, you can resume a regular watering schedule.

Too Much Sun

Pink Flowers With Brown Leaves
Most species and varieties prefer partial sun.

Panicle hydrangeas love full sun, but the rest of the group really likes partial shade. Partial shade provides about four to six hours of sunlight.

Better yet, provide a planting space that gets sunlight in the morning when it is still cool. If you have a shade loving variety that is getting more than six hours of sun, you will likely be seeing some fried leaves.

How to Fix

If your shade friendly variety is getting fried and crispy, you will likely need to transplant it to a shadier location. Find a location in your garden that has light morning sun with plenty of room for the hydrangea to stretch its legs.

If you do not have a spot like this in your garden, you can always transplant into a pot. The container should be large enough so the plant can grow and get all of the water and nutrients it needs. Place the container on a porch, or in a shady spot on a patio.

You can also replace the plant with a panicle hydrangea. Panicles love the full sun. They are large, and make great hedges. Their flowers are cone shaped, and typically open white or green and will fade to pink as the season passes.

Excess Wind

white hydrangeas in the garden
All varieties will need to be protected from the wind as it can suck moisture out of the leaves.

Similar to your hydrangea receiving too much sun, wind can suck the moisture right out of its leaves quicker than the roots can take up additional water,  leaving you with dry and brown foliage. This will happen because of the plant’s location. So, regardless of the variety, plan ahead and make sure your plant has plenty of protection from the wind.

How to Fix

You have a few options here. You could transplant to a new location, or you could create a wind barrier using another plant, or fencing.

To create a wind barrier you could plant a small tree, or a shrub to block the wind. Blocking some of the wind will help to slow the evaporation rate. Ornamental grass, Rose of Sharon, or Holly bushes are just a few ideas of plants you could use to block the wind.

If you need to transplant, find a spot in your garden that is well protected from sun and wind. Transplanting is best done in the fall or the spring. Water the plant before you pop it out of the ground, and water thoroughly after you replant it.

Final Thoughts

All of the above situations could happen to any gardener. Luckily for all of us, hydrangeas are very resilient, and will most likely recover very quickly with a little love and care. The plants location is the most important factor when it comes to getting established and proper growth. With a little forethought on planting location and proper maintenance, you’ll be able to ensure your hydrangeas keep brown leaves away for good!

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