7 Care Tips to Help Prepare Your Hydrangeas For Winter

Need to winterize your hydrangeas this season but aren't sure where to start? Winter care doesn't need to be a challenge, but it can leave many gardeners feeling a bit overwhelmed. In this article, gardening expert and hydrangea enthusiast Jill Drago walks through seven simple steps for protecting your favorite shrubs this winter.

A hydrangea in the wintertime. The blooms have turned brown, and there is plenty of snow on top of the blooms and the foliage in the garden.

We spend all summer doting over our hydrangeas. Admiring their flowers can almost become a full time job. The colors are bright and beautiful and can be the star of anyone’s garden.

When the blossoms begin to dry, and the leaves turn to their telltale fall color, we know the season of beautiful hydrangea blooms is coming to an end. Depending on the species of hydrangea you may be growing, maintaining your hydrangeas over the winter is as easy as doing nothing at all. Maybe you want to up your game though and ensure a great start to the next spring.

There are a few easy things that you can do to prepare your hydrangea for the winter as well as keeping it safe throughout the bitter cold and winds. Ready to learn more? Let’s dig in!

Keep Watering

A gardener watering a shrub in the garden. They are watering the base of the shrub with a yellow hose. The foliage is green, and the flowers are pink and still blooming.
Water low and deep with about one inch of water per week.

Even though the heat of the summer sun is cooling off, your hydrangeas will still be thirsty. Hydrangeas need about one inch of water per week. This is best achieved by rain and supplemental irrigation.

Water at the base of the plant slowly until the ground freezes. It may feel counterproductive to be outside watering in your winter coat. But the wind will literally suck any remaining moisture out of your plant.

You want to put your hydrangeas to bed nice and hydrated. This way when the ground thaws in the springtime, they will not be struggling to find water. Keeping them hydrated is important as the winter can get dry and plants may get shocked in the event of an unexpected winter freeze.

To Prune or Not to Prune

An image of a gardener pruning a hydrangea shrub with pruners in hand. The gardener is female, and is pruning the woody part of the shrub using small pruning shears. The shears have a blue handle, and the gardener wears blue gloves with rubber tips on the fingers. She is wearing a pink sweater with a vest over the top. The shrub is blooming, but appears to be in early fall.
Pruning can be a great way to protect the plant from winter damage.

Depending on what type of hydrangea you are growing in your yard, pruning could be a great way to protect them from any possible winter damage.

Hydrangea macrophylla, or bigleaf hydrangea, should not be pruned too late into the fall. This is because this species forms flower buds on old wood. If you prune too long after the bloom period ends, you run the risk of snipping off your flower buds.

The remaining species can be pruned in the fall or in the spring because they bloom on new wood. Pruning isn’t always required, but it can greatly benefit the shrub. You may want to consider where your plants are located, and how protected they may be from falling snow.

I know first hand what can happen to hydrangeas when heavy snow falls off of a roof and piles up on top of the shrubs. It is not detrimental to the plant. But you could experience major breakage and damage and the plant may take quite a while to make a full recovery.

Clean your Gardens

A close up of a gardener removing a weed from black soil. They are using a garden trowel that is new, and digging up the small weeds in the garden. The gardener is wearing grey gloves, and there is green foliage in the background.
Clean up your garden in the fall to get rid of weeds and garden debris that have accumulated over the summer.

A fall clean up is a very common task for gardeners. It can include cleaning leaves out of your bed. It also should include pulling weeds and removing any other garden debris from your garden beds.

Weeds can rob any plants in the area of much needed water. These weeds will likely have gone to seed already. Those seeds will be ready to germinate and grow in your gardens once the ground thaws in the spring.

Cleaning out other debris can keep them healthy. Leaves and even twigs could be carrying fungal spores that are waiting to jump and spread to healthy plant tissue. Removing anything that could potentially host these spores is a great way prep these plants for a healthy winter and a strong start to the spring.

Add Compost

A gardener is holding new compost wearing green gloves. You can see organic matter in the compost, as well as worms crawling in the soil.
Add a two inches of compost to your garden to improve soil structure and strengthen your plants for the cold weather.

Adding fertilizer to your hydrangeas too late in the fall can cause a late season growth spurt. This is dangerous because the growth will not have enough time to harden off before the winter chills set in.

However, adding compost to your garden will add much needed nutrients to your gardens without the push that chemical fertilizers will give your plants.

Add an inch or two of compost to your gardens to strengthen your plants and improve the structure of your soil. You can use your homemade compost, or you can purchase it from a local farm. There are excellent bagged choices available at your garden centers as well.

Add Mulch

A flowering shrub that is sitting in the garden. Behind it are large rocks made of slate. There are two planted shrubs, and they are freshly planted. They are blooming with yellow flower blossoms that have a pink rim around them. At the base is plenty of fresh mulch.
Be sure to add mulch at the base of the plant to keep the soil warm in winter.

In the spring mulch has many uses: keeping weeds away, retaining moisture in your soil, but for the most part it is used for aesthetic purposes. It can give your gardens a fresh pop and keep them neat and tidy.

When it comes to winter mulching you can absolutely use the same mulch you used in the springtime, you just might not get the best results. Using straw or even dried oak leaves will give you more protection.

Wait until the ground has frozen and add about six inches of mulch to the root zone of your plant. This could invite some critters who may be looking for a home, so you don’t want to put this mulch down too early. If you know that your area is going to be getting very cold temperatures in a few days you could always run out and mulch before the cold snap sets in.

Physically Protect Them With Barriers

A gardener is covering some garden mulch using a burlap sack. This is in part to prepare for the coming winter time to protect it from the harsh winter weather. There are compost piles in a wooden structure.
Cover your hydrangeas with a special cloth purchased at the garden center, or use a burlap sack.

If you are concerned about the winds in your area being too cold for your buds, or stripping your plants of moisture you can create a physical barrier for your plants.

Plant bags are available to purchase online, and likely at your local garden center. These bags are fabric and typically have a tie that you can fasten towards the base of the plant.

If you would rather use items you already have around your home, that is an option as well. Use chicken wire or something that will be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of snow throughout the winter.

At this point, you can wrap the chicken wire with burlap, or you can stuff the chicken wire and the plant with straw or dried oak leaves. Whichever method you choose, make sure that nothing is making contact with the plant to avoid rubbing or breaking the branches or buds.

Move Potted Hydrangeas Indoors

A potted hydrangea sitting indoors in a pot that is made of pink plastic. It sits on a table that is white. The blooms are vivid, and both purple and blue, with some that are green that have not fully matured. In the background is a cup of coffee and a small potted plant with purple flowers inside.
Plants in pots or containers are best placed indoors for the winter.

Don’t forget those beautiful container planted hydrangeas! These hydrangeas are even more at risk for winter root damage because they are above ground and will be exposed to colder temperatures than plants that are planted in the ground.

 You have a few options when it comes to overwintering. The easiest is to simply move your potted plants indoors. A great place to keep your potted hydrangeas is in a shed or your garage. This protection will help to keep the roots of the shrub safe, while also providing enough cool temperatures to keep them on their regular blooming schedule.

If you don’t have an indoor space that’s large enough, you can keep them outside but you will need to do a little extra work to ensure that they are safe. One way to do this is to dig holes in a hidden spot of your yard, and sink the containers into the ground.

This will offer protection for the roots. Another option is to bury the pots and plants entirely with straw, insulating the plant and keeping it nice and cozy through the winter.

Final Thoughts

Hydrangeas are very low maintenance plants. Even these steps to protect them over the winter are simple enough and are typically a part of your fall garden checklist anyway. Take a few extra steps to protect your beautiful plants, especially if they are planted in an area where you get extreme colds or if the shrubs may be exposed to cold winds. You will be very happy with the results!

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