11 Tips For Spring Hydrangea Care This Season

Spring hydrangea care is a bit different than other seasons. In spring, you are working to get your hydrangeas to rebloom, and encourage their prolific flower growth. In this article, gardening expert and hydrangea enthusiast Jill Drago walks through her top tips for spring hydrangea care.

Spring Hydrangea Care Tips

Every summer bloom comes from a little hard work and love in the springtime. This holds true, especially for hydrangeas. If you live in an area where it gets colder, there are some important springtime steps you’ll want to follow to revive your hydrangeas from their winter dormancy phase. This will help ensure you maximize their blooms all season, and replace any plants you may have lost early on.

Hydrangea spring care and summer care are a little bit different. In the spring, the focus is to encourage them to “wake up” from their winter slumber, whereas the summer is more about maintenance, disease and pest prevention.

So, are you ready to wake up your hydrangeas from their winter slumber? If you want bright hydrangea blooms through the growing season, here are some of my top tips for spring hydrangea care. Let’s jump in!

Protect Against Snapback Frosts

Protecting hydrangeas from frost
Snapback frosts happen in many areas early in the spring.

If you live in a cold climate area you are probably in the habit of protecting your hydrangeas over the winter from frost or wind damage. Don’t unwrap your hydrangeas until after your average last frost date. In many cases, it’s better to go at least 1-2 weeks after your average last frost date to protect against snapback frosts.

This is more important if you live in an area where the temperature fluctuates dramatically in the early spring. The easiest way to do this is to wrap your shrubs gently with burlap and the support of garden stakes, or using plant protection bags.

Do Some Spring Cleaning

spring hydrangeas cleaning
In the spring, remove dried leaves in order to eliminate excess moisture around the base of the plant.

The first thing I look forward to doing in the spring is cleaning up my flower beds, especially in areas where I have hydrangeas growing. I like to wait to do this until most plants have some green on them.

This helps me to remember where everything is, and to take extra care when working in the beds because I do not want to damage any of my plants.

When it comes to hydrangeas, it is important to remove any leaves or other debris that has collected in the base of the plant. The stems are great at holding dried leaves hostage.

Removing these leaves will help to eliminate any excess moisture around plant base. It will also allow the sun to warm the ground and any growth that may be coming up from the ground.

Remove all leaves and garden debris from around the plant base as well. Leaves that linger can be hosts to diseases or insects, removing them will get your garden started off on the right foot! Not properly spring cleaning is a common oversight that can lead to other problems down the line.

Start Adding Compost

adding compost to soil
A great way to give your hydrangea the nutrients it needs to grow is to add compost.

Adding manure or compost around the plant base is a great way to give your hydrangea nutrients it needs to grow big and strong. Adding compost will improve your soil conditions over time while doing the double duty of giving them a big nutrient boost.

There are many packaged compost products available at garden centers. You can also seek out local farms that may be selling manure. Whichever product you choose, adding compost to the plant base (and all throughout your garden for that matter) is easily done.

I like to apply about an inch of compost all around the plant’s dripline. The dripline of the plant is the outer perimeter. Most of the plant’s roots will be located in this area. This ensures that the roots have a fair shot at receiving the nutrients from the compost.

Water the compost in, and you will be on your way to happy plants! Adding compost is also a great idea when you are planting new hydrangeas. Removing some garden soil that exists and mixing it with compost is another easy way to get some organic material into your garden beds.

Start Your Watering Schedule

Hydrangeas watering
Hydrangeas like to stay moist, but pay attention so that you don’t over-water them.

It is important to keep your gardens watered in the springtime. Sometimes this task is forgotten because it doesn’t seem warm enough for your plants to need regular watering. This is a key point in the growing season where you can really give your plants a boost by watering them just as you would in the summertime.

I can’t emphasize how important it is to avoid overhead watering when it comes to hydrangeas. If you water from above the water will sit on the leaves and will make them more susceptible to the fungal diseases that they can be prone to.

Remove Dead Wood

hydrangea cutting in the garden
One of the highlights of hydrangea care is the removal of deadwood.

When you are ready to start pruning or shaping your hydrangea, removing dead wood is a good place to start. You can identify dead wood in a coupe of ways.

These stems are usually older branches, they may have some peeling bark, and they won’t have any leaf or flower buds on them.  Oftentimes you can pull these branches out of the ground with your hand, if not a clean pruning at ground level will do the job.

Remember only to cut one third of these branches right down to the soil line. This easy step will help your plant to function on a higher level resulting in larger flowers and better overall plant health. 

Once you’ve removed the older growth that you were wanting to remove, check the plant out and remove any branches that may have broken over the winter. These branches aren’t doing the plant any good and could cause air flow issues within the plant. 

Start a Regular Pruning Routine

Pruning Hydrangeas
Trimming is typically is only necessary for one-third of the plant.

If you have a hydrangea that blooms on “new wood” such as Hydrangea paniculata this is a good time to prune these shrubs. A good rule of thumb when pruning any shrub is to only remove one third of your plant. Removing more than this can cause your plant to stress resulting in an unhealthy plant, and is a leading cause of non-blooming hydrangeas.

Cut Them Back After Last Frost

Cutting Shrub
If your bush looks tangled, you can cut the hydrangea back to the ground to rejuvenate the plant.

If you have a hydrangea that blooms on new wood such as H.arborescens or  H.paniculata and you are hoping for bigger flowers, springtime is a good time to give your plants a major haircut.

In fact, you can cut them all of the way back to within a few inches of the ground. Hydrangeas that bloom on new wood will produce their new branch growth as well as their flowers starting in the spring ensuring that your flowers for this season will be safe from spring pruning.

Another type of pruning could come in handy for older overgrown hydrangeas. If your hydrangeas are looking a bit tangled and sad you can cut them back to the ground.

This severe type of cutting will rejuvenate your hydrangea. It is not recommended to do this type of pruning often because it could over stress the plant, and it will also keep them from flowering for a season or two.

Start Applying Fertilizer

Fertilizing hydrangeas
Spring is the best time to fertilize hydrangeas.

The best time to apply fertilizer is in the spring before the weather heats up. You will want to look for a fertilizer labeled for shrubs and trees. Many of these fertilizers are available on the market in slow release formulas as well as in water-soluble or granular forms. Whichever formula you choose, be sure to follow the package instructions.

If you are looking to fertilize your hydrangeas in order to change the colors of your flowers this is a good time to apply those additives as well.

Start Mulching

hydrangeas mulching
It is advisable to mulch the soil after hydrangeas planting. This will retain moisture and reduce the frequency of watering.

Once you have cleaned up your gardens and added compost and/or fertilized, it is just about time for the finishing touch. Adding about one to two inches of mulch to your hydrangea beds is recommended. While you are mulching be sure to keep the mulch from directly touching the base of the plant. This will keep the plant safe from rot.

Mulching your gardens keeps the weeds at bay, but it also helps with water retention which is so important when it comes to hydrangeas. Using a high quality pine bark is also beneficial to your garden. When it breaks down it adds organic material back into your soil improving the conditions of your soil overtime.

Ground Layer For Propagation

hydrangeas ground layering
Hydrangeas are propagated by seeds, layering, cuttings, grafting, and dividing the bush.

Once your hydrangea has begun to leaf out you can begin to think about propagating. This is helpful especially if you’ve lost a hydrangea or two over the winter. You will need to wait a bit longer into the season to take cuttings, however, ground layering is another easy and fun way to propagate them. Let’s look at the steps.

Ground Layering Steps

  1. Start by selecting a branch that is close to the ground.
  2. Next, strip the leaves from a few inches of the branch.
  3. Pick a part of the plant where it will make contact with the soil.
  4. Next, scrape a little of the bark off of the underside of the branch.
  5. You will want to make sure at least one leaf node will end up under the ground.
  6. Dig a small hole about two inches deep and lower the branch into it.
  7. Cover with garden soil and use a garden stone to keep the layered branch in place.
  8. Water occasionally and keep the area moist.
  9. When the new plant has rooted, cut the new plant away from the mother plant.
  10. When you feel that the plant is ready, transplant it to a new area in your garden.
  11. You can also plant them in containers or pots, if necessary.

Plant New Hydrangeas

Planting hydrangeas
Spring is time to plant new hydrangeas, especially if of your plants doesn’t fully bloom after winter.

It’s now the time to plant the ground layered plant you just propagated. You can follow these same steps for new plants you’ve purchased as well, if you’ve just decided to buy potted hydrangea transplants from your local nursery.

Planting New Hydrangeas

  1. Before digging, water the hydrangea while it is still in its transplant pot.
  2. Next, dig a hole twice as wide as the size of the pot.
  3. Do not plant too deep.
  4. It is important to keep the base of the plant at the same depth as it is in the pot.
  5. This will help to prevent any rotting of the plant.
  6. Water well immediately after planting.

Final Thoughts

Most of the garden tasks that hydrangeas require from you in the spring are similar to the requirements of your other plants. Spending a little extra time with your hydrangeas in the spring will pay off in dividends in the summertime. Once these plants get settled they are very low maintenance and will allow you to just sit back, relax and enjoy their beautiful flowers.

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