It’s garden clean-up season, but what does that mean for your hydrangeas? Depending on the variety, these beautiful flowering shrubs can bloom into the fall. Since they’re known to be finicky about their care and maintenance, you might be unsure what to do with your hydrangeas come fall. Don’t worry; you’re not alone.
Here are six tips for caring for your hydrangea in the fall.
1. Reduce Watering
Hydrangeas are water-loving plants. They may even need water daily throughout the hot summer months, but as the cooler fall days roll in, this will change. After the shrub’s leaves fall, this signals the start of the dormant period.
The shrub will need less water during these cool months, as it isn’t actively growing. Switch your routine to infrequent, deep waterings to ensure your plant is getting staying moist but without putting it at risk of root rot.
2. Divide, Transplant, and Plant
Fall, when they are dormant, is the best time to transplant hydrangeas. Make sure to do this before the ground freezes.
It is possible to propagate some hydrangeas by division. You should wait until they’re a couple of years old, as the sections you divide and transplant must have good roots before you move them.
If you have a mature colony that is getting out of hand, this is the perfect opportunity to divide it and grow or share your garden. Be sure to provide extra water to any transplanted or newly planted hydrangeas until they establish. It’s also best practice to lightly prune your plants when transplanting.
Note: Spring is ideal for dividing old growth hydrangeas, such as oakleaf and bigleaf hydrangeas.
3. To Prune or Not to Prune
Pruning plants is a hotly debated topic among gardeners, and hydrangeas are no exception. The tricky shrubs make it especially hard as there are so many varieties, each with its own care requirements. Smooth, panicle, peegee, and other hydrangeas that bloom on new growth are best pruned in late winter.
Bigleaf, oakleaf, and other hydrangeas that bloom on old growth are best pruned in later summer, right after they flower. You don’t want to prune these hydrangeas too late. Otherwise, you’ll cut off the flower buds for the following year. Inspecting your shrubs for newly forming buds in the fall can help you identify whether you have new or old growth hydrangeas. Make sure you allow plants a few seasons to establish themselves before you begin pruning them.
If you’ve missed out on pruning, not to worry, many of these shrubs, such as the smooth hydrangea, actually require very little pruning. Even if you aren’t pruning your hydrangea, this is the ideal time to remove any dead and diseased sections of the shrub. Remove debris around the base of the shrub and cut back dead and infected branches.
Fall is also an excellent time to finish any deadheading you missed in late summer. Mophead-type hydrangeas, however, are best left overwinter with their flowers intact, which are actually quite pretty when frozen.
Hydrangeas don’t typically require a lot of fertilizer, especially if your soil is rich. Applying too much fertilizer to hydrangeas can be a recipe for disaster and potentially burn your plant’s roots. You should always test your soil before deciding what and how much to feed your plants.
However, compost is the perfect alternative to fertilizing your hydrangeas during the fall months. Sprinkle a layer of compost around the base of your shrubs. The compost will slowly break down over the winter months providing much-needed nutrients to your plants. This will also help with supporting new growth in the spring.
Note: Using a fertilizer or compost that is too high in nitrogen can result in lots of green leaves without blooms.
Mulching your garden before winter is a good practice, particularly if you live in a cooler climate. This is especially important with hydrangeas, as many varieties are susceptible to death over winter. Old growth hydrangeas, such as oakleaf and bigleaf, are particularly vulnerable to early and late frosts and extremely cold winters.
This is because they form flower buds in the fall for the following year. Mulch these varieties more heavily than others and, for extra protection, cover the entire plant.
If you have trouble overwintering your hydrangeas, consider smooth or panicle hydrangeas. These new growth hydrangeas overwinter well, require less maintenance, and flower more reliably.
6. Dry the Flowers
Fall is an excellent time if you’re considering drying your hydrangea flowers. Cut the flowers when they are starting to fade, but before they turn brown. Depending on your variety, this will be late summer or early fall.
It only takes about two weeks to dry them out, and then you’ll have a gorgeous floral bouquet throughout the winter. For an age-old method, hang them upside down to dry. For something new and trendy, try silicone gel to retain their spectacular colors.
Fall in Love With Hydrangeas
Fall is the perfect time to prepare for the following season, and caring for your hydrangeas will help ensure beautiful blooms the following year. Caring for these shrubs is easy, as long as you know which variety you have.
Do you have hydrangeas in your garden? Share your fall care tips in the comments!