Almost every Cape and Islands landscape features Hydrangeas, from the classic blue “Mophead” varieties, on to the newer cultivars in a range of colors and sizes. In today’s nurseries there are Hydrangeas for almost every part of your seaside landscape, from brightly colored foundation plantings around your patio or front door, to woody corners where shade-tolerant Hydrangeas like the “Limelight” Paniculata varieties provide a lovely light color and texture to any property.
The array of Hydrangeas available today can be a little intimidating, especially when it comes to pruning these high-performing beauties. In the winter and early spring, it’s hard to imagine that your Hydrangeas will ever bloom again when you see the spindly, naked stems seemingly bereft of any life. If you look carefully, you will see that most of the stalks are covered with tiny pairs of dark buds. These are the flowers that began to grow last fall, so long as you didn’t attack the stalks too aggressively once last summer’s flowers died!
The truth is that some Hydrangeas grow in the wild in New England, blooming without any pruning year after year. In the fall, it’s best to prune off the dead flowers gently down to the first pair of opposing new buds on each stalk. All kinds of varieties—from the Aborescens to the Paniculata varieties—get a good jump-start in the spring by pruning out three to five of the largest canes. Just get your good strong clippers out and cut the oldest canes right down to the ground. This will spur the shrub onto greater glory and will also give the new blossoms and leaves better air circulation on hot summer days.
Hydrangeas can be transplanted in the early spring, but they need to be moved to a spot that is compatible with their former home. Transplants will need to be watered carefully to give the shrub time to acclimate and you will probably not see many—if any—blooms the first year that your shrub is transplanted. However, next summer the shrubs will thank you for providing a new lease on life.
All Hydrangeas like a healthy dressing of fertilizer in the spring. Hydrangeas need a lot of water and and will let you know right away if they are thirsty with wilting blossoms and leaves. Almost all Hydrangeas will do better in locations without hot afternoon sun, but if you have a really sunny location with all-day exposure, it will help to install a drip irrigation system and run it three times a week for 45 minutes. If you want to hand-water your Hydrangeas, it helps to really soak the roots well at least three times a week in the morning.
If you are wishing for a pink, rather than a blue Hydrangea, you can add lime to your shrub’s roots, which will increase the pink color; to make a shrub bluer add aluminum sulfate. It may take a season or so for your shrubs to change their hue, but combined with careful spring and fall pruning, regular fertilization, and water, water, water, your Hydrangeas will reward you with great color and vivid beauty all summer long.