PLANTING, TRANSPLANTING, AND
    FERTILIZING HYDRANGEAS

Q. Where and How Should a Hydrangea be Planted?


Planting a small shrubPlanting hydrangeas in the right location is extremely important. It can make the difference between growing a lush, lavishly blooming shrub and one that struggles and produces scrawny blooms.

For information on choosing the right hydrangea for your climate (planting zone), see Choosing the Right Hydrangea.

WHERE TO PLANT HYDRANGEAS:
Sun or Shade

Partially shaded hydrangeas


All hydrangeas will bloom and grow well in morning sun and afternoon shade. This is especially true of the most commonly grown hydrangeas, the macrophyllas. These are the blue and pink mopheads and lacecaps.

The further north one lives the more sun hydrangeas need and can withstand.

No hydrangea will do well in HEAVY shade, such as under an oak tree. The blooms will be sparse and will not develop fully. Some visitors to this site who live in cooler climates such as the northeast or northwest claim their hydrangeas do beautifully in full sun all day.

If your landscape is mostly sunny (and hot), you may wish to grow the PeeGee (paniculata) hydrangeas, which can take all day sun if they get adequate moisture. They actually need at least 5 hours of sun per day to bloom well.

The Oakleaf hydrangeas will also grow in sun or shade, but the blooms last longer if they get a little afternoon shade in hot climates. The leaves on the Oakleaf hydrangeas will "color up" best in the fall if they receive some sun.


HOW TO PLANT HYDRANGEAS


  • Choose a location where your hydrangea can reach its full size without pruning. For normal sized hydrangeas, expect the plant to reach about 4 ft. X 4 ft.

  • Plant in well-drained soil! If soil is heavy, add roughage such as pinebark mulch.

  • Do not over water, esp. in clay soil. This can lead to root rot.

  • Do not plant too deeply. Plant at the same depth the hydrangea was planted in the pot. (see diagram below)

  • Plant in early summer or late fall.

  • Transplant a hydrangea when it has become dormant and lost all of its leaves (late fall or winter).


Do not plant too deep


MORE TIPS FOR PLANTING
  • Place the hydrangea in an area where it can get plenty of moisture. Supplemental moisture is especially important the first year or two and during droughts.

  • Hydrangeas planted under a tree often fail to thrive. This is because trees roots are very aggressive and are drawn to the rich, moist soil usually provided for hydrangeas. No matter how many of the tree roots you are able to remove to make room for the hydrangeas (and be careful not to remove too many), the roots will all be back in a year (unless you remove too many and kill the tree!).

    Also, as mentioned above, under large hardwood trees the light is often insufficient for growing hydrangeas. If grass won't grow in the area, hydrangeas probably won't either.


  • The Oakleaf hydrangea is more temperamental about "wet feet" than the other types. Make sure that the Oakleaf will get perfect drainage in the area in which it is planted or the roots may rot. This is especially true when it is first planted. After the Oakleaf becomes established, it is very easy to grow.

BEST TIME TO PLANT HYDRANGEAS


Choose a hydrangea when it is in bloom
Hydrangeas purchased from a garden center have been growing outdoors in a pot. They can be planted at any time of the year. However, to get good results, keep these considerations in mind:

  • Although it is not always possible, purchase a hydrangea while it is in bloom. This allows one to see how the plant will bloom. Hydrangeas are often mislabeled, and even good nurseries have difficulties keeping varieties separated when they are not in bloom. Twice I have planted mopheads when I thought I had lacecaps. Additionally, 'Annabelle' doesn't always bloom properly. You may get stuck with a plant that is labeled "Annabelle" but the blooms turn out to be small and fuzzy.


  • Whenever possible, plant in early summer or fall. Don't plant in early spring when frosts are still possible. I've lost two leafed-out plants that were killed when a late frost hit them.


  • Don't plant a hydrangea during the hottest part of the summer unless it can't be helped. If it must be done, DO NOT LEAVE IT ALONE. Be on hand to give it some TLC and to keep it well watered.
Foil-wrapped potted hydrangea
GIFT HYDRANGEAS
(The Foil Wrapped Hydrangeas)

Hydrangeas that come wrapped in colorful foil are beautiful. These hydrangeas have been grown in a greenhouse and are meant to provide a one-time, dramatic display. Each year I purchase a few for the house. However, these hydrangeas have special needs. Here is a page for more on "Foil-Wrapped Hydrangeas"
TRANSPLANTING HYDRANGEAS

Native Oakleaf HydrangeaMost people know that "transplanting" means digging a plant up from one location and planting it in another.

Authorities agree that the BEST TIME to transplant hydrangeas is when they are dormant, i.e. after most of the leaves have fallen off the hydrangeas. When I lived in SC we transplanted hydrangeas in late November to late December, but if your ground isn't frozen, January and February are fine, too.
TRANSPLANTING TIPS
  • When digging a hydrangea to transplant, dig up as much of the rootball as possible. Since the roots are fibrous and form a ball filled with soil, the plant may be VERY heavy, so you might want to get some help with this.


  • Replant the hydrangea in an area that is shaded during the afternoon. This will not only help the plant to survive, but it is the preferred location for hydrangeas, especially in the South.


  • If you transplant while your hydrangeas are dormant (the best time), water them deeply one time. They may need no more water until spring when warmer weather arrives. After transplanting, hydrangeas must be kept watered very well the first and second summer. If the leaves wilt and the soil is moist enough, mist the leaves each day until they recover.


  • The best way to water is deeply. Use a hose to water rather than a sprinkler system. However do not overwater. Watering every day can be just as destructive as allowing the plants to dry out.


  • If your soil does not drain well, do not allow it to remain soggy around the hydrangeas. This is especially true for Oakleaf hydrangeas which will rot in a heart-beat if they stand in soil that is wet.
FERTILIZING HYDRANGEAS


Hydrangeas grow best if they are fertilized once or twice in the summer. Although some authorities recommend special fertilizer mixes to get the maximum results, hydrangeas do amazingly well with a more relaxed approach. One can use organic additions to the soil, such as manure and compost, or chemical fertilizers.

Slow-release fertilizersIf chemical fertilizers are used, I recommend applying a slow-release, balanced fertilizer once or twice a year (Osmocote must be under the soil to release). (A less expensive fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 will work just as well if applied twice during the summer).

Don't fertilize after August. Fall is the time for hydrangeas to begin preparing for dormancy. Fertilizing at this time may stimulate new growth that will be too tender for the winter. In the South, a May application and another in July would be about right. More northern areas may wish to fertilize only once in June or July.

The amount of fertilizer used per plant will vary with the size of the plant. It is much, much better to err on the side of too little fertilizer than too much. A very small plant will take about 1/8 - 1/4 cup. A very large shrub will take 2 - 3 cups spread around the drip line of the branches (not next to the trunk).

Never fertilize a plant that looks sick or wilted. If a plant is struggling due to a disease or root problems, the fertilizer will only add stress to it's life. Try to cure the problem before adding fertilizer.

composted manureFor an organic approach, many gardeners use commercial manure on the soil around hydrangeas. Excellent results have been reported by visitors to this site.


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