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How to Prune Hydrangea Plants – Expert Advice for the Novice

March 12th, 2018

The easiest way to avoid having to prune is to always plant your hydrangeas where they can grow au naturale and won’t need pruning, except to clean out dead stems or to deadhead the blossoms as they fade, both of which can be done at any time of the year.But, if you have established hydrangeas, the first thing you must do is attempt to identify them. If you already know the type of hydrangea you have, just skip down to the How to Prune Your Hydrangea section. Different types of hydrangeas have different pruning requirements and improper pruning can literally mean a bloomless season or worse.

How to Identify Your Hydrangea

There are four common types of hydrangea:Mophead Hydrangea Flowers

Mopheads & Lacecaps (macrophylla) are considered one group. The leaves on this species are usually heart-shaped or ovoid with serrated edges and are about 4 to 6-inches long and 3 to 5-inches wide, though some varieties will be larger. The leaves are somewhat thick and semi-shiny. The leaf stems are the biggest clue to your hydrangea’s identity, especially when combined with the type of flower it produces. The leaf stems (petioles) on a mophead or lacecap will be short, meaning that the leaves hug the main stem. On a mophead hydrangea, the blossoms grow in round and oval mounds of tightly clumped individual flowers. On the lacecap varieties, the flower head shape is almost the same, but you will have itty-bitty, lacy-looking flowerbuds in the middle, surrounded by larger, fully developed flowers. The buds are the fertile flowers, while the full blossoms around the edges are infertile. Though considered one group when it comes to their pruning requirements, each of these look quite different when in bloom. It is also interesting to note that mopheads are the ONLY hyrdrangea that has colored blossoms when they first open. All other species will be white, so that may be the first hint that you don’t have a mophead, unless you have a white mophead cultivar, which is relatively uncommon. Photo is courtesy of Ginger.

Oakleaf Hydrangea Plant


Oakleaf hydrangeas are so-named, just for that reason; they have leaves that are shaped  similar to the leaves on a red oak. The size of the leaves can range from 4-inches to 10-inches long and wide, and will often stay on the plant most of the winter. They are not really considered an evergreen though because after several freezes they are not very attractive. They also have cones of flowers, as opposed to mounds or balls of flowers and ALL oakleaf hydrangeas will bloom white before changing color. It should be very easy to identify this species if you have it. Photo is courtesy of RPOP.

Snowball Hydrangea Flowers


Snowball hydrangeas (H. arborescens), the most common of which is ‘Annabelle’, might remind you of lollipops. The flower heads are usually very large, but made up of tiny, individual blossoms. The leaves are usually thinner, though oftentimes heart shaped, somewhat similar to the macrophylla. They also tend to be a bit floppier than the ones on mopheads and are not shiny, instead having a matte finish. The leaf stems (petioles) are also long, holding the leaves further out from the main stem. The one single trait that sets this species apart is that the blossoms will open green, turn white for two or three weeks and then turn green again, which is when you can dry them. These humongous blossoms also tend to fall over in high wind and heavy rain, so you might want to plant them on the side of the house with the least wind, as long as it is not fully shaded.

hydrangea paniculata flower blossoms


Finally there is the PG hydrangea (paniculata). The leaves are normally smaller than other hydrangeas; they are also thinner and can either be finely or coarsely toothed. They have a rougher overall texture and are medium-green with a matte finish. The biggest identifying characteristic is that the leaves grow in a threesome from one stem node and are spaced around the node, in a whorl. This type of hydrangea can be pruned to grow in both a tree and shrub form and is also not easily identified by the type of flower heads. They can be cone-shaped or round, full or sparse, stand erect or droop. In fact, the name paniculata is derived from the panicle-type flower head that most of them bear. They, like the oakleaf, will first emerge white, turning pink as they age. These hydrangeas can grow to lofty heights of 8 to 10 feet and sometimes taller, matching their height in breadth. Photo courtesy of Alan Buckingham.


How to Prune Your Hydrangea

Now that you’ve identified your hydrangea(s), we can talk about how to prune to keep your hydrangeas healthy and beautiful. Please note that pruning and deadheading are two different things. Deadheading is just removing the old blossoms as they fade, while pruning changes the total appearance and form of the plant. There are two methods for pruning:How to deadhead faded hydrangea flowers

Method 1This method is for mopheads, lacecaps and for oakleaf hydrangeas. These hydrangeas bloom on old wood which means they develop buds on stems that have been on the plant since the summer before the current season. They develop these buds sometime between August and October the previous year, for the following summer’s blossoms. Therefore, if you remove these stems in the late fall, winter, or spring, the flower-producing buds will be removed, meaning NO FLOWERS (or only a very few) this summer. So, prudence and patience is required when pruning mopheads, lacecaps or oakleaf hydrangeas:

  1. You can remove dead stems at anytime throughout the year and they should be removed every year.
  2. Once your plant is at least 5 years old, remove about 1/3 of the older, living stems, cutting them down to the ground in late June through early August. Try to choose ones not already blooming or that are starting to look a bit naked. Keep an eye to how this will change the shape of the current plant, stepping back once in a while to see how it’s looking. Doing this will revitalize the plant.
  3. To reduce the size of a plant, it can be cut back in June or July without doing away with the following year’s blossoms, but it won’t take long for it to return to its original size, which is why planting where it doesn’t require pruning is recommended.

Method 2This method is used for the snowball (H. arborescens) and PG (PeeGee or H. paniculata) type of hydrangeas. Both of these hydrangeas bloom on new wood, which means that you can prune them any time of year, except in the spring when they are setting buds, or in the summer when they are either preparing to bloom or are in full bloom. Some people even grow hedges of the snowball type, pruning them back almost to the ground in the fall, so as to present a neater winter appearance; but be aware that this type of drastic pruning can keep the stems from reaching the sturdiest size in order to adequately support the huge flower heads. If you do this, you may have to stake your flowers in the spring and summer, or grow them along a fence and use string across the front to offer support when in full bloom. When pruning PGs, we don’t recommend pruning every year, but trimming out criss-crossing branches or those that detract from the overall form. These hydrangeas can be pruned from the bottom into tree-form. The developing trunk and the top branches should not be removed and you should also not attempt to make it look like the tree the first year or two. Patience is key here. Each year just trim a few of the lower branches in order to expose the developing trunk, and then late nature take its natural course. One note: if a tree-pruned paniculata’s main trunk is broken close to the ground, it will grow back as a shrub unless the training process is started again from the new shoots.

Everblooming Hydrangea ShrubThough this may seem like a lot of work, it really isn’t. Once you have the knowledge, the rest is easy. But if you’d rather not worry about it there are a small group of mopheads that will bloom regardless of when they are pruned. These are called everbloomers and will bloom on both old and new wood. And if you want to amend your soil to change the color of your mopheads, it is also quite simple. Hi-Yield Agricultural Limestone will reduce the pH of your soil relatively quickly, resulting in blue coloration, while Hi-Yield Aluminum Sulphate will increase the pH, giving you pink. You also might want to invest in an inexpensive soil tester to determine where your pH lies right now, especially if you are planting new mophead hydrangeas and want to be sure of a particular flower color.

We hope that this has provided some valuable information, as this is one of the questions that our Master Gardener sees on a regular basis. And if you still have questions after reading this, please contact us. Our goal is to help you to be the best gardener you can be! Happy Gardening!

Colorful Plants for Shady Flower Beds

March 5th, 2018

Colorful annuals growing in a shade gardenPartially or fully shaded flower beds present a unique challenge for gardeners. When it comes to shade-loving, colorful annual plants, there are only a few to choose from. However, a little bit of imagination and a little bit of knowledge can combine to create fantastically stunning, vibrant displays in your more challenging areas. The imagination part is up to you, but here’s the knowledge you need to maximize the potential of your semi-shady flower beds.

All of these shady flower bed selections are relatively disease-free, require little maintenance and provide lots of color. You can mix and match ’em, or plant your favorites en masse for bold, eye-catching spectacles. Just as an artist paints a picture, you can use a selection of shade-friendly annual plants to create your own masterpiece. Depending upon the play of dappled sun and shadow, the palette of colors can be an ever-changing kaleidoscope for your viewing pleasure.

Are You Inspired Yet?

Let’s get started. In alphabetical order:

  • Begonias – There are plentiful Begonias to choose from. Begonias will bloom throughout the summer and fall, and all are adaptable to being moved indoors for the winter. One of the most popular shade-friendly annual plants, they are comparatively easy to grow and will tolerate varying amounts of sunlight. You can learn more about growing Begonias here.
    Each type of Begonia has its own characteristics:
    • Angel Wing Begonia -You may also know these as Cane Begonias. Red begonia plants in landscapingFlourishing on segmented stems somewhat similar to bamboo, the foliage on Angel Wing Begonias provides color throughout the season, even when the plant is not in bloom. Angel Wing Begonias enjoy partial to fully shaded locations and can be planted in containers or in the ground.
    • Dragon Wing Begonia – This is a hybrid between Angel Wing and Wax Begonia varieties, the offspring possessing the best qualities of both. It grows equally well indoors and out, is heat tolerant, and will bloom prolifically in full sun to light shade.
    • Solenia Begonia – This Begonia has been bred to be a sun-lover, though it will perform just as well in partial shade. This heat-tolerant variety is also resistant to mildew and has some of the most unique coloration.
    • Tuberous Begonia – The Santa Cruz® Begonia is truly unique. Bred to brave the rain, heat and sun, this is the Begonia to grow if you are ‘iffy’ about Begonias. Once a breeder hits a home run like this, you can expect to see more of the same.
    • Wax Begonia – This may be the Begonia you are most familiar with. Its waxy leaves retain water for the plant, while also displaying some really striking color. They will all perform well in shady beds or containers and will be covered with single and beauty_lyon_Mdouble blossoms from late spring through early fall.
  • Coleus – Coleus plants are grown almost exclusively for their colorful foliage, some varieties sporting amazingly unique patterns and hues. In fact, one idiosyncrasy is that you should pinch the insignificant blossoms before they go to seed. Coleus has the distinction of thinking its life is over once it goes to seed and, subsequently, the plant will die out. Some Coleus will have the best color in full shade, while others prefer a bit of sun. All will provide gorgeous pigment in partial shade and will perform equally well in containers or beds. Coleus is also quite adaptable to indoor living. You can check out this article, How to Grow Coleus Plants, for more information about this pretty foliage plant.


  • Ipomoeacolorful sweet potato vine plants – You may know these as Sweet Potato Vines or Plants. Exhibiting fantastic growth over a single season and available in a variety of leaf shapes and colors, Ipomoea is often grown as an annual ground cover, but is also utilized as a spiller or filler with any number of annuals in containers. Ipomoea will be happy in partial shade to full sun, though it is happiest in dappled shade, especially in the warmest environs.




  • SunPatiens Impatienslilac_sunpatiens_M – There is literally a SunPatiens for everyone! Classified as Compact, Spreading, or Vigorous, each has attributes and colors to suit every grower’s tastes. The Compact SunPatiens have shorter stems with exceptional branching, and will grow up to 36 inches high and wide. The Spreading SunPatiens have a more cascading habit, spreading up to 40 inches, with sometimes variegated foliage. The Vigorous SunPatiens are not only adaptable to container growth, but are being utilized as a super gorgeous flowering ground cover. Vigorous SunPatiens will spread up to 48 inches. All SunPatiens are self-cleaning and are unaffected by downy mildew.



  • Torenia – This fun and colorful shade-tolerant plant is a little-known relative to the Snapdragon. Looking quite whimsical, these blossoms have velvety-looking cheeks, wide open mouths and yellow or orange tongues. Slow growing, though exceptionally heat tolerant, Torenia, a.k.a. the Wishbone Flower, will bloom nicely in the shade. In northern climates it will tolerate full sun. Blooming throughout the summer, right up to the first frost, Torenia will be as happy indoors during the winter as it is outdoors the rest of the year.



So there you have it. Now you know exactly what to plant in that semi-shady flower bed. You can fill that container you’ve been wanting to plant and you can hang it where the sun doesn’t shine much. It’s time to put your creative skills to work.


Favorite Herbs for Container Gardens

February 19th, 2018

The first thing you need for growing herbs in containers is a container … any container will do! As long as you have one that allows for drainage, you can grow an herb garden. Most herbs will grow with as little as 4 to 6 hours of filtered sunlight and will thrive in a fully sunny window. Make sure you turn your herb plants regularly to encourage even growth; they will all reach for the sun. It’s also wise to only water when the top of the soil is dry, and then water thoroughly. Many more plants die from over-watering than do from under-watering. Also, water sitting in the drainage pan is not a good thing; always empty it as soon as the water has finished draining. Each herb has specific harvesting and pruning needs, but generally, you harvest from the outside first.

These 10 herbs are the top choices for container gardens. They will all grow according to the size of container they’re in, so you can grow them as big or as small as you want. Grow enough to freeze or dry, if you wish. Fresh herbs, already potted or cut and tied with a bit of ribbon, also make lovely, thoughtful gifts.

Basil herb container plant


Basil: Use it fresh in salads or pesto, add it to your favorite Italian dishes and try Lime or Opal basil to flavor ice cream. Genovese Basil is closest to the ‘classic’ basil you’re familiar with, while Greek Columnar looks like a small, ornamental, fully branched tree. Basil can be difficult to germinate, so we recommend you start with seedlings.

Chives growing in a container



Chives: Chives can be added to practically anything you would add onions to, but are most often used in salads. They will impart a more subtle flavor than onions and will provide a bit of color that yellow and white onions are lacking.


Cilantro: Cilantro-Santo is prized for its pungent, sharp aroma and flavor, a favorite in Mexican cuisine, and does not produce many seeds. Cilantro seeds germinate easily right in the garden or pot. Harvest the outside leaves first. Cilantro tends to lose strength when dried, so use it fresh or freeze it.



Dill: For container growing, we recommend Fernleaf Dill. It grows to a maximum height of 18 inches. Its leaves are used in salads and vinegars, while its seeds flavor breads, pickles, stews and rice. A dill garnish, complete with yellow blossoms, can make even your simplest meal more attractive. Dill does not grow back once harvested, but it can re-seed if seed heads are left to mature.



Mint: This prolific grower is the ultimate container herb, even if growing it outdoors. As anyone who has grown mint can tell you, it will take over any pot or garden spot it’s grown in, in relatively short order. Some herbs can share containers; not so with mint. It does, however, make a fantastically prolific and aromatic ground cover for a shady, moist place outside. You have choices, too: Chocolate, Orange, Peppermint and Spearmint are just a few.



Oregano: For culinary use, we recommend Golden Oregano, a milder variety, or Variegated Oregano, a colorful addition to Mediterranean cuisine. It will trail over the sides of its container but will only reach about 12 inches in height.


Parsley: Flat leaf Parsley varieties are said to have more intense flavor for cooking, but our Triple Curled Parsley plant is especially comfortable when grown in containers, even if grown indoors. You can combine the two in one planter for a more dramatic and much fuller look. Parsley is at its best when used fresh and it can add color as a garnish to almost every dish. It freshens breath when chewed, too! Parsley seeds start fairly easily.



Sage: Most often used with poultry, we suggest you try pairing sage with white beans, apples or green vegetables. Berggarten Sage does not flower and adapts very well to container gardening. Additionally, its thick, textured and uniquely colored leaves add variety to the collection in your herb garden. If you have an exceptionally sunny window or balcony, we highly recommend our Pineapple Sage plant. It smells like fresh-cut pineapple, produces gorgeous red flowers and will even attract hummingbirds. Sage can be started easily from seeds.



Tarragon: This perennial herb doesn’t start well from seeds, so we recommend you start with seedlings. French Tarragon is very adaptable to container growth, with a wonderful licorice-like flavor. Tarragon will grow well in partially shady areas, but do best with midday sunlight.



Thyme: You have choices when growing thyme, and we recommend you grow these three: English Thyme, French Thyme and Lemon Variegated Thyme. They all have a slightly different flavor, can be trimmed to keep a compact shape and are drought-tolerant. Well-drained soil and lots of sun will produce the best results, even in salty environs. We recommend, however, you purchase seedlings; thyme seeds tend to germinate slowly, if at all.

To get you started, take 10% off all herbs now until Friday, February 23. Use code TENOFFHERBS at checkout.

Now, go container hunting! Group your herbs, arrange and rearrange them, imagine your enhanced recipes, and get planting! 

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