Hydrangeas: When They Don’t Work And What You Can Do About It

I love hydrangeas!  I put them all in my garden but when they don’t work it can be frustrating.  Here are some common problems and what you can do about them.

1) Hydrangeas not blooming: This seems to be the number one problem people have with their hydrangeas, including me! The most common hydrangeas that have blooming issues are in the Macrophylla family or primarily the Endless Summer Hydrangeas. I have researched this in the past and concluded that I needed to fertilize them more but unfortunately, this hasn’t helped me. In fact, after even more research, I think it’s contributing to the problem. Too much fertilizing means your plants will grow nice and big and leafy but no blooms. Like mine here:


Another reason for no blooms is pruning at the wrong time. These plants really just need deadheading and shouldn’t need any hard pruning. Even in early spring, leave the “dead” looking stems alone so that the plant can grow and bloom from the “old” wood. I have been really good at this so I know this isn’t my problem.

Lastly is winter protection and late frosts. Even with the old wood not touched in the spring, it is exposed to elements and therefore the buds could have frozen preventing it from blooming. That coupled with my over fertilizing could be the problem. Although I am not sure what I am going to do about it as I don’t want to go another summer with no blooms. Yes, I am impatient and like most of you, I want a low maintenance garden.

Here is a link I found http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/hydra/msg0821023324059.html where others have wrapped their hydrangeas with Saran Wrap for the winter. I am not going to do that! Digging them up and giving them away may be another option for me. Any takers? I am curious to hear how your Endless Summers are doing (please post in the ‘Comment’ section below).


*** Update ***

I wanted to update everyone regarding my nonblooming hydrangea dilemma. As I strive for a low maintenance garden and my goal is to help my clients achieve that as well. I decided to remove the macrophylla varieties from my garden and for the most part, I no longer use them in my designs. The few I find growing nicely in other peoples garden I enjoy, longingly from a distance but I personally found them too much effort for the results I was having. The good news is since this original post, several new dwarf varieties of the paniculata hydrangea have been released. Little Lime, Little Quickfire and Bobo have really filled that spot for me in the garden, left by my Endless Summer variety. The dwarf varieties grow about 3 ft- 4 ft and bloom midsummer right through until the fall. 

Bobo Hydrangea
Bobo Hydrangea



Little Quickfire Hydrangea
Little Quickfire Hydrangea










2) My hydrangeas are too big! This is a common problem with Limelight Hydrangea or Hydrangea paniculata. They take a few years to get going but once they do they can crowd out other plants.

Hydrangeas too big

I really like them in the 5-foot range and tried to give them as much space as I could in my customers’ gardens. If you are finding them too big, now is NOT the time to cut them back. Please enjoy the blooms, trim them from the back to bring into the house but wait until March to do the heavy pruning needed to keep the size under control. If you feel that is too much work, you can relocate them to another sunny spot with more room and substitute your Limelight Hydrangea with Little Lime Hydrangea. Same great flower just only gets to 3 feet or so.

Hydrangeas floppy

3) Floppy hydrangeas: This is common with the Annabelle Hydrangea, the white shade loving hydrangea. This tends to happen when the shrub is cut back all the way to the ground during your fall or spring clean up. I know many people say they do this to control the size but it is contributing to the problem. Every time the plant regrows on new stems, they are too weak to support the heavy blooms (seems odd, I know but that’s Mother Nature for you). If you have been doing this or if you have a newly planted Annabelle Hydrangea, I have found it best to leave the shrub unpruned for a couple years to let the stems mature and thicken. Once it starts to need a bit of pruning, only prune one 3rd of the shrub, usually from the inside. The goal is that the older stems will continue to act as a support to the new stems. See close up of the brown (old) and green (new) stems:

Hydrangeas old and new stems

4) Cutting hydrangeas to bring in the house. I love doing this and so do my girlfriends. They come by every fall to snip some from the back of my plants to take some home. One tip I have is only cut blooms that have been open on the plant for a while, I find the newly opened blooms wilt.

I have tried 2 methods; Cutting them, removing their leaves and then putting them in a vase with about an inch of water. They will slowly take up the water and then slowly dry up from stem to bloom. Or I have done the tried and true method of tying the stems together and hanging them upside down until they dry. Keep out of direct sunlight for both methods. See pictures below.

Cut Limelight Hydrangeas
Cut Limelight Hydrangeas
Cut Annabelle Hydrangeas
Cut Annabelle Hydrangeas
Cut Annabelle and Limelight Hydrangeas
Similar yet different!

Here are some Limelight I dried a couple of years ago.

Limelight hydrangea dried

I hope you found these tips helpful for managing and enjoying the versatile hydrangea in your garden.

42 Responses to Hydrangeas: When They Don’t Work And What You Can Do About It

    Katherine Cappel

    3rd year Annabelle blooms are only about 4″ in diameter. Any ideas on why they aren’t bigger?

      Chris Alexander

      You may not be pruning them hard enough. Light pruning leads to smaller blooms like you describe whereas harder pruning produces bigger blooms.

    sara fernando

    My Bobo Hydrangea no leaves yet . we planted this plant last year august. still no leaves please advice what i should do ? Thank you

      Joanne Shaw

      Hi Sara, I think to be patient. We have hardly had consistent warm weather, seriously not 2 warms days in a row or 2 evenings. If they were planted in a sunny location I think they will be fine. Much of my garden has been slow as well. You can see if stems are bendable or brittle but with the snow cover we had I would be surprised if they didn’t survive.

        Joanne Shaw

        Just checking in to see how your hydrangeas are doing?

      Joanne Shaw

      Hi Sara,

      Just checking in to see how your hydrangeas are doing. Mine has leaves and only a few have buds.


    Hi I love your website / blog. In #2 “My Hydrangeas are too big” There is a lovely arrangement in the picture. Hydrangea then dogwood shrub but what is the plant at the bottom around the edge of the hardscape?



      Joanne Shaw

      Hi Peter,

      Thank you. The garden is bordered by dense yews. I eventually had to remove the dogwood. I loved the look they just didn’t have the room.



    I just bought 5 Annabelle hydrangeas, but realized too late they may have circospora leaf spot, or some other blight on the leaves. About 30% of the leaves are affected. Is it okay to completely cut the plants down to ground to remove all the stems and start from scratch? Will it send out new growth? I don’t think they’re going to bloom this summer anyway. I will make sure it doesn’t get any overhead watering (they’re under an overhang, so should be relatively protected from rain, too). I want to make sure there isn’t any more problems on the leaves, and keep this issues from spreading elsewhere in my garden. We still have about two months until our first frost (Zone 3) if that makes any difference. Thanks!


    Hi. I cut back my Annabelle hydrangea in March in zone 6 and it still has no leaves and looks dead. Some of the larger branches are alive but I don’t understand why it never came back after pruning. Any suggestions?

      Joanne Shaw

      I hope it has improved. This Spring was very cold and if you pruned it during the cold spell you may have set it back. I only dead head in the Spring. I think cutting iit back slows it down and makes it too floppy.


    Should I move my hydrangeas if they were not planted 4 feet apart.

      Joanne Shaw

      For me it depends on what variety they are. How long have they been there?

    Jessica Stephen

    Hello my Annabelle hydrangeas grew good last year, now this yeas 2 of them just remain dry sticks, I keep wetting them with no luck. Should I take them out as they’re not growing?

      Joanne Shaw

      Hi there
      That’s odd, they should be blooming. Easier for me if you send some pictures@ joanne@down2earth.ca
      How much light do they get and did you Trim them?


    Thanks for the info, ??
    You’ve been very helpful.


    What is the variegated plant in front of the hydrangeas in the 2nd picture under #2?

      Joanne Shaw

      Hi Katie,

      It is an Ivory halo dogwood. I did end up having to take it out of that spot because it was affecting the yew hedge.
      But they make a nice contrasting shrub with hydrangeas and they have red twigs for winter interest.

    Maura E Taylor

    I have a row of Endless Summer Hydrangea that are about 5 years old. They put out nice, big promising, flower heads, that then disappoint when less than half of the florets on the heads bloom. I don’t water unless there’s been no rain for 3 or more days. Beds get a layer of compost every Spring and a supplemental covering of cedar mulch. Any idea what’s going on?


    My little limes are planted facing west,at least 8hours of sun growing fine but falling over, whats problem.

    Arlene A Salsgiver

    Do I need c o cut off the. Browning leaves

      Joanne Shaw

      Hi Arlene,

      No, they can fall off naturally. No pruning or trimming required for your hydrangeas.

      Good luck.


    Jo Ann Goins

    How about lace cap hydrangeas?

      Joanne Shaw

      Depends on the variety. The ones that are in the Macrophylla are the challenging ones. I prefer the Paniculata family of hydrangeas.
      There are a few recent lacecaps varieties introduced in the Serrata family like Tuff Stuff. I have heard that they are more cold tolerant
      but I have not tested them myself, I have found the Paniculata a safer bet considering our unpredictable Springs.

    Patty Berry

    I just bought a Success with Hydrangeas book from Lorraine Ballston. I love your honesty here. Getting ready to purchase one …had two die from lack of knowledge. Green leaf from lowes.now going to use your advice. U are seasoned at it. Zone 9 in northern calif. Raining in March.

    Nancy Haley

    Love this information. It is so useful


    We had a really cold winter in Oklahoma & I didn’t have a chance to cover my endless summer plants so will they bloom this year? I just put some fertilizer around them this weekend.

    Shelley Johnson

    My Bobo hydrangeas still have last years dried up flowers on them. It is April 11 and I am wondering if I should prune the dead flowers off. There are no buds or leaves emerging yet. They are south facing

      Joanne Shaw

      Hi there,

      Sure go ahead and trim/ deadhead the dried flowers. I have done it for a few of mine so far but still, have to do the majority.
      It is early for buds as the evenings have been cool. Wait for the ground to dry up though with the rain we will be getting.

    Vivien G

    I am also disappointed with Endless Summer Hydrangeas. This is their last year if the blooms are as disappointing as previous years.
    I have a question – I need a fast growing small tree about 25/30 ft tall. Will Hydrangea Paniculata quickly grow that tall? I don’t care about flowers – I need to block the neighbour’s view. (Zone 6)

      Joanne Shaw

      Don’t wait, replace them now. They will not improve! 25 – 30 ft isn’t really a small tree. Serviceberries grow quick and do have flowers.
      Freeman maple will grow quickly but it’s a maple and will be big. I have London Plane trees as city trees and they have grown much after than the other street trees
      that were put in.
      Hope those help.

    Mauree n Cullen

    Triple super phosphate, bone meal and fish emulsion in early spring have produced buds on my macrophyllas! First in a long time.

    Word Train

    Good information.

    Melvina Germain

    Thank you so much, I pay attention to all tips. I have an endless summer that never blooms and I’m letting her go this year. Too bad I was looking forward to the color addition this plant offers…

      Joanne Shaw

      Little Quickfire will not disappoint if you want to give it a try.

    Haydee Schuler

    Your article is really detailed information, Tree Service Vancouver wants to thank you for posting your great article. I learn a lot from your article. Thanks again!

    Linda L Bland

    My hydrangeas didn’t get a full foot tall this year and never bloomed

    Helen M Kelley

    Most informative


    Why is my quick fire hydrangea’s blooms not turning pink?


    Are the blooms from a little lime Hydranea affected by sprinkler systems?

      Joanne Shaw

      Hi Peter,

      All hydrangea blooms or ” heads” could be affected by overhead watering, especially in a summer like we have had with a lot of rain.
      I would deadhead some of them to help encourage more blooms.


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