How to Prevent Planted Hydrangeas from Wilting
I LOVE hydrangeas!!! Love, love, LOVE. But, this is a fickle plant. Too much sun? She’ll wilt. Not enough water? She’ll wilt. Suffering from transplant shock? She might wilt too! The big-leaf variety, which are often called “Endless Summer” hydrangeas, are some of the prettiest flowers: but they can also be very difficult to grow. Panicle hydrangeas are much heartier, & don’t seem to suffer with the same issues. This article will mainly address the big-leaf variety, since they are one of spring’s most popular flowers: as we dicuss “How to Prevent Planted Hydrangeas from Wilting.”
A self-watering window box, or one that keeps a reservoir of water in its base, is a simple solution to keeping your hydrangeas watered ~ whether you’re in town or on vacation. You’ll just need to fill the reservoir about 1-2X per week, depending on how much sun the window box receives.
Quick Facts about Hydrangeas
- Common Types of Hydrangeas: Endless Summer (Big Leaf) Hydrangeas, Limelight (Panicle) Hydrangeas
- Hardiness Zones: 3 – 7
- Are Hydrangeas an Annual or Perennial? In zones 3 – 7, they’re perennial. In any other zone, you’ll only be able to grow them as an annual.
- Growth Rate: It depends. Certain types of hydrangeas grow quickly, but only if they’re in the right location ~ getting that perfect mix of sun & shade. But most hydrangeas will need at least 2 to 4 years to reach their full potential & size.
- Mature Size: It depends on the type. Some grow 2 to 3 feet tall & wide; others can grow up to 6-10 feet tall & wide. Climbing hydrangeas are another breed, & can be trained to grow up arbors & arches.
- Preferred Sun Exposure: Big leaf hydrangeas like the Endless Summer thrive in morning sun environments, unless you live in colder zones, like 3 & 4. Panicles can withstand full sun OR part-shade, which makes them the heartiest hydrangea.
- Which Type of Hydrangeas are Easiest to Grow? Panicle hydrangeas, which look more conical in shape. Full sun doesn’t wilt them in the way that it does with the big leaf varieties.
- Bloom Time: Typically, hydrangeas bloom anytime from late spring all the way through early fall, with some taking a break in the heat of summer.
- How Much Water Do Hydrangeas Need? A LOT ~ & big-leafs need more than panicles. Hydrangeas should be deeply watered at least 3x per week during the growing season, amounting to about 1 inch per week.
How to Prevent Planted Hydrangeas from Wilting
The two biggest considerations when planting big-leaf hydrangeas, to prevent them from wilting are: 1) WHERE you plant them, & 2) WHEN/WHAT TIME OF YEAR you plant them.
- WHERE TO PLANT: In my Zone 6 garden, “Endless Summer” hydrangeas have to be planted in a spot that’s protected from the afternoon sun. The ideal spot I’ve found for them is on my front portch ~ which gets morning sun until about 12PM, & then it’s totally shaded in the afternoon. For my climate, this works perfectly. It prevents their leaves from getting those dreaded brown spots, & also prevents blooms from shriveling up & wilting.
How to Troubleshoot This: Before planting your hydrangeas, set them in the area you wish to plant them in. Leave them there for a few days, water them, & see how they do. If the blooms start wilting before you’ve even planted them: this isn’t the right spot. Move them somewhere else, or into a container in a shady spot, & see how they do.
- WHEN TO PLANT: Even when you get the “where” part right ~ you may still run into issues with regard to when/what time of year you plant them. Case in point: I planted three hydrangeas in my front porch area, that’s shaded in the afternoon. BUT, I happened to plant two on a 60-degree day….right before an 82-degree day. Those hydrangeas are showing some brown spots, & one lost all its blooms. The third hydrangea though, was planted on a 60-degree day ~ right before a good rain, & a string of 65-degree days. This hydrangea is doing fantastic, with big beautiful white blooms.
So what’s the point here? It’s important to plant your hydrangeas during that perfect time in spring: where there’s no danger of nighttime frost ~ BUT, also not a string of really warm days. From my experience, big-leaf hydrangeas really thrive in that 45-75 degree temperature range, & that’s also the ideal range to get them “settled in” after planting. An 80 or 90-degree day, a few days after being planted may stress or shock them to the point where they lose their blooms…& you definitely don’t want this.
So look at your calendar: find a good 10-day stretch of weather where there’s no frost at night ~ but also a stretch of days between 50-70 degrees. This should allow them to settle in & get some roots going before the warmth of summer hits.
Other Ways to Troubleshoot: If your climate or zone has very changeable & hard-to-predict weather, like mine in Central Oregon, you may be better off planting your hydrangeas in a pot. That way, you can move the pot around if necessary, as the seasons change (i.e. during summer, you can move to a shadier spot). This may be one of the easiest ways to prevent the wilting issue that hydrangeas are so prone to having.
ALL my potted hydrangeas tend to thrive. To keep their soil moist, I use self-watering terra cotta spikes in addition to self-watering or using drip irrigation.
More Tips to Prevent Hydrangeas from Wilting…
- Placement, placement, placement! Or as they say in real estate: location, location, location!! This is the #1 thing that will make or break your hydrangeas. Study your garden. Realize that the sun moves throughout the year, & a spot that’s shaded in the spring may become very sunny in the summer (this happened to me, & I had to move an umbrella to “shade” a favored hydrangea ~ but ultimately, this didn’t work). If you get the location wrong: you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Study…& get the location right the first time.
- Don’t plant hydrangea(s) until you’ve “tested out” a location first. Leave the hydrangea for a few days in the spot where you want to plant it ~ & see how she does. Any signs of wilting blooms or brown spots on leaves indicates that this isn’t a spot where she’ll thrive.
- Before you plant hydrangeas, answer the question: How will they be watered? Are they near a sprinkler system, or on drip irrigation? If the answer is “neither,” & you plan to water the hydrangeas yourself: this is a dangerous proposition. I’d give this an 80% chance of failure, unless the hydrangeas are mainly in the shade. If this is your plan, I strongly suggest buying terracotta watering spikes that will help “self-water” your hydrangeas.
- Wait to plant hydrangeas until you’ve got a good stretch of 50-70 degree days. If you plant before a warm spell: this can really stress hydrangeas out. Conversely, their blooms don’t love a frost ~ though the plant itself can usually handle it. Wait for a 10-day stretch of 40-75 degree weather to plant your hydrangeas, & this will give them the best chance for success.
- Mulch, mulch, MULCH!! Any plants covered in mulch have a better chance of survival: but for hydrangeas, it’s crucial. Get black, brown, or red mulch from your local home improvement store ~ & layer it ALL around hydrangeas after planting. This extra layer helps keep moisture right at the hydrangea’s roots, where she needs it most.
- Don’t let hydrangea soil dry out: this is a recipe for disaster. Again, mulch really helps here, along with frequent watering.
- Consider getting self-watering terracotta “drip spikes,” particularly for potted hydrangeas. Even if your hydrangeas are on a drip system: these self-watering spikes can’t hurt. You fill the spike with water, & then the water slowly releases out the bottom, as needed. I get mine from Amazon & have them in nearly all my potted plants, as a “back-up.” If you’d like to put your hydrangeas in a pretty window box, consider buying a self-watering one ~ that you only need to fill up 1-2X per week, vs. having to water daily.
- And if ALL this fails, & your garden just gets too much sun, or you can’t find the right shady spot: consider investing in Limelight or Panicle hydrangeas instead. Once I plant panicles ~ I never think about them again. They’re super hearty, more like a woodland shrub. They’ve got a different *look* than big-leafs, but their pretty pink & white blooms are also stunning…with less headache.