Dear Hydrangea Enthusiasts,

Welcome to the April 2008 edition of Hydrangeas Plus® newsletter.  We're getting busy here at Hydrangeas Plus®.  Orders just keep on coming.  I'm starting to run out of varieties so order, order and order again.

Our second annual on-site retail sale was great.  The weather was gorgeous on Saturday.  Let's not talk about Sunday - guess what, it rained!  And rained.  I'll have to do a little better planning next year.  Not only was Sunday Easter but the start of spring break here in Oregon.

Weather here has been cold, cold, cold.  We've had several frosts this week in the Willamette Valley.  This week, we've seen sun, thunder clouds, snow, hail and rain.  A weather alert came last week talking about a hard frost this weekend but I think we're safe.  They revised the forecast to 31 degrees.  I thought it was supposed to be spring.  At least we get a little sunshine mixed with the rain.  We've seen some beautiful rainbows this year.

The one-year plants are weeks away from being ready.  These are our one year size growing in a 3.5" plastic pot.  I will have most varieties available but there were a few I didn't quite get ready in time.  I will make these available as soon as they are ready to ship.  I suspect it will be April 16th for some and April 30th for the others.  We just need some warmer temperatures to get those roots growing.

A winter tip – Pruning
If you forgot to prune your hydrangeas last fall, don't worry, you can still prune them in the spring.  Unlike many of your other flowering bushes (roses & buddleia), hydrangeas should not be harshly pruned in the spring.  Most mophead and lacecap hydrangea varieties bloom on old wood and if you cut too much, you won't get any blooms.  Once your plant starts to leaf out, you can see the leaf nodes beginning to form.  Count back from the end of the plant such that you have at least three fat and healthy leaf nodes forming.  Prune right above the third one.  That is, after the pruning, you'll have three of the fattest leaf nodes remaining.  Be sure that you leave nice plump buds.  Wait until leaves are starting to show before you prune your macrophyllas so you don't prune too much.

When in doubt, just cut off the dried bloom heads from last year.  The new leaves will grow around these old heads even if you don't cut them.  But, each cut you do will give you two branches and two future blooms.

The Paniculata and Arborescens varieties bloom on new wood so you may cut them for size every year, spring or fall, what ever is most convenient for you.  Cut these for size.  These varieties will put on one foot to three feet of growth in one year depending on the amount of sun.

A spring tip – Fertilizing
It's almost time to start fertilizing those hydrangeas.  My rule of thumb is when the leaves start showing through the leaf nodes, it's time for an application of time release fertilizer. 

What do your hydrangeas need in terms of fertilizing?  The three essential components of fertilizer are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, the N-P-K numbers on any fertilizer.  Nitrogen is for healthy green growth by helping the plant to grow chlorophyll.  Fertilizers high in nitrogen like 25-10-10, is great for greening up your lawn.  Phosphorus helps a plant grow good roots and stems in the early growth season then in flower production.  A mix like 10-30-10 is great for flowers on your annuals and perennials.  The Potassium (K) helps your plants generate and process nutrients.  Other important elements in fertilizers are calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, and sulfur.  Organic fertilizers are usually very low in these trace elements.

Hydrangeas like a balanced fertilizer.  We prefer the granular  time released kind that delivers nutrients to the plant over a 3 or 4 month period.  Water will break down the outside coating of the fertilizer slowly and nutrients  won't dwindle out in the active spring growth season.  Be sure that the soil is slightly moist when applying the granulated variety and keep the fertilizer off the foliage to prevent burn.

For blue hydrangeas, a low phosphorus element (the ‘P’) is important as too much will limit the plant's ability to absorb aluminum.  The amounts of sulfur (lowers pH) and calcium (raises pH) are important to keep the blue color.  A good soil test from you local garden center can tell you what elements are missing from your soil.

Did you know that Hydrangeas Plus®) has it's own fertilizer for hydrangeas?  Just $5.50 for a two pound bag.  Good for other shrubs too.

Happenings around Oregon
We are gearing up for Gardenpalooza at Fir Point Farms in Aurora, Oregon.  This is the 6th Annual Gardenpalooza scheduled for Saturday, April 5th from 8am to 4pm.  Come visit us at Fir Point on Arndt Road.  I'll pick some special varieties just for the occasion.  There will be 40 vendors there selling their plants and other goodies.

Annual ‘Overstocks’ spring sale is April 26th-May 10th, 8am to 5pm everyday here at the nursery.  Directions at
No presales are allowed.  I'm not sure what I'll have left over but I'll have lots of hydrangeas.  We also sell lots of other plant material so come visit and see what cool new shrub you can find.

Special offer until April 30th ONLY
Free Shipping!!!  For orders over $200, you will not be charged for shipping.  Sorry, this special only applicable to online orders and is not applicable with any other offers.  Remember, this is only for until April 30th so get those orders in soon.  We're starting to run out of plants so hurry!!  Just type in 'FREE SHIP' in the coupon code section on the order form once your order for plants exceeds $200.  For those of you in colder zones, please note you can specify a later ship date and still get this Free Shipping offer.  This offer applies to orders shipped anytime this through June 15th.

If you have trouble with the coupon I will change your order to reflect the free shipping.  This is only available to plants available now.  No pre orders for hydrangeas that aren't ready for shipping this month.

Never to early to start thinking about Mother's Day
How about a special hydrangea for that special Mother in your life.  We've got hydrangeas!  And gift certificates.  Mother's Day is May 11th so order by May 5th, Noon, EST to get the hydrangea to that special lady.

Commonly Asked Questions

Q:   I need to give my pink hydrangeas some help in staying pink.  I have taken notes from your newsletter and found my notes that states I need to apply 10/10/10 slow release fertilizer.  It says I need garden lime to keep my hydrangeas pink so I was about to steal some lime from the supply for the pasture....but, also have a note about needing super phosphate and that part has me puzzled.  Can you shed any light on this?  I really appreciate it.

A:  The two methods you mention (lime or superphosphate) are the two ways I've mentioned in the past to keep pink blooms. 
The reason hydrangeas turn blue is the aluminum in the soil will be absorbed in acidic conditions.  The aluminum causes a chemical reaction in the petal changing it to blue.  If you can stop the absorption, you can get pink blooms.
One, raise the pH of the soil = lime.  But, I've had a real tough time with this method.  Our rain and make up of the soil plus the fact that garden lime doesn't stay for long, add up to lots of work.  Luckily you have a good supply of lime for the pasture.  Don't overdo it but once every three or four weeks, about a 1/4 cup per foot of hydrangea (1 cup if you hydrangea is about 4 feet tall) around the drip line may help.  Again it depends on our rainfall.  it will wash away faster if we get lots of rain.  Start as soon as you see leaf buds forming.
Two, stop the absorption of aluminum.  This is where the super phosphate fertilizer comes in.  On a fertilizer box, there are three numbers NPK.  It's the 'P' part.  If you have bulbs, you probably use super phosphate when you plant them.  Follow the directions for application.
Note on fertilizer, fertilizer is totally different than trying to get pink.  The balanced fertilizer I recommend is just for general care.  Fertilize if you have trouble keeping your leaves green in the summer months.  I rarely fertilize my hydrangeas.
Okay, back on track for pink hydrangeas.  The final method I just learned from another hydrangea grower was to disrupt the root system.  This time of year, take a sharp spade and around the drip line, make a sharp cut into the ground.  It doesn't have to be exact but form a circle with cuts.  This will disrupt the root systems and it will take a year or two or maybe three for them to absorb the aluminum again.  I just tried this but in theory, it sounds like it works.  I've transplanted hydrangeas before and those that were once blue, stay pink for a few years.
For those of us with acidic soil, I recommend growing hydrangeas in containers where you can use potting mix without the acidic conditions of our ground.  You'll get pink every time.
Thank  you for your question.

Q:   I live in Marietta GA and we have had a stage 4 drought for several years. I've lost most of my hydrangeas due to not be allowed to water. I want to replace them, but because we are still in a drought I'd like to put them in very large containers I've bought that can go on my patio. (We are allowed to use our bath water so I can water them this way). Will Hydrangeas live ok in containers? The containers are about 3' x 3' with a drain in the bottom.

A:  So sorry about your drought and losing your hydrangeas.  I'm afraid you're not alone.
Hydrangeas can grow well in pots! Select the smaller varieties (2 to 3 feet or 3 to 4 foot varieties). Be sure than the container is very well draining and you use soil that doesn't compact easily. Good potting mix is usually the best. In your area, you may need to bring the pots indoors so that the roots don't freeze in the winter months. The plants will be dormant and won't need much water.

Your afternoon sun maybe a bit troublesome. The best for containers are the hydrangeas that grow less than 4'. Here's some of my favorites

2 to 3 feet
Serrata Blue Billow
Serrata Diadem

3 to 4 feet
Serrata Beni Gaku
Blue Danube
Merritt's Supreme
Mont Forte Pearl
Miss Belgium
Ami Pasquier
Serrata Blue Deckle

Larger varieties will be okay in containers like you describe for a year or two, but will outgrow that size.

Q:  From last year (2006)  I was wondering when the best time was to take off the winter protection that I have put on my hydrangeas. I put burlap around them and then put leaves inside the burlap. It's starting to get warm here (zone 6) but the cold weather isn't gone for good yet, it's too early. Should I take off the covering and just watch out for frosts or is it just too early yet?
A:   Great question!  I haven't answered this one yet this winter.
Don't let the warm weather fool you but the sooner you can get the wraps off the plants, the better for the plants.  Unwrap one and look at the stage of leaf.  If you can see leaf edges (not just leaf buds) it's a good time to take off the covering.
If you get severely cold weather (20s), you'll need to wrap and mulch them up really well again.  Definitely watch out for frosty nights (30 to 35 degrees) and cover the plants for the night.  The reason it's so critical is you don't want to lose the blooms due to the hard frost.  You shouldn't lose the plant but blooms will be much more sparse if you get a hard frost.
I'm referring to the macrophylla type hydrangeas here.  Paniculatas, Serrata, Oakleaf, deciduous climbers should all be still mostly dormant and these varieties are much more frost damage resistant.

Q:  I am interested in the Hydrangea Paniculata Grandiflora - Tree Form, and  have a few questions.  1. What would be the size of the tree?  2. How old would the tree be? 3. Does it ship in root form?  4.  What would be the shipping cost?  5. If place an order, how long until it ships?

A:  The trees are dormant and about 4 feet tall.  The trees are grafted so the base is about 3 years old, branching system, 2 years old.  This is the only product we ship bare root so we must ship before May 5th, 2008.  I may be able to stretch that to the 12th of May but as soon as the leaves start showing, I can't ship safely and the tree may not transplant successfully.

Cost is about $20 - $25 but we charge just actual shipping for the trees.  I can ship two for that price.  The box is 65 x 9 x 9 and it's the shape (oversized) that makes it so expensive to ship.  I ship UPS or USPS depending on your order total.  If you include plants, I need to use expedited shipping versus ground.

I ship on Mondays and Tuesdays and cut off for Tuesday shipping is typically noon EST on Monday.  The week of April 7th, the cut off will be Friday, April 4th at noon.

I hope I answered all your questions.  Trees will grow quickly once out of dormancy.  They typically grow at least 2 feet sometimes 3 in one growing season.

Q:  How can I tell what kind of soil that I have the Acidic soil or the neutral soil /no aluminum?

A:  To see if you have acidic soil, get a pH test.  There are kits you can buy or send a soil sample to a lab.  Our agriculture college extension office will do soil tests for $12.  It will tell you not only pH but other components as well.  Most soil does have naturally occurring aluminum but the pH of the soil must be acidic for the plant to absorb the aluminum and realize the pigment change.
Kits are about $15 here in Oregon and there are several kits available on the market.  Each brand will have several test papers in the kit.  These are not as advanced but it will be close for your purposes.  Remember, below 7.0, hydrangeas will be more blue & purple.  Ideal pH for hydrangeas is about 5.5 to 6.0.  Aluminum occurs naturally in most soil.  It doesn't stay around very long in artificial media (potting mix, for instance) so if you want blue hydrangeas in containers, use the aluminum sulfate in small doses.
Q:  What do I need to make my hydrangeas bloom? I've had them for three years and they have never bloomed. The foliage is very healthy and prolific. What's wrong here?  (PA)
The reasons why hydrangeas don't bloom are usually (1) too much pruning (2) improper pruning time (3) weather - too cold or transition to winter/summer too drastic (4) too much shade (5) too much fertilizer.
The most common reason is too much pruning or pruning too late (prune in fall or not too much in the spring). From what you mention and where you live, perhaps it's the late spring frosts, after the plant has leafed out, that damages the plant's ability to bloom.  Over Easter weekend in 2007, many of the east and southeast states had that awful freeze.  There's not much that can be done for the plants when it gets that cold.
Finally, don't overfeed your hydrangeas.  Too much nitrogen in the fertilizer and you grow great leaf! but fewer blooms.  If the plants aren't getting yellow leaves or general health issues, don't fertilize too much in the spring.
I hope that helps.  Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

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Kristin VanHoose
Hydrangeas Plus®