Dear Hydrangea Enthusiasts,

Welcome to the April 2013 edition of the Hydrangeas Plus« e-mail newsletter.  We hope that you have hydrangeas on the brain!  We are starting to see some buds on the serrata and early blooming macrophylla types.  It’s a little early for us but with the beautiful (non-rain) weather we’ve been having, it is no wonder these plants are flourishing.

Kristin was a little late getting this newsletter together.  Sorry for being so tardy.  We’re doing inventory and taxes – her two favorite April activities. Really!

Spring tip – Your Hydrangeas and soil
I always talk about the importance of good soil and its ability to drain well.  Most areas don’t have perfect soil but there are lots of things you can do to improve your soil and grow better hydrangeas.  Good soil is important for root growth and supplying water to the hydrangeas leaf and stem structure but most importantly, the flowers.  Here are a few tests to see what kind of soil you have in your garden.

Drainage test – Dig a hole about 6 inches deep and one foot wide and fill it entirely with water.  Let the water drain out of the hole completely.  Fill the hole again and record the time it takes to drain the second time.

If the water drains in three hours or less, your soil is most likely draining too quickly.  Chances are your soil is somewhat sandy.  If the water drains in four to six hours, your soil is draining just perfectly.  You have rich, great soil for hydrangeas.  If the water drains in eight hours or more, the soil has poor drainage typically common with clay-like soil.
Root test – Dig gently around a selected plant, preferably an annual weed or something that was going to moved and thrown out anyway.  Pull out the plant from the soil gently making sure that the root system stays intact.  Check the root system of the plant.  If there are many fine strands of roots that are bright white and healthy in appearance, you have great soil.  If the roots are stunted, lopsided or otherwise dingy, you have poor soil. 

Compact test – Spear a wire rod (we use a 4mm or ╝” gage wire) into the soil.  Mark the depth of penetration – the sooner it bends, the more compact the soil.  The ideal condition for most shrubs is about one foot.

Dirty Thumb test – Dig a hole about 6 to 10 inches deep.  Separate a section of your soil, intact, about the size of your two palms cupped together.  Is your soil granular, powdery or clumpy?  The best type of soil will clump in small but breakable consistencies.

Let’s say you your soil didn’t pass one test (or very few).  Here are some great components that can be added to improve your soil:  Grass clippings, clean and disease free leaves, homemade compost, aged manure, mushroom compost, store bought potting mix.  Mix these into the soil in early spring a few weeks before you begin planting or as a mulch after planting.  For more information, call your local university extension office. 

What's happening at Hydrangeas Plus«

We are offering an April special for our customers.  No coupon code required!!  For orders over $99, receive 10% off the plant/plus item purchases.  For orders over $199, receive a 20% discount off the plant/plus item purchases.  For orders over $299, receive a 30% discount of the plant/plus item purchases.  These discounts are based on the total dollar amount of plant and/or plus item purchases exclusive of shipping charges.  Shipping charges will still apply!  You won’t see the discounts until you are in the payment screen of the check out field.  Good through April 30th!  Continental United States orders only, please.

Our annual ‘Overstocks’ spring sale is April 27th-May 11th, 10am to 4pm everyday.  We’ll have lots of hydrangeas but not every variety.  This is our annual “Spring Cleaning” sale where we sell everything we have left over and make room for more plants.  I’m not sure what we’ll have for sure so you’ll just have to wait and see.  There are directions at  No presales will be allowed and we ask that pets stay at home for safety reasons.  We have more than just hydrangeas, too.

Mother’s day specials will be online in a few weeks (after we set up for the spring sale).

Here are some other upcoming dates to mark on your calendar!
June 15th we’ll be selling plants at Sebright Gardens in Salem, OR
July 15th we’ll be selling plants at Dancing Oaks Nursery in Monmouth, OR

Commonly Asked Questions (back by popular demand!)
Q:   Hi, I purchased some hydrangeas from the grocery store. I know that two of them are pink macrophylla. Can these be planted outside? I live in zone 5,6 in upstate NY. The other three that I bought do not have a tag that say which kind they are? So I guess my other question is can all hydrangeas be planted outside, or is there a hydrangea that is just a houseplant?
A:    The forced varieties are really similar to the outdoor varieties and it could grow like one eventually.  I’m really not an expert on growing hydrangeas indoor.  I buy the grocery store varieties during the winter so there are at least some blooms but they are usually moved outdoors within the year.

Hydrangeas like slightly acidic soil.  In the artificial media that most of these forced plants are grown, you'll need to keep the acidity level up (i.e., the pH level down).  Tea leaves, coffee grounds or aluminum sulfate can help because they are acidic. 

Most varieties used in florist trade grow very quickly and may not be healthy if grown inside without moving the plant to a larger pot every few months.  You may need to cut off the blooms because they can’t get enough water.  Commercial growers use growth regulators to keep them small, too.  Plants need to outgrow this chemical to behave like normal garden hydrangeas.

If you do move it outside, be sure that you don't move it until the last chance of cold weather has passed and there is no chance of any frost.  My general rule of thumb is don't move the forced hydrangea outside until the outside hydrangeas are at the same stage of leaf.  That can be April, May or June, depending on your area.

Q: Help!! The slugs are eating my hydrangeas.  What do I do?   
A:  Slugs and snails love hydrangeas.  My recommendation is get some slug and snail bait.  There are many brands that are not harmful to pets or children (Sluggo and Worryfree).  There are some new brands on the market that are made with iron phosphate that actually help plants grow but they are not as effective as these chemical alternatives.  As for natural solutions, you may pick them off and cut them with sharp pruners early in the morning before the sun is completely out.  Some other less tiring methods are broken eggshells, a small flat container full of fresh beer, a 2-liter plastic bottle with the top cut off with just a little beer at one end, or add frogs, toads or ducks to your garden – they love slugs and snails.

Q: I live in zone 6, the soil around my house is not really acidic but I would like to plant one of your blue hydrangeas.  Do you have any tips on how to acidify my soil to help ensure a healthy blue color? 
A:  Acidity levels need to be around 5.5 - 6.0 on the pH scale.  Buy a meter that will tell you your acidity level.  I've seen them around Portland, OR for about $20.  This will tell you what works for you and what doesn't in terms of changing the pH.

The most common method for getting blue hydrangeas is aluminum sulfate.  The aluminum is what the hydrangea actually absorbs to turn the pigments blue and the sulfate will lower the pH and allow the hydrangea to more readily absorb the aluminum.  Be aware that you can burn both new and established plants by applying too much or too often.  For a more natural method, apply coffee grounds, evergreen tree needles, citrus peel rinds, rusty nails or pennies.  These things will all lower the pH.  With the increasing popularity of blueberries in the garden, garden sulfur (Hollytone) is often available in your local garden centers in the spring.  It is great for hydrangeas too!

Fertilize with a product that is very low in Phosphate.  Phosphate limits the absorption of aluminum.  Check your water.  If you are on well water, the water could be very alkaline and all the above items won't work well if you keep irrigating with sweet (alkaline) water.

Pick the right variety.  Some hydrangeas will never get deep dark blue no matter what you do.  The deepest possible blues are GB Kuhnert, Altona, Europa, Enziandom, Hamburg, Marechal Foch, and Mathilda Gutges (just to name a few)

Kristin VanHoose
Hydrangeas Plus«