Q: My mophead hydrangeas are full of dried-up sticks and only have green leaves at the base of the plant. What do I do now?
A: Mophead hydrangeas, those wonderful, blooming plants, have become a huge favorite in recent years. Their fabulous colors, long blooming period and lovely rounded shape have sent gardeners to the nurseries in droves.
Unfortunately, this is the year that the downside of these usually reliable plants is revealed. Mopheads set their buds at the tips of stems over the summer. Those tight buds mature over the winter, then open the following spring. Last winter's severe temperatures damaged or killed those juicy stems to the ground. The dried branches on your plants should be clipped off about about a foot from the ground. They are probably completely dead. One green leaf at the tip will probably just become an eyesore, so cut them back and count it as a deep pruning. Be careful not to injure the nice new fat leaves that are emerging.
The bad news is that, since this is all new growth and hasn't had time to develop buds, there is very little likelihood that you will have blooms this summer. Some of the fancier hybrids, like the aptly named "Endless Summer," bloom on new and old growth. You might get some late blooms on those varieties of mophead.
On the classic mopheads, it is possible that, if we have a long, nourishing season, they may put out a few undersized flowers. All you can do now is remove all dead stems and protect the new growth. Keep the new foliage well watered as the season gets hot and dry. Hope for some blooms, but do not give up on the plants, they have had a terrible winter. One year of poor results is a small price to pay for these hard-working standards.
Contact Pat Lea at firstname.lastname@example.org.