Is my Hydrangea Dead or Dormant?

Beautiful Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas (Source: Unsplash)

Hydrangea bushes boast large, colorful flowers that grow throughout spring and summer but withdraw during fall and winter; hence, seeing a dormant plant is not unusual.

However, failing to blossom or grow altogether in the following spring may indicate that your plant is suffering from winter stress or simply dying.

Therefore, it is vital to make a clear separation between a dormant and dying plant.

Check whether Hydrangea is dead or dormant by scratching the stem surface. No green stems underneath with zero sprouts may indicate a dead plant, while a live branch but no growth indicates a winter stressed plant.

Healthy Hydrangea flower
Healthy Hydrangea flower (Source: Pixabay.com)

While reviving a dormant or dying plant is very much possible, trying to save a dead plant may not be worthwhile.

Read on to find out how to save your Hydrangea from winter and bring the wilting plant back to life before it is too late.

What Kills Hydrangea or Pushback the Growth?

Hydrangea naturally sheds blossoms and foliage and stalls new growth in winter, which may continue until early spring.

However, suppose they do not show any growth or blossoms even until May. In that case, it may indicate that they are experiencing a “winter kill” or is almost dead from poor conditioning.

These Hydrangeas are usually suffering from one or more adverse conditions caused by several factors, including:

1. Cold Location

Hydrangeas are a very climate-appropriate plant and need a temperate condition that is neither too cold nor hot.

Even when dormant, these plants grow multiple bare stalks that will continue to grow further in spring.

They grow best in temperatures between 50° and 60°F, while placing them in a location with significant cold drafts and high winds may push back its growth altogether.

You would know it when the foliage starts turning purple and wilted, which later becomes brown or black.

Note: While some Hydrangea species can survive cold temperatures, many houseplant Hydrangeas fail to thrive altogether—especially Hydrangea quercifolia and bigleaf hydrangea.

2. Too Bright Location

A temperate-climate-loving plant, Hydrangea foliage does not fare well under a sunny location.

They enjoy shaded locations with adequate warm sunlight in the morning and noon but may not do so well in full sunlight.

Faded Hydrangea Flowers
Faded Hydrangea Flowers (Source: Pexels.com)

If the leaves start drooping with blossoms bleaching out (whitening severely), it may suggest that the plant is getting too much sunlight.

Note: Unless you own Quercifolia and macrophylla species of Hydrangea, you should know not to keep your plant in a too bright location.

Exposing them to too much sunlight may damage the foliage, blossoms and impact new growths.

3. Inadequate Watering

Hydrangeas thrive in moist soil, but they do not enjoy extraordinarily damp or dry conditions. Both over and underwatering the plant may impact its healthy growth.

Too little watering may cause wilting leaves, while excess watering may produce yellowed leaves and shed prematurely.

Overwatered Hydrangea also suffers from stunted flower growth that resembles a cold, stressed plant.

In some cases, too humid soil conditions may invite fungus infestation leading to root rot and a dead plant.

4. Untimely Pruning

Many Hydrangea species bloom on old stems. These “old woods” are last year’s growth that gives out new blossoms.

Therefore, cutting off stems, foliage, and flower at the wrong time of the year may push back its growth.

Prune them right after they stop blooming in summer, but avoid pruning them in late fall, winter, or spring to prevent trimming newly forming buds.

Snipping off all their bud may encourage very unexciting foliage next year.

Plants that are pruned right before winter may suffer from plant stress, causing stalled growth.

Quick Tip: Not every Hydrangea species needs pruning, especially Vine Hydrangea are not usually pruned.

5. Differing USDA Zones

Most hydrangea species grow well in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8, while some manage to succeed in zone 9 or 10 as well.

Trying to grow cold-tolerant Hydrangea species in USDA hardiness zone 9 or above may leave the plant dry and wilted.

When growing a hydrangea, you should care about choosing the suitable species appropriate to your region.

Hydrangeas found in high USDA temperature zones such as Zone 9 or above are grown to attract pollinators.

These warm temperature-loving species, Quercifolia and Macrophylla, may experience cold stress when grown in USDA hardiness zone 6 or lesser.

Moreover, the plant’s lighting, watering, and pest control requirements may differ from one USDA zone to another.

How Do I Know If My Hydrangea is Dead?

A dying Hydrangea gives out signals that resemble a dormant plant. To identify the exact problem, you would need to inspect the issues more closely.

1. Fallen Leaves and Withered Flowers

  • Dried leaves and flowers that fall off may indicate that your plant is dead.
  • However, these symptoms alone are not enough to attest that your plant is dead.
  • Check for other signs, including stalled growth and dead stems, to identify a dead plant.

Learn more about Why is Your Anthurium Houseplant Losing Flowers?

2. Stalled Growth

  • Stalled growth is one of the earliest signs of a dead Hydrangea but is only visible in the growing season.
  • The plant’s stalled growth is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as dead leaves, flowers, and withered stems.

3. Dead Stems

  • Scratch the dried stem surface to find green flesh underneath.
  • If it lacks green flesh, you should know that your plant is already dead.
Dead Hydrangea Plant
Dead Hydrangea Plant (Source: Pixabay.com)

Lemongrass like Hydrangea may suffer from harsh cold as well, learn more about how to grow back your lemongrass

How Do I Know If My Hydrangea Survived the Winter?

If your Hydrangea shows stalled growth even during the spring, it is time to diagnose it for a winter kill.

Although the plant becomes dormant during winter, it should start sprouting in spring.

Find out if your plant is suffering from a winter kill or about to die by scratching the stem surface to locate green stems underneath.

The visible green stem indicates that the plant is still alive but suffering from cold.

A dead Hydrangea may exhibit similar signs of a dormant plant, but you may find dried stem underneath when you scratch the stem surface.

The next step is to revive your winter stressed plant.

How to Revive a Winter Stressed or Dying Plant?

Drought, frost damage, too much sun, or transplant shock may push back Hydrangea’s healthy growth and, in some cases, even kill them.

Unfortunately, you cannot revive a dead Hydrangea, but saving a dying plant may be possible.

A dying Hydrangea Bush may give out the following symptoms.

SymptomsCauses
Drooping LeavesDrought, too much sun, and fast-draining soil
Yellow and Dried FoliageExcessive direct sunlight
Brown or Black FoliageLate Frost and excess fertilizing
Stunted GrowthPlant shock due to improper transplanting or root burn
Wilted leaves and stunted growthWaterlogging, poor drainage, and boggy soil

Here are the symptoms and solutions of a dying plant in detail.

1. Drooping Leaves

Drooping Hydrangea leaves, accompanied by wilted flowers and brownish foliage, may indicate severe drought conditions.

Although too much heat may cause drooping leaves on Hydrangea, other significant causes include

  • Not enough watering
  • Soil draining too quickly
  • Too much nitrogen
  • Failing to retain moisture due to dense soil

Hydrangea naturally thrives in moist soil. Its shallow root system needs damp soil conditions to grow feeder roots.

Leaving the potting mix dry may impact the roots’ growth, causing drooping leaves.

In severe cases, the lack of moisture in the soil causes plant foliage and blossoms to wilt or give out few flowers.

Solutions

  • Generously water your plant once a week and let the excess water drain out.
  • Choose a potting mix that contains organic matter, such as compost and leaf mulch, that helps retain moisture.
  • Avoid using fast-draining sandy soil mix that dries out quickly.
  • Hydrangea is not a heavy feeder, so cut back on fertilizing using balanced plant food diluted to half the strength.
  • Most hydrangea species grow best in partial shade, such as under the tree

2. Yellow and Dried Foliage

Yellowing leaves that feel dry with a wilted appearance may indicate too much sunlight.

Yellowed leaves on one side while the other side has a natural green color suggest that the plant is getting too much sun.

Placing the plant in a well-lit location that receives more than six hours of sunlight can scorch their leaves.

Along with yellowing and dried foliage, you may notice wilted flowers. In severe cases, the plant can die of excess heat.

Wilted Hyddrangea
Wilted Hydrangea (Source: Pixabay.com)

Solutions

  • Move them from a well-lit location to a shaded area that blocks direct sunlight.
  • Move them to the east or west-facing window that receives mild sunlight in the morning or noon.
  • Trim the shoots with badly affected leaves and blossoms to stimulate new growth.

3. Frost Damage

The plant experiencing frost damage may give out black or brown foliage and flower.

It is mainly accompanied by a stunted growth that becomes vivid in the spring.

Frost Damage is more familiar with USDA Zone 8 or above Hydrangeas are grown close to open sources such as windows, patio, or garden.

They are more susceptible to damage from late frosts in spring and early frost in the fall.

A common enemy of houseplants, frost damage primarily affects the new growths in the spring and may prevent flower buds from developing.

Solutions

  • Start with pruning back significantly damaged growths with a pruning shear, but avoid cutting back into wood that may prevent new growth altogether.
  • Avoid fertilizing in late summer—the new, tender growth is more susceptible to frost damages.
  • Consider bringing them inside Hydrangea species of USDS Zone 8 or above when the temperature drops below 40°F.
  • Cold-resistant species can survive even at -20°F, which should not be a problem.

4. Transplant Shock

Hydrangea plant starts turning brown or wilted when they are wrongly transplanted in contrasted growing conditions.

It is commonly seen in transplanted plants from garden center to personal garden, or when a plant is improperly moved from small to a larger pot.

Changes in temperature and lighting may also invite a transplant shock, such as moving a transplanted Hydrangea to a high temperature or intense lighted area.

These temperature and light-sensitive plants are easily affected when moved from one environment to another.

Solutions

  • Stick to transplanting Hydrangea in spring or fall gives its roots time to establish and adapt to the soil.
  • Avoid moving your plant from one place to another immediately after transplanting to avoid plant shock.
  • Gently slide in and out the plant root when transplanting to prevent disturbing the root system.
  • Keep the soil moist for the feeder roots to adapt to the soil. Do not fertilizer or prune your plant until it recovers from transplant shock.

How to Revive a Newly Planted Hydrangea?

The newly purchased plant or planted potted for the first time may also experience transplant shock.

You can revive a newly planted Hydrangea from transplant shock by using these methods.

  • Plant your Hydrangea only in spring and fall to allow the roots to grasp the new soil gradually.
  • Planting in summer can quickly dry out plant roots causing early damages while growing in winter invites plant shock.
  • After planting, apply an inch thick layer of organic mulch (compose or leaf mold) to conserve moisture.
  • Protect them from direct sunlight and drought conditions by shading the plant and keeping the soil moist with regular watering.

5. Root Rot Conditions

Root rot is a fungal disease that is common in overwatered Hydrangea.

Although the plant enjoys moist soil conditions, it hates sitting in water, which prevents the roots from retaining nutrients.

In many cases, slow-draining soil such as heavy clay and lack of drainage holes may also invite root rot problems.

When soil becomes heavy and boggy, the water will drain too slowly, causing a saturated soil condition for Hydrangeas.

Root Rot
Root Rot (Source: Unsplash.com)

Solutions

  • Better dispose of the plants experiencing extensive root rot, which are impossible to salvage.
  • Consider removing the plant to check for damaged roots. Prune the infected parts with a sanitized pruning shear.
  • Remove dark-colored, soft, and mushy roots.
  • Consider replacing the soil with organically enriched soil mix, and dip the plant in fungicide before repotting in new soil.
  • Clean the pot with fungicide if you are using the same container.
  • Choose clay or terracotta pots with multiple drainage holes.

6. Root Burn from Excess Fertilizing

Excess fertilizing or the application of high concentration fertilizer can cause root burns.

Mild root burn may cause browning or drooping leaves with a few dead foliages. In comparison, severe root burn can wilt the plant completely before killing it.

Hydrangeas are not heavy feeders like other houseplants. Instead, they prefer taking up nutrients from the organic mulch and soil microbes.

Solutions

  • Compost the soil before potting the plant with manure, and lay the leaf mold over the soil to rot.
  • The plant will naturally take up nutrients from the soil and rotting leaves.
  • Fertilize the plant only when it is potted in sandy soil that lacks nutrients or when the soil is exhausted of organic mulch.
  • Limit fertilizing to once in early spring for an early-season boost.
  • Use all-purpose fertilizer with equal parts (10-10-10) of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, but keep the strength to half by diluting the mix into water.

Here are a few recommendations.

ProductSpecificationImage
Scotts Company Miracle-Gro Acid-Loving Plant FoodLAcid-loving plant food that instantly feeds Hydrangeas. It also provides double feeding action through roots and the leaves
BIOADVANCED All in 1 Rose CareAll-purpose plant food appropriate for flowering plants. It also offers protection against insects and diseases.
Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Bloom Booster Flower FoodPlant food with 15-30-15 NPK that promotes more blooms. It is suitable for a wide variety of perennials and annual plants.

7. Root Bound Conditions

Rootbound conditions make the pot retain less moisture, causing the soil to dry up too quickly.

Dry soil conditions may invite drought and root problems, impacting the entire root system and the plant’s overall health.

Severe root-bound conditions may even kill the plant quickly.

Hydrangeas naturally grow well in large pots big enough to keep the soil moist. Providing ample space in the soil allows the roots to access all nutrients easily.

Solutions

  • Inspect your plant for root-bound conditions. Check whether the seeds have started poking out of the drainage holes.
  • The plant may also experience stunted growth when they are root-bound.
  • As per the rule of thumb, repot your plant once a year or once in two years.
  • Choose pots 1-2 inches larger in diameter than the current pot.
  • Repot mature plants to a pot of at least 16″ to allow easy root proliferation.
  • Repot your plant in spring or fall to prevent transplant shock caused by high or low temperatures.
  • Keep the soil moist after repotting and avoid fertilizing for at least 2-3 months.

Transplanting a Dormant Hydrangea

The best time to transplant Hydrangea is in early spring or fall, when the plant is yet to sprout new growth.

You can often transplant Hydrangea in early spring when it is dormant to give it a fresh soil mix and new growing conditions.

However, avoid transplanting the newly repotted plant suffering from transplant shock as it may even kill the plant.

How to Transplant Hydrangea?

  • Hydrangeas thrive in alkaline soil with a pH of 7-8 and a loamy mix.
  • Use Platnum Peat 80 Potting Mix or prepare one at home by mixing 10% sterilized soi, 20% perlite, 10% sand with 10% organic compost, or aged manure rich in beneficial microorganisms.
  • Use a pot similar in size to the previous container unless the plant has rootbound conditions.
    Pick a place that does not receive too much sunlight.
  • Dormant Hydrangea needs deep watering; hence, water them thoroughly after transplanting.
  • Pay greater attention in the summer as plant leaves may wilt due to dehydration. Deepwater once a week and mist leave a couple of times for moisture and humidity.

Pruning Old Wood vs. New Wood Hydrangeas

Hydrangea grows well for a year without pruning. Still, annual pruning may help eliminate old leaves, stems, and flowers that suck up essential plant nutrients.

However, you should be careful about pruning your plant. When done at the wrong time, you will risk losing flowers altogether.

Moreover, not all Hydrangea varieties need pruning at the same time. Those that bloom on old growth need pruning after flowering, while others need pruning in early spring or late fall.

1. Blooms on Old Woods

The Hydrangeas that begin blooming in early summer and fade out by midsummer bloom on old woods, but strictly avoid pruning them in winter when the plant becomes dormant.

Pruning them in dormancy may push back the growth of new sprouts and even damage the plant.

Some varieties that bloom in old woods include Bigleaf Hydrangeas (H. macrophylla and H. Serrata) and Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia).

Prune them after the blossoms start to fade in late summer. Upon pruning, you will prepare the steam for new flower buds that will bloom next year.

Tidy up by removing old blooms

  • Take a sharp pruning shear and sanitize it with rubbing alcohol.
  • Carefully pick out old and wilted bloom and snip off just below the flower head.

Remove Old Stems to Improve Vigor

  • Using the pruning shear, clear all the old blooms and snip off leggy and wayward stems close to the soil line.
  • The old and woody stem produces smaller blooms that may suck up essential nutrients from the plant.
  • It will also prevent the plant from getting taller.

2. Blooms on New Wood

A few Hydrangea species bloom on new wood and may give out flowers later than old-growth bloomers.

Because they grow and give out flower buds the same year, they need pruning before starting flowering.

New-wood blooming hydrangeas would need pruning in late winter before new growth begins.

Cut to the Ground

  • Using a pruning shear or a gardening scissor, prune the stem to the ground.
  • Remove old stems to make way for new foliage. Smooth stems will produce more prominent blooms.
  • Cut down thin, wispy, weak growth, generally located at the bottom.

Cut the Stem to Reduce Flopping

  • Taller and leggy Hydrangeas’ branches often start flopping under the weight of new blossoms.
  • Pruning the stem to a height of 18 to 24” may help provide a sturdy framework.

Afterward, clean the pot of any debris, including old leaves and dead flowers, to keep your plant free of any weeds.

Cutting Stem for propagation
Cutting Stem for propagation (Source: pexels.com)

Preparing a Hydrangea Bush for Winter

Hydrangeas will become dormant in winter like any houseplants, but the stems will continue to grow longer without any foliage.

The plant blossoms from the previous year’s buds require proper winter care to ensure healthy stems in the spring.

Here are a few proven ways to prepare your Hydrangea for winter.

  • Start with pruning away dead stems, branches, leaves, and flowers in the fall.
  • Deadhead the brown and dry blooms just before the plant becomes dormant or in spring before it starts sprouting.
  • Avoid cutting healthy stems and leaves and prevent pruning flower buds to ensure bloom in the following spring.
  • If your Hydrangea species is not cold-tolerant, consider building insulation.
  • Freezing weather and high wind may pull moisture from stems and leaves, causing dehydration and damaging new growth.
  • Build a frame around the plant with wood stakes and wrap chicken wire around the stakes.
  • Fill the chicken wire with mulch, pine needs, and leaves to prepare natural insulation. Remember, the insulation must be 6″ deep to protect the plant from the cold.
  • You can remove the insulation once the last frost passes in early spring.
  • The dormant plant needs less watering; hence, cut back on watering to once in two weeks.
  • Check the top 1-2 inches of soil for dryness. Water the plant only when the soil feels dry.
  • For Hydrangea grown in old wood, protect them by loosely wrapping them with a layer of burlap.

Learn more about how to best care for your indoor houseplants in winter.

Conclusion

Hydrangeas produce showy blossoms in the growing season that may last until fall before they start dying.

Hence, pruning your plant at the right time of the year to help produce budding stems and healthy foliage.

The cold-sensitive Hydrangea species quickly become prey to cold stress, sending the plant to dormancy and even permanent death. In contrast, warm Hydrangea species may dry out quickly in less moist conditions.

Therefore, follow the above guide to know how to care for your plant and prevent common problems.

Related Article: How to Revive Indoor Azaleas Plant

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