Is your hydrangea dying and you have no idea why and neither do you know how to keep it alive? Well, the reasons for a dying hydrangea are just as many as the solutions.
The common reasons for a dying hydrangea include; the wrong choice of the potting soil, exposure to direct sun, poor watering habits, and, exposure to too much wind. In addition to this, poor fertilizing habits, frost damage, as well as pests and diseases, could also be the cause of the problems you are having with your plant.
In this article, I’m going to discuss all this plus more, and how to fix each of the causes. So, read through and learn how to keep your hydrangea alive for much longer.
Indications for a Dying Hydrangea
- Hydrangea leaves turn black or brown due to frost damage.
- Yellow and dry leaves due to too much direct sun.
- A drooping hydrangea results from low moisture levels from fast-draining soil and too much sun.
- Root rot due to poor drainage and bad watering habits.
- Root burn from excessive fertilizer application.
- A dying hydrangea when planted in a very small pot/container.
- Young hydrangea dying from transplanting shock.
9 Quick and Easy Ways to save a dying Hydrangea
1. Provide your hydrangea with the right amount of sunlight
By looking at their native environment, we can argue that hydrangeas are shade-loving plants.
However, not all hydrangeas love shade some hydrangea species require some direct sun to grow.
For instance; the panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) grows best in full sun and is one of the hardiest hydrangea species and can tolerate full sun and dry spells (zones 3 to 8).
This is one of the reasons why it’s mostly used as a hedge plant in landscapes with 6 hours of sunlight or more a day and some shade from the hot afternoon sun. This hydrangea can also grow in partial shade.
Examples of panicle hydrangeas include; Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight’, Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva’, and, Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Lamb'.
On the other hand, there’s the other type of hydrangeas that love shade be it full shade (less than four hours of sun a day) or, partial shade (at least four hours of direct sunlight a day).
Examples of hydrangeas for growing in part shade include; the Hydrangea arborescens also commonly known as the ‘smooth hydrangea’ that grows in zones 3 through 9.
The other hydrangea species for shade is the Hydrangea macrophylla also known as the ‘bigleaf hydrangea’ for zones 5 through 11.
As you can see, it’s a matter of how much of sun exposure is good for your hydrangea, rather than if your hydrangea needs sun.
Tip: Just like all other plants, hydrangeas need some sunlight to grow although some need more of sun or shade than others.
2. Water your hydrangea correctly
This is one of the most common causes of a dying hydrangea. Hydrangeas hate dry conditions and they wilt whenever water levels are low.
Depending on weather conditions, these easy-to-care flowering houseplants require a deep soaking of approximately 1’’ of water a week when the conditions aren’t too hot.
If the weather becomes very hot and dry, give your plants up to twice as much water per week to keep them from drooping/wilting.
There are several ways to water your hydrangeas such as using a watering can, soaker hoses, and drip irrigation. Whichever way, practice good watering habits so that you don’t overwater or underwater your hydrangeas.
Also, when watering the plants avoid wetting the leaves as this often leads to foliar diseases.
So, why should you be careful not to overwater your hydrangea plants?
Overwatering doesn’t just result from how you water your plants only but, it’s also directly linked to the status of your potting soil. A soil/potting mix that’s slow draining tends to hold too much water and this leads to root rot and plant death if not corrected in time.
Too much water in the soil provides the ideal conditions for the Phytophthora root rot fungi to grow. This fungus takes over the root system and disrupts the biological functionality of the plant. What follows is a reduced number of buds and wilted flowers that seldom hold their shape.
In addition to this, an overwatered hydrangea plant is most likely to produce overgrown green foliage and stunted flower growth.
When it comes to lack of enough water/under-watering, the leaves of hydrangea start to droop and the plant generally wilts. Hence, give your plants a good soaking with water else, they start dying.
Pro Tip: Always check if the topsoil is dry before watering regardless of the prevailing weather condition.
3. Avoid exposure to frost/Prune back any frost-damaged or sunburnt growth
Frost damage in hydrangeas occurs when the new tender growth is exposed to frost during spring or early frost in the fall (due to a sharp drop in overnight temperatures). When this happens, the leaves and the flowers of a hydrangea suddenly turn brown or black.
Good thing is, hydrangeas are hardy plants and as much as the damage might seem serious, they are bound to recover under good care.
Start by pruning back any seriously frost-damaged growth using a sterilized and sharp pruning shear to promote new and healthy growth in the summer (avoid cutting back into the wood).
Then, stop fertilizing your plants after August because if you do so, you will be promoting new and tender growth when the plant should be hardening off for the winter period.
If the flower buds have been damaged already, it’s time to think about prevention rather than cure as there is no other way to go about damaged flower buds.
For this reason, keep a close with the local weather forecasts for a possible late frost in the spring and act accordingly. E.g. cover the flower buds with a horticultural fleece the night before to protect them from frost damage.
Note: It’s possible to revive a frost-damaged hydrangea but it’s unlikely for it to flower appropriately until the following year.
4. Harden off your hydrangea to avoid transplant shock
Transplanting shock affects all plants and is a common problem that almost every gardener be it experienced or a beginner faces throughout the gardening life. The shock happens when there is a contrast between the new growing conditions versus the old growing conditions.
Hydrangea plants with transplant shock show signs of browning, wilting, and plant death after planting.
Your hydrangeas are more likely to be affected when planted at the wrong time, especially at the height of summer or, when transplanted to a place with highly different growing conditions.
There are several ways to save a dying hydrangea from transplant shock including; planting hydrangeas at the right time (in the fall or spring) to give the roots time to establish and adapt to the soil before the summer heat.
In addition to this, if the summer heat is too much for the newly planted hydrangeas, provide some shade (for outgrowing hydrangeas) and water the plants as much as it’s needed.
Also, before transplanting your hydrangeas, it’s important to harden them off by gradually exposing them to their new conditions a few hours a day several days before transplanting.
5. Select the appropriate pot for your hydrangea
Growing hydrangeas in pots is easy especially when you use the right pot size and type.
Pots/containers that are at least 16 to 18 inches in diameter are large enough even for a mature hydrangea.
The pot you choose must also have drainage holes to allow excess water to drain properly. As an added advantage, go for the non-porous pots to help hold the moisture at consistent levels.
Another reason why you should go for a larger pot is that the roots aren’t pot-bound and they have enough space to access the nutrients and moisture from the soil.
6. Use the ideal potting soil and deal with root rot
Hydrangeas prefer a consistently moist, well-drained soil supplemented with a good quantity of organic material like compost or manure.
If you use heavy soil like clay, it’s always soggy and drains very slowly leaving your hydrangea roots in too much water and at the risk of developing fungal infections like root rot.
This is also the case with hydrangeas growing in pots with improper drainage probably because the holes are clogged.
Root rot leads to a droopy hydrangea plant with yellowing/browning leaves and eventually, the plant dies.
To save a hydrangea with root rot is almost impossible which is a reason why you must use the ideal potting mix and containers else, you will end up with a dead plant.
Therefore, always check how the soil drains and if you notice that it’s slightly slower than expected, leave the plant to be water-stressed before you can water again.
If the potting soil is too soggy, you must remove the plant from the soil carefully to check the condition of the roots.
Remove any soft and dark-colored roots as they are most likely infected and leave the more resilient, light-colored, springy roots intact.
Once you have the plant with clean and healthy roots, replant it either in a pot with fresh amended potting soil and proper drainage holes or in a garden as per your preference.
Tip: Never replant your hydrangea in the same potting soil as it could be holding the fungus.
Learn whether or not to add rocks in pots to improve drainage in our article on Why Adding Rocks in Pots to Improve Drainage is Dumb.
7. Provide the ideal nutrients for your plants
Hydrangeas aren’t heavy feeders hence; they don’t require any additional feeds especially if you incorporate enough compost when preparing your potting soil.
The compost /manure application is also an easier and cheaper way of supplying nutrients to the plants organically alongside improving the condition of the soil.
Should there be a need to maximize the effect of the compost in the soil, you can apply a slow-release balanced fertilizer like the one for shrubs and trees early in the spring and again soon after flowering. These fertilizers work well with hydrangeas too.
Using slow-release fertilizers is not the only way to fertilize your plants.
You can also apply a balanced fast-release fertilizer like the 10:10:10 twice in summer.
Ensure you follow the application instructions as advised by the manufacturer. Failure to do so might lead to over-fertilization which is more harmful to the plant than under-fertilization.
Too much fertilizer might lead to damage and drying out of the roots and subsequent plant death if not corrected in time.
To correct over-fertilization in hydrangeas, do the following;
- Reduce/avoid the use of any fertilizer.
- Cut back any leaves the severely affected leaves with a sharp pruning shear to give way for new growth.
- Since excess fertilizer creates a salt build-up in the soil that affects water uptake by the roots. Giving the soil a good soak with water helps restore the soil balance by dissolving the excess salts thereby, reviving your hydrangea.
- Keep watering your plants as per the needs to maintain the moist soil conditions for your hydrangea. By doing this, you will still be diluting the salts and fertilizers concentration around the roots for a faster recovery.
8. Avoid drought stress by keeping the potting soil evenly moist
Lack of enough moisture in the potting soil is another reason why your hydrangea plant is dying.
Hydrangea plants are native to woodland areas where the soils are consistently moistened from frequent rains and the presence of leaf molds enhances the moisture-holding capacity of the soil.
Moreover, hydrangeas are shallow and fibrous-rooted plants, and as such, they require a consistent moisture supply around the roots otherwise, the plant will start to show signs of drought stress such as stunted growth, wilting, and yellowing or browning leaves.
Additionally, the plant might exhibit early leaf drop, reduced seed, flower, and seed production as well as dead branches and stems.
Once you’ve determined that drought stress is the reason why your plant’s dying, it’s time to fix the problem at hand.
Keeping the soil consistently moist is the key to solving drought stress.
You can do this by watering the plants regularly and applying a layer of mulch around the plant to preserve moisture.
9. Watch out for pests and diseases in hydrangea
Diseases such as wilt, blight, powdery mildew, and leaf spot can all affect hydrangeas. The best way to deal with hydrangea disease is to plant the more resistant varieties as well as provide the ideal growing conditions.
The only and best way to protect your hydrangeas from pests and diseases is through proper care.
Learn more on white bugs on plants in our article; White Bugs on Plants? Here’s How to Get Rid of Them
Like you have seen, it’s possible to save a dying hydrangea provided that the cause isn’t so severe.
As I conclude, I would like to leave you with a summary of tips on how to save a dying hydrangea. These tips are going to help you come up with the most appropriate preventative measures or ideal solutions.
- Browning and crispy leaf edges that appear to be dying and possibly fewer blooms are an indication of too much fertilizer.
- Wilting, curling and, browning of the leaves and flowers signals drought stress.
- Leaves and flower buds turning brown or black and mushy with damaged flower buds not blooming indicates frost damage.
- Wilting of the leaves and flowers, with some leaves turning brown or black with a dying appearance shows the plant is going through a transplant shock.
- Wilting flowers and leaves plus, yellowing, browning of the leaves are symptoms of a plant with root rot due to poor soil drainage, especially in hydrangeas planted in very small pots.
- The leaves scorched brown with leaves curled and dying is most likely because of exposure to too much sun.
By having the above tips with you, growing, caring, or, reviving a dying hydrangea will be easy for you. All you need to do is to put into practice what you’ve read in the article.
Wishing you all the best!