‘Best defence’ for hydrangeas from cold weather and frosts

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Hydrangeas are hardy plants and survive through winter by going dormant. It is said the plant is not sensitive to low temperatures or even a freeze, but branches and buds can dry out because of poor weather, and the poor weather ensures the roots no longer supply moisture to the plant. To prevent this, there are a few ways to protect Express.co.uk spoke to Morris Hankinson, director of Hopes Grove Nurseries about how to care for hydrangeas in the winter. 

There are several varieties of hydrangeas, Morris explained whether they needed to be cared for differently: “Hydrangeas are a diverse group of plants from the popular Mophead and Lacecap shrubs (Hydrangea macrophylla and Hydrangea serrata), the Paniculata varieties that are popular for later season flowers and the enduringly popular climbing variety (Hydrangea petiolaris) to name just a few. 

“The good news is that all these handsome shrubs enjoy the same conditions. Moist (but not waterlogged) soil in dappled shade. So middle of the road….not too wet, not too dry, not too sunny and not too shady! 

“Shallow sandy soil may need bulking up by adding organic matter so that it retains more moisture, and heavy clay soils may need grit or sharp sand added to improve the drainage. 

“Hydrangeas grow well in all soil types and any soil pH is fine (although it can affect the colour of the flowers). 

“Provided you have a good middle of the road home for your new hydrangea – the only spot to avoid is a frost pocket (lower-lying areas that are prone to late frosts) as this can cause damage to the young buds in late spring.

“Planting them at any time of year is fine, just remember to keep the moisture level in the middle of the road, this is easier (especially in warm weather) by adding a mulch after you plant them to keep the soil cooler and retain moisture.” 

Hydrangeas that bloom from old wood need extra protection during winter to ensure that buds survive. Those that bloom from new wood are said to have a higher frost resistance but even those can be exposed to late frost damage.

In terms of how gardeners can protect their hydrangea during the winter, Morris said: “Hydrangeas are perfectly hardy shrubs, so they don’t need any special protection in the winter. Having said that, leaving the old flowers on the shrub over the winter can help to protect the young buds that will provide flowers for next year.

“They [also] don’t need to be moved into a greenhouse in the cold weather. The only danger from cold weather is with late frosts damaging the young developing shoots in the spring, avoiding frost pockets when planting is the best defence against this.”

Some gardeners choose to protect their plants with horticultural fleece during the winter and Morris said should only be done in a few month’s time: “If your hydrangea is in full growth in the Spring and a frost is forecast – you could cover the plant overnight with some horticultural fleece to minimise the damage.” 

There are a few other tips to consider when looking for ways to protect hydrangeas from winter weather – most of these are focused on where to plant or position potted hydrangeas to minimise damage. 

  • Plant in a sheltered place like near a windbreak hedge 
  • Plant against a south-facing wall 
  • Avoid planting in a frost pocket 

Morris also shared his top tips for preparing hydrangeas to grow bigger and strong with better blooms next year. 

He said: “Hydrangeas like everything to be steady and ‘middle of the road’ as we have outlined. For the best show of flowers be sure to prune them correctly, give them a good balanced feed in the spring and add a generous mulch of leaf mould or bark chips at the same time. 

“A good and consistent level of feed and moisture through the season (irrespective of the weather conditions) will always give the best show.” 

In terms of pruning hydrangeas, it depends on which type you have. Morris explained: “Mophead and Lacecap Hydrangeas should be pruned in the spring after the danger of hard frost has passed. 

“Remove last year’s flowers and cut back to a healthy pair of buds. Prune them gently for a good show of flowers because the flowers will be produced from buds on last year’s old wood on branches you are pruning! (So if you give them a really drastic haircut, which can be necessary sometimes, they will almost certainly produce masses of healthy growth and no flowers that year….but a dazzling display of flowers the year after!)

“Hydrangea paniculata and hydrangea arborescens don’t need pruning to get a good show of flowers. Sounds easy….but the shrubs will get tall and ungainly within a few years so it’s a good idea to prune them to keep everything tidy and healthy. 

“The beautiful shrubs flower on the current season’s growth – this is good news because whatever you do, you cannot get it wrong!! 

“Ideally cut them back to healthy buds and create a framework of open, non-crossing branches at 30-60cm high that you cut back to each spring. The harder you cut them back, the more strongly they will grow, and likely the larger the flowers will be,” he added. 

“The climbing hydrangea (hydrangea petiolaris) flowers in spring, much earlier than the other types.

“Again, pruning is not essential and they will flower anyway even if you don’t prune them. But to keep everything neat, tidy and healthy it’s a good idea to give them a gentle trim after flowering, just shortening the stems back to healthy bids and removing any dead, crossing or diseased branches.” 

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