Homing in on hydrangeas, hummingbird favorites and how-tos for pruning


Good morning! Spring has finally decided to make an appearance and what a lovely sight it is. Daffodils and forsythia are showing their beautiful yellows far and wide, hedge cherries with their ethereal pale pink blossoms are popping and plants are appearing in the garden. It makes you want to sit in the middle of it and just sigh. (Well, it does that to me anyway.) I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother’s Day and was afforded proper appreciation. Being a mother, after all, is one of the toughest jobs anyone can do.

Today, I’m going to cover a few more spring chores and answer some questions posed by more than one person. So, here we go. …

Hydrangeas: Several people have emailed me about the lack of blossoms last year. I also had fewer than normal and have done some research. We are not talking about the normal, cemetery hydrangeas that have been in place for years, but rather some of the new hybrid choices like Endless Summer. One school of thought is that the early, hot spring messed up the inner timing of some plants. If you remember, lilacs bloomed three weeks early last year, and other flowers were gone by when they should have just been starting. If it was the early warm weather, they should go back to their regular patterns this growing season because spring certainly hasn’t come early.

The second theory holds that the new hybrid hydrangeas require more rigorous care than the old-fashioned ones that require literally no attention. If this is the case, then I have chosen to heed advice a nurseryman gave me many years ago. He said hydrangeas should be fed once a year in a specific manner, depending on whether you want more flowers or foliage. If you have blossoms but foliage is scant, use grass fertilizer without weed killer in it. If you want more blossoms, get a continuous slow-release rose food. Dig a hole about 4 inches deep along the drip edge of the bush (a circle directly below the most outside branches) at 8- to 12-inch intervals along that circle. Put in 2 to 3 tablespoons of rose or grass fertilizer and then fill in the hole with dirt. Do this around the entire circumference of the bush along the circle. I will let you know what I find out at my house.

Pruning: First, you need to understand that most bushes and shrubbery will be just fine without pruning. However, they may look a lot better if they are pruned. It’s a matter of personal preference. Although I admire the forsythia hedges at the Auburn Mall, I prefer to allow my forsythia to grow into the natural wall of weeping yellow branches that I find beautiful. It’s your garden and you get to choose.

But there are some general rules for flowering bushes and shrubbery.


If you have shrubs like weigela, potentilla or hydrangea in a flower garden, it is a good idea to undercut them. This simply means to take off those branches that cover the ground. This allows for flowers to grow beneath them, and they are easier to clean around if the branches are off the ground. It also eliminates another place for slugs to hide.

When pruning branches, you need to cut them at a slight angle so water runs off the cut instead of sitting upon it. You need to cut as close to the trunk as you can, being very careful not to cut into the bark of the main trunk.

If you prefer a formal look in your garden, like those forsythias at the mall, or some types of boxwood that form hedges, you need to get pruning shears. If you get gas or electric shears, note that they go much faster; and once you make a mistake shearing, it is difficult to undo. Going more slowly with manual shears tends to insure a happier outcome. If you like your shrubs to look more natural, small hand pruning shears and loppers will do the job quite nicely. You are pruning for visual effect, so to get a casual look you need to cut branches at different lengths but still maintain an overall rounded look. If you cut them all the same length, it will not look natural.

In general, bushes that bloom need to be pruned as quickly after the bloom finishes as possible. Waiting, in many cases, will mean you are pruning off next year’s flowers. If pruned immediately after flowering, the plant will put its energy into forming next year’s flowers on remaining branches and, in many cases, the bush will flower more heavily. Feed lilacs, forsythia, weigela and rhododendrons after they bloom. An all-purpose flowering shrub food will work for most of these, although there is specialty lilac fertilizer available and rhododendrons prefer an acid-based fertilizer.

Here are a few more pruning tips …

* Make sure your shears and loppers are sharp or they will split branches instead of making a clean cut.

* If you have pruned diseased or decayed wood from a particular bush, dip the pruners in Clorox water before pruning other bushes to avoid spreading diseases in the garden.

* You really do not need to seal cuts on branches, if the cut is made cleanly. Sealers can sometimes trap moisture and cause rotting.

* Do not prune large numbers of branches at a time. This can stress shrubs. It is better to do moderate pruning and await the results for a month or two before cutting more. Once you cut branches, you can’t put them back.

* And, finally, if you have shrubs that that need attention but don’t know how to start, take a picture and ask a professional at a local nursery. Many times, it’s better to pull the old shrub out and simply start over. Overgrown yews and some evergreens and junipers are perfect examples of when it is best to start over.

Hummingbird favorites: For those of you who have found holes in your garden this spring where something didn’t reappear, you might consider planting something that will make the hummers happy. Here is a short list of perennials to choose from, and most are readily available at local nurseries: coral bells, butterfly weed, bee balm, red day lilies, ajuga, hollyhock, astilbe, azaleas, salvia, columbine, dahlia, delphinium, flowering quince, foxglove, many kinds of sage and sedum. For annuals in containers, hummers would like begonias, canna, impatiens, nasturtium, nicotiana and petunias.

Please remember that when you spray chemical insecticides, you are not only killing the hummers’ source of food but can kill them as well if they ingest spray on the flowers from which they eat. There are organic solutions to nearly every problem and it might take a bit of work to find them, but it is worth the effort to know your garden is safe for all the things you love. By the way, a few of the little busy hummers have arrived, and the primroses are blooming.

Until next time, watch for all those plants as they emerge from their winter sleep, look for the hummers and the songbirds, and put your back into those weeds now so there will be far fewer later on.

Happy gardening.

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 25 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her dog and two cats. She may be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]

Hummingbirds love columbines, perennials that bloom in spring.