The Q&A Archives: Hydrangea bud failure

Question: We have a 3-yr old hydrangea macrophylla "Tokyo Delight" which finally this spring had a ton of buds. The first two years were disappointing with only a half dozen each year. This year however, although there were many buds, all buds failed to fully bloom. Only the outside perimeter of each bud cluster bloomed (in white). While the interior of each bud cluster appeared ready to bloom (in blue), each bud cluster dried up and died. Though this was a very hot summer, we kept the plant well watered. The plant gets full southern sun. There is an inch or so of shreaded tree bark mulch surrounding the plant. We have an acknowledged slug problem and am trying to control these guys with a slug control product, but I doubt this is the problem as the plant is 3-4' high and wide and see no evidence of slug chewing on any leaves.

Answer: How frustrating! It would be surprising if slugs bothered your plant. You might however open a few buds and make sure there is no evidence of insect damage. Insects and disease problems are fairly unusual on these plants, but you might find something. In general heat does not bother these plants (they grow well in warmer areas through zone 9) either. To be very honest I suspect dry weather is to blame. These plants need a constantly moist yet well drained soil and this can be difficult to maintain during the summer. The plant may also be a bit stressed since it is still establishing itself and just beginning to try to bloom well. A thicker (say three inches) mulch might help, as would the addition of copious amounts of organic matter to the soil. Finally, dig down a bit and check the soil with your finger after you water just to make sure the soil really is moist.

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