Ask a Question forum→Endless Summer Hydrangea is Dying - please need help!

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Eastern PA
amanda07425
Jun 16, 2021 7:07 AM CST
I planted 3 endless summer hydrangeas this spring. They were all planted in the same location, morning sun until about noon. We have clay-like soil, so when planted we add gardening soil, fertilizer, and the acid that keep them blue. One of the hydrangeas is beautiful and blooming like crazy. However, the other 2 look absolutely horrible. I've tried watering, adding fertilizer, adding Iron Tone to help with yellowing leaves - now I think I may have watered them too much so I tried to expose their roots a bit to the sun.

I know that sun can cause wilting, but these pictures are just from this morning, so it's not heat or sun yet and they're all wilted. Not sure what is causing the yellowing and browning of the leaves / falling off. They are only 2 months old, what am I doing wrong? I think I'm most confused that I've been treating all 3 the same, so why is 1 doing great?! How can I fix the other 2? HELP!

Pictures show the 2 awful looking plants and then the one beautiful one.


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ElPolloDiablo
Jun 16, 2021 8:41 AM CST
When that happens, there's usually something wrong with the rootball. I am ready to bet a groat if you pull those two plants from the ground either the rootball will be very compact and only slightly moist or they would be sitting in sogging wet soil. Unfortunately symptoms are about the same and pulling the plant from the ground is the only way to find out.
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Eastern PA
amanda07425
Jun 16, 2021 8:48 AM CST
We've been getting a ton of rain and we have clay soil, if I pull the root ball, my guess is it would be a soggy mess - what are my next steps? Add new/dry soil and plant back in the ground? I also am a little nervous pulling the plant out, even though it looks like near death, I'm afraid of ruining the roots even further.
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ElPolloDiablo
Jun 16, 2021 9:55 AM CST
It really depends upon what you will find down there.
Soggy ground may take a lot of work to improve drainage. A cheap quick cure is to dig much deeper than needed, put a layer of gravel, pebbles or small stones at the bottom and mix some extra ones in the soil you are putting back in the hole.
A compact rootball is a different matter. You need to soak it in a bucket of water for about 24 hours, then fill the hole three quarters with water and plant your plant while the soil is still wet. Some folks swear by sprinking rooting compound on the rootball or slashing it with a knife, but my experience with the latter has been dismal to say the least.
Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
-Charles Darwin-
Name: Luis
Hurst, TX, U.S.A. (Zone 8a)
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luis_pr
Jun 16, 2021 11:59 AM CST
Welcome to NGA, Amanda07425. Can you please provide more information?

Where do you live in Eastern PA (city, not your address)? What kind of soil do you have (clay, sandy, etc.; acidic, neutral, alkaline) or how well does your soil typically drain?

Can you re-confirm that the plants are getting sun only until 12pm or less? As we get closer to summer, the angle of the sun changes and I want to see if they are still getting morning sun only.

How do you decide to water versus skip watering? When you water, how much water are you giving each plant (measured in gallons of water)?

If you remove the mulch, can you tell if the plants are planted above the surrounding soil?

Can you take pictures of the same three hydrangeas but further away from them so we can see the area where they are planted?

Individually, please do this soil test for each plant early in the morning (7-8am) to see if the soil is currently soggy: insert two fingers to a depth of 4-8", extract some soil in between the fingers (1/2 inch or so), press on the soil and see if it forms water droplets. If water droplets form, the soil may have been recently watered, the soil may drain poorly or you are watering too much per each watering.

Thanks in advance, Luis
[Last edited by luis_pr - Jun 16, 2021 12:39 PM (+)]
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Eastern PA
amanda07425
Jun 17, 2021 8:25 AM CST
I decided to dig up the hydrangeas last night and there was sitting water in the ground. What should my next steps be? I'm not sure what root rot looks like and whether my hydrangeas have it. Should I leave them in pots for now to see if they perk up? In order to prevent sitting water in our clay like soil, do I need to do?

Located in Allentown, PA and I have very clay like soil. When we planted them, I did mix in organic soil in the holes before planting. I also dug bigger holes than the root ball, assuming they would need room to grow. I'm not sure if the one plant that is doing well maybe didn't have as large of a hole? I'm thinking that plant doesn't have sitting water since it is thriving.
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purpleinopp
Jun 17, 2021 8:44 AM CST
When I lived in OH and had the kind of clay soil you describe, I would use my dandelion fork to make a bunch of deep jabs at the bottom of the hole I'd dug for a new plant.

For a more permanent solution, try covering your soil with massive amounts of leaves over the winter. The leaves should be gone by spring, eaten by worms, then augment with a few inches of mulch &/or compost in the spring. After a few years of this, your soil should morph into "black gold" soil that doesn't get soggy when it rains, and doesn't dry so quickly during periods of no rain.
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Name: Luis
Hurst, TX, U.S.A. (Zone 8a)
Dog Lover Region: Texas Salvias Roses Hibiscus Plumerias
luis_pr
Jun 17, 2021 1:32 PM CST
Since your soil is clayish like my black clay, you need to make sure that you water when the soil is starting to dry out or when you detect that it is dry. As opposed to watering based on a schedule like every "x" days.

Big leaf hydrangeas will wilt/droop when they have heat stress and will perform poorly in their first summer as their root system is not well developed and suffer from transplant shock. Looking up your weather, it has been warm enough to make the leaves lose moisture faster than the roots can replace it by absorbing more water from the soil. That pressure differential makes the leaves wilt. The following scenarios can make the leaves lose moisture fast: too much sunlight, temperatures that reach or exceed 85F, lack of water, low humidity, windy conditions, newly planted or transplanted, root problems, etc. Starting on June 5th, your temps zoomed so I would expect the leaves to wilt. As long as the soil is not dry and the roots are ok, leaves that wilt during the day will perk up at night and look fine in the morning.

When I see a wilting episode, I test the soil to see if it is dry: insert a finger into the soil to a depth of 4" (not counting the mulch) and see if the soil feels dry, moist or soggy. If it feels dry or almost dry then water the plant. If it feels moist or soggy, I let them stay wilted and they should recover at night. Then I confirm all is ok in the morning: if they remain wilted in the morning, the soil was not sufficiently moist so I water them immediately.

I see in the pictures above that the plants are very near water downspouts. That can be problematic when it rains a lot and water puddles form and do not drain quickly. Eventually, it can cause root rot and symptoms of root rot are identical to those of a plant that does not get enough water.

To see if the plants have root rot, you need to very carefully extract them and check their roots visually. You can also smell the roots to see if they smell rotten. Once root rot starts, it becomes difficult to stop. Some people have successfully navigated that recovery by cutting off rotten roots and putting the plants in pots for a few months where they can more easily control the watering maintenance. But other times, the plants cannot be saved.

Try using the finger method to help with watering:
*to see if they need water, insert a finger into the soil to a depth of 4" (that is the depth of most hydrangea roots) and only water if the soil feels dry or almost dry.
* to see if you watered enough, water and allow the water to drain; insert a finger in several spots to a depth of 8". If it feels dry, you may have missed a spot or are not using enough water. In the first summer, a single watering per plant can require more than 1 gallon of water per plant. Test the soil on most sides of the plant.
* to see if you watered too much, insert two fingers into the soil to extract about 1/4 to 1/2" of soil in between the fingers; press on the soil and see if you observe water droplets forming. If so, the soil may have just be watered (or it rained), the soil drains slowly or you are suing too much water.
* to program a sprinkler or drip irrigation: use the finger method for 2-3 every morning (7-8am) like so - insert a finger into the soil to a depth of 4" and see if the soil feels dry, moist or soggy; if the soil is dry then water and make a note in a wall calendar or an electronic calendar indicating how many gallons of water per plant you gave them on that day; after 2-3 weeks, review the notes and determine -on average- how often you had to water and -on average- how many gallons you were using per plant. So for example, you may find that you used 1 gallon of water per plant every three days (just an example). Then in that example, set the sprinkler or drip irrigation to provide 1 gallon per station and make the system run every 3 days. If your weather changes (gets hotter/colder by 10 degrees up or down, for example) then feel free to use the finger method again for 2-3 weeks to see if you need to tweak things.

Planting location:
* when possible, acclimate the leaves when bringing the plants from the nursery into the garden as they are not used to direct sunlight. I usually place the pots where they get bright shade all day for 1-2 days. Then I move the pot to get an hour of morning sun only for a few days. Then I increase the sunlight in stages untl I get to 10-11am and then I plant the shrub.
* all the plants should be in shade by 10-11am. Hydrangea macrophyllas should not get afternoon sun or evening sun.
* maintain 2-4" of organic mulch (no rocks) year around.
* sunlight reflected off walls, cemented surfaces, rocks should be avoided or taken into consideration. On year 1, I have used umbrellas and outside chairs to provide additional shade when the plants wilt too much but expect them to wilt more on summer #1.
* water from the downspout should channel away from the house; if it puddles for long periods of time where the hydrangeas are, that could cause root rot so evaluate the water flow from the downspout and take appropriate action.

Remember that you have three very different plants here. Their root systems are underground and not visible but they are not going to be identical. That makes them different. Do not expect one plant to perform same as another one simply because it is also another Endless Summer hydrangea of the same variety.

If a hydrangea is not getting enough water, the leaves and-or flowers may wilt. If conditions do not improve, the blooms may start to brown out. The leaves may eventually also brown out, from the edges inwards as a result of lack of water (or root rot). I do not see much with Pictures 1 and 2 so it does not appear terribly bad.

Note: for plants that wilt a lot, some people prune off the blooms on year 1 so the moisture that was going to the blooms is redirected to the leaves. I would prefer that one take control of the soil moisture but I can understand pruning the blooms for just this first year only.
[Last edited by luis_pr - Jun 18, 2021 1:27 AM (+)]
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