- Nikko Blue Hydrangea. What is the secret to making them bloom?
- I think I’ve discovered the secret to making Nikko Blue Hydrangea bloom like crazy.
- When Should I Trim or Prune my Nikko Blue Hydrangea?
- Why isn’t My Nikko Blue Hydrangea Blue?
- Which raises a Really Interesting Question about Fertilizing Your Plants.
- Quit tinkering with your plants!
- Mike! Liar, liar Pants on Fire!
- Why Do I Fertilize Plants in Containers?
- How Do I Make My Nikko Blue Hydrangea Blue?
- How Do You Propagate Hydrangeas?
- So . . . What Did We Learn from this Post?
- How to Prune Nikko Blue Hydrangeas
- Why Stem Age Matters
- How Goals Affect Pruning
- When to Prune Your “Nikko Blue”
- How to Prune Properly
- Nikko Blue Hydrangea
- Large Flowers All Summer Long!
- Planting & Care
Nikko Blue Hydrangea. What is the secret to making them bloom?
Nikko Blue Hydrangea.
I think I’ve discovered the secret to making Nikko Blue Hydrangea bloom like crazy.
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Leave them alone! Really. Quit tinkering with your plants trying to give them every little thing they need. What they really need is good soil, and adequate amount but not an over abundance of water and some sunshine. That’s about it. Quit fertilizing them and pouring all kinds of concoctions on them.
They know what to do. They are genetically wired to do one thing and only one thing. Make leaves and make flowers! Okay, so that’s two things. But they know that. They don’t need you sticking your nose in their business. If you give them the three things mentioned above and leave them alone they will grow and bloom.
Nikko Blue Hydrangea with Great Blue Color.
When Should I Trim or Prune my Nikko Blue Hydrangea?
Nikko Blue is in the macrophylla family of hydrangeas and therefore most people say to prune it right after it blooms. That’s great advice and you should follow it, but this spring I discovered something that has me a little perplexed. I bought about 50 Nikko Blues this spring. They were in the field and were dug just a tad late. On top of that I think they got tazed by a little frost. That’s a new gardening term, Tazed. In other words, they didn’t look so good, and were pretty much unappealing.
So I decided to prune them really hard, even though it was the middle of May.
What happened? After they were pruned they flushed out with beautiful new growth and then started blooming like crazy! Not only did I prune them in the middle of May, I cut them back really hard. I’ll show you.
Heavy Pruning of Nikko Blue Hydrangea.
Can you believe that? Look at all of the cuts that I made. Look at how low I cut the plant back. When I was done pruning all I had left was a pot with a stump in it. I had to cut off all of the flower buds right? I’m pretty sure when I was done pruning there were no flower buds left on the plant. Probably weren’t any before I started pruning.
Nikko Blue Hydrangea growing in a container.
I cut all 50 plants back exactly the same way. This is how they look now in mid July. And they all bloomed with great big flowers like this one.
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Why isn’t My Nikko Blue Hydrangea Blue?
That’s another thing. If you look at the photos in this post you will see a variety of different color flowers. These plants were all treated exactly the same way. Nothing was added to the soil to make them bloom or change or enhance the color of the blooms in any way. They were all dug bare root out of the field in April then all potted in exactly same potting mix. No fertilizer was applied when they were potted. We didn’t get around to adding fertilizer until June and the fertilizer that we use is super slow release so it had little if any effect on these plants.
Which raises a Really Interesting Question about Fertilizing Your Plants.
Nikko Blue Hydrangea Blooming in Various Colors.
I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it many, many times in the future.
Quit tinkering with your plants!
They don’t need all of those store bought concoctions to make them do this or do that, sing and dance and jump over the moon. They just don’t need it! They need good soil that drains well, water on a regular basis, and sunshine. That’s what they need. That’s all they need.
Mike! Liar, liar Pants on Fire!
You just said you fertilized these hydrangeas in June! You’re telling me not to fertilize and you are fertilizing. You tell me one thing and then you do something else yourself. What gives Mike?
Great question! You caught me. This is really important for you to understand. The plants in my landscape do not get fertilized ever. Except maybe the roses because if and when I remember to do so I spray them with Bayer 3-1 Rose and Flower Spray and that does contain some fertilizer. All of the other plants in my landscape do not get fertilized ever. They haven’t been fertilized since I bought them, and you’ve seen pictures of my landscapes.
Why no fertilizer for the plants in my landscape? They just don’t need it. They do absolutely fine without it.
Why Do I Fertilize Plants in Containers?
Plants that are grown in the nursery in containers are grown in what is called a soil-less growing mix. In other words, the soil in the pot is not soil at all and it does not contain any soil. It’s usually a combination of bark mixes. There are a lot of reasons for this and a big one is drainage. These bark mixes drain really well. But that means that a lot of nutrients are getting washed away before they can be absorbed by the plant. And these soil-less mixes are really low in nutrients to begin with. So plants grown in containers have to be fertilized. Plants in a landscape do not have to be fertilized. I hope that makes sense.
Nikko Blue Hydrangea in Bloom.
How Do I Make My Nikko Blue Hydrangea Blue?
If your Nikko Blue is not Blue, or Blue enough you can add Aluminum Sulfate to the soil and that should make the blooms more blue in color. You can get the Aluminum Sulfate at any full service garden center.
How Do You Propagate Hydrangeas?
Most hydrangeas are easy to propagate if you do them in the summer using soft new growth. Not spring, but summer. Mid June or later. Information on exactly how to root softwood cuttings can be found here.
So . . . What Did We Learn from this Post?
Quit tinkering with you plants. Just let them be plants. They know what to do. In order for plants to make a flower bud they have to slow down or almost quit growing all together to work on flower buds. But if you are dumping all kind of performance enhancing concoctions on them they can’t slow down and make flowers. It’s like you holding the accelerator pedal all the way to the floor then trying to turn the corner. It just not going to work!
Questions? Comments? Mean things to say?
Q: My Nikko Blue hydrangea is about 5 years old. It looks fantastic, but blooms less and less each year. It has lots of healthy leaves, but few flowers. Do you have any suggestions?
— Adrienne Laya, New Lenox
A: The Nikko Blue hydrangea is at the northern edge of its hardiness zone in Chicagoland. This hydrangea blooms on large buds formed on growth from the previous season. After a harsh Chicago winter, a large number of flower buds may be lost, resulting in diminished flowering. Late-spring frosts and deer browsing can also decrease flowers. If the plant dies back to the ground after a very cold winter, there will be no flowers in spring. The hydrangea will resprout from the base and develop healthy green foliage but no flowers. It is likely that your Nikko Blue hydrangea is losing flower buds from winter cold, late spring frosts or deer eating the buds. Mulching the plants and wrapping with burlap may help.
Pruning at the wrong time can also remove flowers. Do not prune them back hard in late winter or early spring as is commonly done with Annabelle hydrangeas. As the flower clusters of the Nikko Blue hydrangea are fading in late summer, prune just below the flowers if desired. Then in spring, prune just above the first set of buds. Give the plants extra time in spring to leaf out before determining whether or not the stems are dead.
There are new varieties of big-leaf hydrangeas that flower on both old and new wood and should be more reliable in flowering. Some of the new cultivars are Endless Summer: “Twist-n-Shout” and “Blushing Bride” are two Endless Summer varieties to consider. Soil pH affects the flower color, producing more blue in acidic soils and pink in slightly acidic to alkaline soils. Add elemental sulfur in spring and fall to lower the pH of your garden soil surrounding the hydrangeas.
Tim Johnson is director of horticulture for the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. Send questions to: Gardening Q&A, Sunday, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611-4041; e-mail to [email protected]
How to Prune Nikko Blue Hydrangeas
Proper timing and techniques are critical when pruning “Nikko Blue” hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla “Nikko Blue”), if you plan to enjoy its renowned blue blossoms. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9, “Nikko Blue” blooms primarily on stems from the previous year. Understanding what that means for pruning and using the trait to your advantage helps ensure prolific blue blossoms on schedule.
Why Stem Age Matters
Flowering shrubs vary in where and when they develop buds that eventually become flowers. Some bloom in late summer or fall on new stems grown during the current year, but others bloom earlier from buds that developed late in the previous growing season.
“Nikko Blue” hydrangea blooms lightly on new stems, but the bulk of this classic hydrangea’s flowers come from buds set during the previous year. Unless those buds — and the old stems that hold them — survive winter and your pruning efforts, the plant loses its heaviest flush of flowers.
How Goals Affect Pruning
Set a specific goal before you prune. Your purpose determines when, what and how you proceed. “Nikko Blue” flourishes with minimal intervention; overzealous pruning reduces flowering and growth. If enhanced flowering is your primary objective with an otherwise healthy “Nikko Blue,” keep pruners in their holster; less is better.
Limiting shrub size, shaping and thinning the plant or rejuvenating a neglected “Nikko Blue” warrant more rigorous approaches. Whatever your goal, remember that flowers hang in the balance. Each stem you remove potentially removes the year’s flowers too.
When to Prune Your “Nikko Blue”
Because “Nikko Blue” blooms heaviest on old wood, prune immediately after its early-summer flowering ends. This removes stems before next year’s flower buds form. Wait too late, and you remove new buds; they’re present long before you see them. In addition, late pruning stimulates growth, which delays dormancy and reduces cold hardiness.
Remove dead or damaged wood, especially stem tips killed over winter, in early spring. This redirects energy to surviving buds.
Rejuvenate “Nikko Blue” by cutting one-third of the branches back to the ground during late-winter dormancy; repeat the process the next two years. Dormant pruning sacrifices the year’s flowers, except for light flushes on new wood, but flowers return the following season.
How to Prune Properly
Successful pruning depends on the right tools and technique. Sharp bypass pruners deliver clean, crisp cuts on “Nikko Blue” branches 1/2 inch in diameter or smaller. Angle your cut approximately 1/4 inch above a healthy set of leaves or buds. For larger stems, long-handled bypass loppers provide extra leverage. Use a sharp pruning saw for anything over 1 inch in diameter.
Disinfect your pruning implements with household disinfectant before and after you prune your hydrangea. If you suspect disease or insect pests, disinfect the blades after each pruning cut. This inhibits the spread to other parts of your “Nikko Blue” and to other garden plants.
There are lots of other hydrangea cultivars available besides Limelight and Little Lime. I would have no problem growing this electric blue Dutch hydrangea, but it is only available to me as a cut flower. My zone is noted for its unspeakably cold winters. Hydrangeas that would prosper in California or Virginia would sooner or later succumb to the cold. I routinely see landscapes that have what I call “florist’s hydrangeas”-presumably purchased from a greenhouse at Easter time-planted in ground. These hydrangeas rarely bloom again once planted in the ground here. The plants can survive the winters, but the flower buds are killed by the cold.
There has been a lot of interest and a lot of hybridizing of hydrangeas going on in recent years-especially in the area of hydrangeas other than white. It is no mystery why. People buy shrubs that have showy flowers, leaves or fruit. The sales of rhododendrons in my zone must be considerable. In the spring, I see newly planted shrubs in full bloom in plenty of yards. But few gardeners in my area have success with them. They like acid well drained soil, and regular moisture. They like sun, but protection from winter winds. A case in point? I have tried, on more occasions than I care to admit to, added to the established rhododendrons on the north side of my house without success. Where am I going with this? People are more likely to buy showy blooming shrubs that come with the promise that they are easy to grow. It is hard to argue with success. This pink hydrangea recently photographed in a client’s yard-I have no idea the name. I have to admit it looked great.
I have planted lots of Nikko blue hydrangeas. The places where they thrive and bloom heavily-just a handful. This property-I have not one clue why they do so well, year after year. Just down the street-big green shrubs with a few flowers here and there. Sparsely representing is not a good look for a summer blooming hydrangea.
A community on Lake Saint Clair, where I do a fair amount of work, those hydrangeas other than white are summer swell. This is one old Nikko blue hydrangea, blooming to beat the band. What it is about this environment that favors this hydrangea-I have no idea. I do have clients who faithfully acidify their hydrangeas in hopes of those prized blue blooms. Has this shrub had that level of care, or does it succeed on the strength of its location and the composition of the soil? I wonder.
The same neighborhood is all abloom with pink hydrangeas. This is a pair of shrubs. I have no idea of the cultivar. It cannot be a new variety, as these shrubs are old. On my side of town, the west side, I never see pink hydrangeas that perform like this. There are lots of new cultivars. All Summer Beauty, Endless Summer-and so on. I will admit I shy away from them. Any plant material I design into a landscape needs to have a reasonable chance of success. A client who has success may decide to move on to being a passionate gardener. Part of my my pleasure in my job is to see this happen. Sometimes I install a landscape, and I have to persuade a client to take ownership. When there are successes, they brush me off, and move on. I like this.
This discussion takes me back to the white hydrangeas. Hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle” is an old stand by. Plagued by giant flower heads, and weak stems, this cultivar weeps. It is not unusual to see them hang over to the ground. I rarely plant them anymore-I much prefer the Limelights. They are so easy, in every regard. But Annabelle planted on top of a wall is a really great look. Those flowers soften an elevated garden space.
The white hydrangeas- Limelight, Little Lime, hydrangea paniculata, Annabelle-and the strikingly foliaged oak leaf hydrangea- they prosper in my zone. Pictured above, a framed herbaria from a gardener, and her artist husband in Italy. Rob bought a series of framed hydrangea herbaria from them. It is a good thing to have a big love for the garden. The design, the planting, the care, the years-magical. I only grow Limelight hydrangeas. It is enough for me-how willing they are to grow and bloom profusely in my garden. This framed herbaria captures what I could not write in words about hydrangeas in summer. Beautiful.
Nikko Blue Hydrangea
Large Flowers All Summer Long!
Why Nikko Blue Hydrangeas?
One of the extremely popular Mop Head Hydrangeas, with large, rounded bloom heads, the Nikko is second to none. It delivers beautiful flowers throughout the summer in a show of rich color as you’ve never seen.
Nikko Blue bears long-lasting large, full blooms during the summer months. The colorful flowers flourish throughout the bush, not just on top, and their rich color is outstanding. Neat and uniform, it makes a unique hedge. Scatter a few throughout your yard or garden for a spectacular display of color that typically outlasts your perennials in the mid-summer heat!
Even better? It couldn’t be easier to grow. This type of hydrangea grows quickly to its full size. It only takes two or three years for this beauty to reach its mature size, and each summer it returns as a nice, full, rounded plant with no pruning needed.
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Planting & Care
1. Planting: Plant your Nikko Blue Hydrangea in an area that receives full to partial sunlight (3 to 6 hours of sunlight). Nikko Blue Hydrangeas can tolerate full sun but prefer partial sun and shade. Morning sun and afternoon shade provide optimal growing conditions.
Dig a hole about twice the size of your shrub’s rootball and just as deep. Place your shrub, backfill the soil and water to settle the roots.
2. Watering: Generally, you’ll water your shrub about once weekly. If you’re not sure when to water, simply check the soil about 3 inches down and water when this area is dry.
3. Fertilizing: Feed your Nikko Blue Hydrangea in the early spring and late summer with an acidic fertilizer.
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