, Gloucester, MA

September 13, 2013

Clipping hydrangea may have stopped its climbing

Barbara Barger

---- — Q: I had a lovely old climbing hydrangea that climbs up and over the porch, but this year the porch has to be painted. I knew this was coming so last fall I gave the plant a severe haircut. After winter I was anxious to see if it would bloom – but besides not blooming yet, the rest of the plant looks dead. There are many buds on the branches, some of them green but many of them black or brown. But no flowers or leaves and it’s now August. Will my plant survive or haven’t I waited long enough?

A: I am afraid I have bad news for you: there’s only one chance in a million for survival and you’re to blame. Climbing hydrangeas should be carefully pruned in late fall after bloom. If ever a major pruning is necessary, do it in stages over a period of years to avoid killing the vine. If a vine is growing in a spot which will need occasional painting and it will need occasional pruning, it is quite possible to plant on a trellis that can be carefully pulled away from the structure then easily reattached when painting is finished and you’ll never even break branch.

Q: Do you have any hints on getting my kalanchoe plant to bloom again? Also, is it lime you use to make your hydrangeas bluer? Would coffee grounds help?

A: Your kalanchoe is a succulent, and like poinsettias and Christmas cacti, it is light sensitive. The blooming period is late fall to winter and as we all know, those are our low-light short days, but plants are often forced to bloom at other seasons. Try growing them in a totally dark closet, or covering them with a large box — take them out every morning just as you would a poinsettia.

Now to the hydrangea: you need to add aluminum sulfate to the soil to turn a hydrangea blue. And they need an acid soil to allow better absorption of aluminum. You are too late for a color change this year, but do use the aluminum this fall and again in the spring. Color change does not happen overnight, rather in a season. Use an acid fertilizer as a foliar feed to help keep the soil acid — coffee grounds are OK, but do not have enough acid to change the pH without the aluminum sulfate, too.

This week’s dirt

A warning: Since so many “weeds” have been embraced by pharmaceutical companies, there is the temptation to try some of these old-time remedies. We never recommend that you grow these or any other medicinal plants or mushrooms for anything except garden appeal, unless you are sure of what you are doing.

North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger is a periodic feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara at or write c/o Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at