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Home Improvement / Gardening : Why 4-Year-Old Hydrangea Fails to Bloom


QUESTION: I have not been able to correct a problem with my 4-year-old hydrangea, and nurserymen seem to be baffled by it too. It bloomed well for the first two years, but now it no longer blooms; it just grows and looks healthy. Having grown hydrangeas for years with no problems, I am now confused. Would you have any great suggestions other than tossing this shrub out?

ANSWER: Your problem reminds me of an experience I had about two decades ago with a friend in Glendora whose six Hybrid Tea rose bushes just grew and grew but never bloomed. He reported that he fed them regularly, and the plants looked remarkably healthy, but every stem grew without a bloom. After much inquiry, I finally learned that he was feeding his plants monthly with a fertilizer that contained only nitrogen, without phosphorus or potassium.

Nitrogen generally promotes greenery in plants, whereas phosphorus tends to encourage flowering and fruiting. I advised my friend to try feeding his plants with "Superphosphate" (0-20-0 formula) and let me know the result. Some weeks later he called very excitedly to say his bushes were covered with big, beautiful flowers.

It's late in the season to expect any bloom this year from a hydrangea, but go ahead and feed now with Superphosphate. I'm almost certain it will help your plant bloom again next season.

How Much, Often Can Bluestar Be Pruned?

Q: Will you please discuss when, how much, and how often a "Bluestar" (Amsonia tabernacmontani) should be pruned?

A: Although I am not personally familiar with this apparently lovely perennial, I have two publications that rate it quite highly for year-round good looks, with shiny willow-like leaves, clusters of soft blue star-shaped flowers in late spring and interesting long, tapering seed pods later on.

However, they also comment that it is not widely available. Both confirm that this plant is generally trouble free and recommend leaving it undisturbed once planted. Normally it grows 2-3 feet tall and spreads about 1-2 feet wide. If you feel you must prune it, do so lightly in winter after the seed pods mature, and before new growth starts in the spring.

How to Take Care of an Orchid Cactus

Q: I have two questions regarding the care of Epiphyllums (Orchid cactus). Do I break off the spent flowers, cut through the seed pod or leave all on? Will the same leaf flower again next year? I can't find answers to either of these questions in any books.

A: Epiphyllums tend to bloom on recently matured leaf-stems; so the new growth developing now will normally provide the next crop of flowers. Leaf-stems that have already bloomed will not usually re-bloom to any notable extent. Leaf-stems that are unattractive or over 2 years old may be removed, but others should remain to nourish the plant.

Old blooms and seed pods may be removed to promote slightly more flowering next time, but it doesn't seem to make a significant difference. By the way, the fleshy seedpods of Epiphyllums are edible, and some of them are actually quite sweet and tasty when ripe.

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