Why aren’t my hydrangeas blooming? My winter kill hydrangeas care tips are here to help!

If your hydrangeas are pathetic brown sticks like mine, join me in a moment of silence then read on to see what you can do about it.

During the winter, my hydrangea looks dead. It has lost all of its leaves, as it should, but I am now left with a bunch of bare sticks. Normally when you see this, the urge is to cut them back to the ground. DON’T prune them now. Those dead looking sticks contain the buds for next year’s flowers. If you prune now, you will be cutting off all of the flower buds. Sometimes the deer will come along and eat the tips, producing the same effect as if you pruned them. Other years with very cold sustained winter temperatures below zero, the flower buds will be killed by being frozen. Big leaf hydrangea’s, Hydrangea macrophylla, is only borderline hardy in zone 6. During warmer winters big leaf Hydrangea fare much better. They also will not lose their flower buds closer to the shore and ocean areas as the climates are more moderated by the ocean temperatures which are warmer than the air.

So now instead of blooms, or even lush green leaves, I am left staring at ugly brown sticks with not a bud in sight.

These babies are fighters! Peek deep down into the heart of the sad little hydrangea and you can see it’s Rocky like leaves reaching towards the sun.

Not exactly a page out of Better Homes & Gardens, my sticks need an intervention.

How to Care for Winter Kill Hydrangeas
Check your hydrangeas to see if any green buds are on the brown canes

Green Buds on Brown Canes – DO NOT CUT the brown branches – they are alive and should bloom. Just prune out the canes that are dead (no green buds on them).

No Green Buds on Brown Canes (buds may even be black) – cut all canes to the base of the plant – making sure to leave the new growth green leaves at the base of the hydrangea.

What to Expect: Your hydrangeas should grow to at least the same size they were last year.

Will they bloom this year? Old wood hydrangeas won’t bloom, new wood/old wood hydrangeas may bloom later in the summer and new wood hydrangeas will bloom as usual. Check out this post to learn the different types of hydrangeas.

Note: I swear by (affiliate) this fertilizer and sprinkled it around my hydrangeas to give them an extra boost.

Don’t forget to fertilize …

To make a long story short, it’s because of the harsh winter!

So to recap:

Do not prune big leaf hydrangea in fall, winter or spring. Only prune after flowering as flower buds are produced in late summer and carried on the sticks until the following summer bloom time.

Deer may eat the flower buds held at the tips. Use spray deer repellents monthly or cover with burlap. Protect from snow buildup that could break the branches.

Site Hydrangea in a south-facing or protected area of the yard to reduce colder temperature exposure.

Hopefully, next summer your hydrangea plant will bloom beautifully.

Paint your landscape with the living color of hydrangea blooms. These beautiful flowering plants unfurl blossoms in a variety of hues, including one of the garden’s most elusive shades: blue. Hydrangea shrubs open striking blossoms that steal the spotlight during peak bloom and stir interest as they linger through other seasons.

As you select a hydrangea for your garden, do a little homework to learn when hydrangea seasonis for your neck of the woods. Check with local garden centers, public gardens or the extension office to learn the timing for different types of hydrangeas.

Also consider how you’re using the hydrangeas in your landscape as you research which hydrangea you want to plant. For potted hydrangeas, you’ll want a long and lush hydrangea season, so you should likely choose a repeat-blooming type. If you’re planting a hedge and want flowers to complement nearby flowering crabapples or lilacs, lean toward a late spring-early summer hydrangea season, the kind you get with a ‘PeeGee’ hydrangea or a lacecap hydrangea.

flowering can be affected by early-fall frost, late-spring frost, or super-cold winter temperatures. If you wish, you can cover bigleaf hydrangeas with 12-18 inches of mulch after the first frost, removing the mulch as soon as the threat of frost passes in spring.

Consider growing one of the many new hydrangeas that bloom on old and new wood. They’re often called rebloomers, but they’re technically remontant, meaning they flower more than once in a season. Or enjoy bigleaf hydrangeas only for their leaf colors; some varieties sport green-and-white variegated leaves or lemon-lime hues.

Common varieties with variegated foliage include Guilded Gold, ‘Lemon Wave’, and Light-O-Day.


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