August 1, 2014 at 1:00 am


Hydrangeas dazzle - and look great dried

Don't prune oakleaf hydrangea now or you'll loose next season's blooms. (Proven Winners)

Hydrangeas continue to be the darlings of the garden world, and mine are putting on a grand show right now. My pink H. arborescence ‘Bella Anna’ and ‘Invincible Spirit,’ new to my garden last year, have doubled in size and are loaded with blooms. They are a little bit on droopy side, but the flowers are lovely, so I am willing to over look this relaxed habit. Happily, the cool weather has extended the life of the blossoms.

Oak Leaf (H. quercifolia) and the bodacious and colorful mop heads (H. macrophylla) begin to form their flower buds in August, so other than carefully removing spent blossoms, hold off on any pruning or you will cut away any chance of them flowering next season.

Dried hydrangeas are fabulous for decorating, and they last for ages. The secret to keeping them from wilting is timing. Harvest them when they have started to dry on the shrub and the petals are becoming papery. Martha Stewart removes the leaves from the stems, dips the stem ends in boiling water and places them in large vases of water. She then allows the water to evaporate.

Another method of drying that keeps the petals supple and less likely to shatter is drying them in glycerin. The recipe is 1 part glycerin to 2 parts water.

Along with all kinds of information on choosing and caring for hydrangeas, hydrangea guru, Michael Dirr’s website,, has a good section on drying and dying hydrangeas using the old-fashioned Ritz dye. You can get the dye at craft stores or buy it online. Good colors would be a French blue, rose or purple. The dying is done after the flower heads are dried. The longer you leave the flowers in the dye, the darker they will become. The dye solution needs to be brought to a boil so if you might want to use the burner on your outdoor grill. These dyes are permanent and a cheap plastic paint drop cloth and lots of newspapers are a must.

If you don’t want to harvest the flowers from your shrubs, you probably can find them at farmer’s markets. Dirr says he buys his online.

Timely tip: Another important reminder about the residents in your landscape. Trees and shrubs that leafed out late have used up a lot of their reserves and need to be pampered. The best thing you can do for them is to keep them watered. Plan to fertilize them after they have gone dormant.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at