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Should you prune your hydrangeas?

The pruning rules are different depending on what kind of hydrangeas you have.
The pruning rules are different depending on what kind of hydrangeas you have.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff /File

What to do this week Buy annuals and vegetable starts at plant sales and garden centers. They are healthier if they have not yet bloomed. When filling pots and other containers with plants, look for lightweight soilless potting mix that contains time-released fertilizers and perhaps even water-storing crystals. Never add used garden soil. Do not worry about minor bulbs, but deadhead the larger spring bulbs that have bloomed, leaving stems and leaves. Plant annuals around them in flower beds to disguise their ugly ripening foliage, which cannot be removed until it turns yellowish. Sprinkle bulb fertilizer around all bulbs. Plant bush and pole bean seeds 2 inches deep and a foot apart, and keep planting every three weeks through the summer.

Q. Glad to see you are back. Your May 18 article was just the information I needed about putting down mulch on my trees, shrubs, and perennials and lightly fertilizing with a time-release plant food. A question: My hydrangeas are all sticks with just a few leaves pushing up from the base. They are a mix of Endless Summer and some blue lacecap hydrangeas. Should I leave them alone or cut them back? If I cut them back, will they flower this summer?



A. How to prune hydrangeas is the most common garden question, believe it or not. People are so confused, partly because there are different kinds. The easiest approach with colored hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla or so-called bigleaf hydrangeas) is to cut branches that have bloomed all the way to the ground as soon as they finish. They will have branches. Leave young stick-like stems without branches alone because they will sprout branches over the following summer and bloom then. But an exception is the newer Endless Summer blue hydrangeas, which bloom on both this year’s and last year’s stems. They will give you more flowers if you don’t cut stems to the ground after blooming. White hydrangeas are easy, too. If you have 4-foot mounding white Hydrangea arborescens, also called “Hills of Snow” and “Annabelle, ” cut them back to the ground in the winter. It is not a disaster if you forget to do this. If you have either of the popular large white-flowered shrub hydrangeas, H. quercifolia (or oakleaf hydrangea) or H. paniculata (the PeeGee) , just prune out the dead wood.


Q. How can you make raised beds attractive?


A. I think raised beds are intrinsically attractive because they automatically impose a sense of design and formality even on the most casual garden. They are also hard to beat for increasing space efficiency and yields. As climate change increases, they are also keep plants from drowning in heavy downpours and slow erosion. But how do you make raised beds beautiful? I like the classic look of four rectangular beds with a wood or stone frame equally spaced to create a square pattern with grassy paths in between. For best access, make the beds 30 inches high and 4 feet wide. Gardener’s Supply Co. (www.gardeners.com ; 800-427-3363 ) is an excellent source that mails a wide variety of attractive Vermont-made raised-bed frames in different heights, sizes, materials, and colors.

Please send your garden questions to Carol Stocker at stockergarden@gmail.com and include your name or initials and your town.