How to Revive a Wilting Hydrangea

How to revive wilting hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are one of my favorite plants as I find they are generally very hardy, and my own hydrangea reliably flower in the Summer, but they do occasionally have wilting leaves, stems, and even flowers if the conditions are not quite right.

In my job as a landscape gardener, I often encountered wilting hydrangeas, and I developed a lot of experience to pinpoint the exact cause and find a solution!

The most common reason for hydrangeas wilting is because of dry soil. Hydrangeas require the soil to be consistently moist and should be watered often in hot weather to prevent the hydrangea leaves and flowers from wilting. Small pots dry out too quickly and do not hold enough moisture, causing hydrangeas to wilt.

To revive a wilting hydrangea, we need to give the soil a good watering, apply a layer of mulch to help conserve water and ensure your hydrangea is in a location out of the wind and either dappled light or morning sun followed by afternoon shade.

I have identified quite a few reasons for wilting hydrangeas over the years, so I thought I’d create a table summarizing the most common causes.

Wilting Hydrangea:Reason for Wilting Hydrangea:
Hydrangea Wilting Due to Drought:Hydrangeas require the soil to be consistently moist around the roots and wilt quickly when the soil is dry, either due to a lack of watering or soil that drains too quickly.
Too Much Sun:Hydrangeas prefer morning sun followed by afternoon shade or dappled light during the day. Too much sun causes the leaves to wilt and scorch a brown color.
Hydrangea in Small Pots:Small pots heat up too quickly for hydrangea roots to draw up moisture.
Hydrangea in Pots without Drainage Holes in the Base:Hydrangeas require consistently moist soil but do not tolerate saturated soil, which causes root rot.
Hydrangea Wilting After Planting:Hydrangeas often wilt after planting due to transplant shock. The contrast in the sun, soil, airflow, and temperature can all cause the hydrangea leaves to wilt. Roots need time to establish before drawing up moisture.
Competing Roots From Other Plants:Roots from nearby plants can compete with your hydrangea for water and nutrients, which may contribute to your hydrangea wilting.
Too Much Fertilizer:Using fertilizer too often or in too high concentration can cause drooping growth on your hydrangea and cause it to display fewer flowers.
Too Much Wind:Hydrangeas grow naturally in woodland and protected from wind. Too much wind saps moisture from the large hydrangea leaves and causes them to wilt.

Keep reading to learn what is causing your hydrangea to wilt and how to implement the solutions to revive it…

Hydrangea Wilting Due to Dry Soil Conditions

Hydrangea leaves wilting and turning brown due to dry soil.
This a hydrangea I saw at a garden center. I identified that it was turning brown because it was in direct sunlight, and the wilting was because the soil had dried out completely in its pot.

The word hydrangea is derived from ‘hydra,’ which means water, which indicates the preferred conditions of hydrangea plants.

Whenever I see a wilting hydrangea, my first instinct is to check the soil the most common reason that I see for a wilting hydrangea is drought stress due to poor soil, lack of watering or rainfall, and excess heat. Hydrangeas require the soil to be consistently moist around the root system to avoid a wilting appearance.

Understanding how they grow in the wild can help us fix our wilting hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas grow naturally in woodland environments in dappled light. The soil is composed of lots of organic matter (leaf mold) that retains moisture around the root system.

If your hydrangea is in an area of full sun or sun during the middle of the day and the afternoon (when temperatures are highest) then the hydrangea leaves can scorch brown and wilt as the large leaves lose more moisture then the roots can draw up.

We should also be aware that sandy or stony soils also drain too quickly for the hydrangea roots to draw up moisture, causing dry soil conditions that result in the hydrangea leaves and flowers wilting.

In my experience, hydrangeas are also one of the first plants in the garden to suffer from wilting leaves in a heat wave or drought, thanks to their high demand for moisture.

Therefore, to prevent a hydrangea from wilting, we need to recreate their preferred conditions in your garden…

How I Revive Wilting Hydrangeas Suffering Drought Stress

  • I first plant, transplant, or move the hydrangea (if it is in a pot) to an area of morning sun followed by afternoon shade (or dappled light during the day). The morning sun ensures the hydrangeas have enough sunlight to display flowers, and shade in the afternoon protects the hydrangea from the hottest part of the day to prevent the leaves from scorching and wilting.
  • The best time to transplant hydrangeas is in the Spring or Fall rather than Summer to allow the hydrangea’s root system to establish in the soil without having to contend with intense Summer temperatures. If your hydrangea is wilting in the Summer, I would advise you to shade it temporarily in the afternoons until it is safer to transplant it in the Fall when temperatures are cooler so it has the best chance of reviving. I sometimes use a sun umbrella to provide shade if a hydrangea is wilting.
  • If your soil is sandy, stony and draining very quickly then ideally you should replant the hydrangea in an area of the garden that has been well prepared with lots of compost, leaf mold or well rotted manure to a depth of 18 inches (to accommodate the hydrangea’s root system) which helps to recreate the moist soil conditions that hydrangeas require to prevent wilting.
  • If it is too difficult to remove your wilting hydrangea, give it a really generous soak with a hose to ensure the soil is evenly moist. Then, apply a 2-inch layer of mulch to the surface of the soil around your hydrangea to help conserve moisture.
  • The best mulch materials are compost, leaf mold, or well-rotted manure as all three materials retain moisture, improve the soil structure, and add nutrients to the soil. I apply a mulch at the start of Spring every year after soaking the soil and ensure that the mulch is not in contact with the growth above ground, as consistently moist material can rot the living wood that is above the soil line.
  • Water your hydrangea as often as required to keep the soil moist (but not saturated). Exactly how often to water your hydrangeas depends on a wide variety of factors, so I don’t have any universal advice regarding how often to water your hydrangeas. But as a general rule I ensure the soil is moist to a finger depth. If the soil feels as though it is starting to dry, give the hydrangea a generous soak whilst it is wilting.
  • Always water hydrangea thoroughly. Watering too lightly encourages the roots to grow to near the surface which can cause the hydrangeas to be more vulnerable to drought. Watering thoroughly helps to encourage the roots to establish in the ground which increases the hydrangea’s resistance to drought.

My favorite tip is to use mulch around the hydrangea as not only does it lock in moisture around the base of your wilting hydrangea, but it also contributes nutrients to the soil!

By recreating the hydrangea’s preferred growing conditions and ensuring that the surrounding soil is consistently moist, I usually see the hydrangea recover in 2 or 3 weeks.

Why is My Hydrangea Wilting After Planting?

In my experience, hydrangeas wilt after planting because of transplant shock caused by the contrast in soil, light, and watering conditions from the environment where the hydrangea was grown to the conditions of your garden.

Hydrangea leaves wilt as the roots are not established and cannot uptake enough water.

From working in the industry myself at my day job at a garden nursery, I know hydrangeas are cultivated in a very specific, controlled greenhouse environment when grown commercially for sale. Conditions such as temperature, humidity, watering, sunlight, air flow, and soil structure are all consistent and designed to grow the hydrangeas for sale.

I learned that hydrangeas adapt to growing in this specific controlled environment. When we plant our hydrangeas in our gardens, the contrast in conditions can cause transplant shock, as the hydrangea has to adapt to a new set of conditions.

This shock often causes the hydrangea to wilt as a sign of stress.

We also need to consider that the roots must adapt to a new soil structure that may not retain as much moisture, or perhaps the increased airflow is sapping too much moisture from the leaves.

If the leaves are losing too much moisture, the hydrangea wilts as a survival strategy. Wilting effectively reduces the leaf’s surface area from which it can lose water until the roots can establish in the new soil and draw up water more effectively.

For this reason, I recommend buying new hydrangeas from a nursery close to your home, as they are more likely to be suited to the local conditions. Some large garden centers that I know of import hydrangeas from different countries, so they are not as well adapted to the local climate.

Therefore, I highly recommend that you talk to anyone working at your local garden center to establish the provenance of their plants.

My Tips for Reviving a Wilting Hydrangea After Planting

  • Ensure the hydrangeas are planted in the right conditions and the optimal location. This means the hydrangeas should be in dappled light or morning sun followed by afternoon shade, be planted in consistently moist soil amended with organic matter, out of the wind, and watered as often as required to ensure the soil is consistently and evenly moist.
  • Even with the best conditions and locations, hydrangeas can still wilt as they adjust to new soil conditions. In the meantime, I recommend that the hydrangea be watered often to encourage root development, and the hydrangea should start reviving.
  • I always apply a 2-inch layer of mulch around any hydrangeas that have just been planted. This helps conserve moisture in the soil and prevents the sun from shining directly on the soil, which can dry it out too quickly.
  • If possible, shield your hydrangea from direct sun if it is still wilting after planting. Windbreaks can act as a good temporary shade and prevent too much airflow from drying out the leaves, which causes them to wilt.

The most important thing to remember is that the roots require time to establish after planting, which means the hydrangea cannot uptake moisture effectively until it becomes more established.

This is why frequent watering is so important for wilting hydrangeas after planting.

A layer of compost used as mulch is a really effective way to conserve moisture in the soil to create the right conditions for your wilting hydrangea to revive after planting.

I have had this problem myself, and I can say from experience the thing that made the biggest difference was applying mulch, as the hydrangea root ball stayed moist and cool, and my wilting hydrangea revived in less than a week.

(Read my article on how to revive a dying hydrangea).

Why is My Potted Hydrangea Wilting?

Whenever I see a hydrangea wilting in a pot, my first instinct is to check the soil’s moisture, as pots can dry out quickly…

The most common reason for potted hydrangeas wilting is often because the pot is too small or pots without drainage holes in the base. We need to remember that hydrangeas require consistently moist soil.

However, pots without drainage cause the soil to become saturated, and the hydrangea wilts and dies from root rot.

As you can see, hydrangeas have many leaves with a large surface from which to lose water. Hydrangeas quickly wilt in dry soil as they rely on moisture at the roots to draw up enough moisture to support the large leaves.

Hydrangeas have extensive and thirsty root systems that can quickly out grow a pot. Smaller pots have less capacity for soil and therefore hold much less moisture so they hydrangea can quickly wilt even after watering.

If the pot does not have drainage holes in the base or there is a tray or saucer underneath, then this can prevent excess water draining and cause the soil to become saturated.

If the soil is saturated and water is pooling around the roots, then this excludes oxygen from the soil, which prevents root respiration.

If the roots cannot respire as they do not have access to oxygen, then this interferes with the root’s ability to draw up moisture and nutrients from the soil to transport around the plant, resulting in a wilting hydrangea.

If the roots cannot transport water or nutrients around the plant the leaves wilt and can turn yellow. If the roots are in saturated soil for too long this causes root rot and results in a dying hydrangea.

My Tips for Reviving a Hydrangea Wilting in a Pot

  • I advise planting hydrangeas in a large pot that is at least 12 inches across with the same proportional depth. A pot this size can contain enough soil to hold enough moisture for most hydrangeas. However, you may have to re-pot depending on the size of the hydrangeas. It is worth checking to see whether your hydrangea roots are pot-bound. If replant your hydrangea in a much larger pot.
  • I have tested many different potting mixes for hydrangea and what works really well for me is adding some leaf mold to your potting mix as leaf mold has an exceptional capacity to retain moisture and replicate the typical soil conditions of the hydrangea’s native environment. This helps to maintain the optimal balance of moisture for hydrangeas to prevent wilting.
  • Water hydrangeas in pots as frequently as required to ensure that the soil is moist but not saturated. As we discussed, pots naturally dry out much quicker than if the hydrangea were planted in a garden boarder, so be diligent with your watering. As soon as the soil starts to dry out to a finger’s depth, give the pot a generous watering to revive the wilting hydrangea.
  • I have tried several different pots when growing hydrangea, and I have concluded that planting hydrangeas in clay, ceramic, or terracotta pots is better as they tend to be thicker and do not heat up as much as plastic or metal pots and planters. Thin plastic pots heat up in the sun much quicker, which dries out the soil too quickly for the hydrangea roots to draw up the moisture they require, which results in wilting.
  • Always plant hydrangeas in pots with drainage holes in the base. While hydrangeas prefer the soil to be consistently moist, they do not tolerate saturated, boggy soil, so good drainage at the base of the pot is important. Transfer your hydrangea to a pot with holes in the base as quickly as possible and ensure that excess water does not pool underneath the pot by using feet (bricks or stones work well) to elevate the pot off the ground.

As a hydrangea matures, its root system can be quite extensive, so whenever I see hydrangeas wilting in pots, I always check whether the roots are pot-bound.

Hydrangeas need a lot of potting soil around the roots as they prefer conditions to be consistently moist, which is why I love using larger pots with a greater soil capacity, as it is so important when potting up hydrangeas.

Potted hydrangeas that are wilting can be revived if you replant the hydrangea in a larger pot, replace the potting soil, and water as often as required so that the soil is moist.

Remember to keep the hydrangea in an area of morning sun followed by afternoon shade or dappled light throughout the day to help it revive and avoid leaf scorch.

If the potted hydrangea has been in saturated soil for a long time then it can be difficult to revive as the roots rot which kills the hydrangea.

Too Much Fertilizer Can Cause Wilting Hydrangea Leaves and Flowers

Too much nitrogen fertilizer applied too often or in too high a concentration can cause excess foliage growth, which grows weak and sappy and droops down with a wilting appearance. Excess nitrogen in the soil also causes the hydrangea to display fewer flowers than usual.

Hydrangeas are relatively heavy feeders and usually benefit from a fertilizer application in the Spring.

However, too much nitrogen fertilizer tends to cause hydrangea stems and leaves to grow weak and sappy (and display fewer flowers) which causes it to wilt and become more vulnerable to pests and diseases.

Excess nitrogen can also be from lawn fertilizers which can dilute in heavy rain and run off into garden boarders and affect hydrangeas.

There is not much you can do after the fertilizer has been applied and the hydrangeas has wilted or is drooping, other then scale back the use of fertilizer.

I recommend using a miracle-gro granular fertilizer that contains all the nutrients that the hydrangea requires and releases nutrients more slowly which prevents the hydrangea wilting or displaying fewer flowers.

(Read my article, why is my hydrangea not flowering?).

A well balanced, all purpose. granular slow release fertilizer is best to prevent hydrangeas wilting.
A well-balanced, all-purpose, granular slow-release fertilizer is best to prevent hydrangeas from wilting.

The hydrangeas should revive from their wilting appearance the following Spring.

(Read my article, why are my hydrangea flowers turning green?)

Key Takeaways:

  • To revive wilting hydrangeas, recreate the conditions of their natural environment with dappled sunlight, shelter from excess winds, and water the hydrangeas as often as required so that the soil is evenly moist. Apply a layer of mulch to help conserve moisture and revive the wilted leaves.
  • The most common reason hydrangeas wilt is dry soil. Hydrangeas require consistently moist soil to support their large leaves. To prevent leaves and flowers from wilting, hydrangeas must be watered as often as necessary.
  • Wilting hydrangeas after planting is caused by transplant shock. The contrast in soil, watering, sunlight, and airflow causes the leaves to wilt as a sign of stress. The hydrangea roots need time to establish in the soil after planting to draw up water and revive the wilting leaves.
  • Hydrangeas wilting in pots is often because the pot is too small and dries out too quickly for the hydrangea to draw up moisture, resulting in wilting leaves. If the pot does not have drainage holes, then excess water can pool around the roots, which also causes the leaves to wilt.

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