The reason for a dying hydrangea is usually because the soil is too dry or the hydrangea is in too much direct sunlight which causes the leaves to turn brown, wilt and die. New growth in Spring is sensitive to frost damage which causes the leaves and flower buds to turn brown and mushy with a dying appearance.
Here is a reference table highlighting the most common reasons for dying hydrangeas and their symptoms:
|Conditions:||Reason for Dying Hydrangea:||Symptoms:|
|Drought Stress:||Hydrangeas require consistently moist soil. Too much wind, not enough water, soil that drains too quickly, too much sun, tree roots competing with the hydrangea for moisture, high temperatures, dense tree canopy preventing rainfall from reaching the soil, can all contribute to the hydrangea being drought stressed.||Leaves and flowers wilting, possibly turning brown and curling.|
|Too Much Sun:||Hydrangeas are woodland plants that prefer to grow in dappled light. Too much sun can scorch sensitive leaves and turn them brown. Full sunlight can also contribute to drought stress and cause the hydrangea to wilt.||Hydrangea leaves scorched brown with leaves curled and dying.|
|Too Much Fertilizer:||Hydrangea roots are sensitive to high concentration of fertilizers. Too much nitrogen can burn the roots and cause the leaf edges to turn brown. Run off from lawn fertilizer can be the cause of the leaves turning brown.||Leaves turning brown and crispy at the edges with a dying appearance, possibly with fewer blooms.|
|Potted Hydrangea:||Pots can be too small and dry out too quickly or not have proper drainage at the base which causes the soil to become saturated and the roots to die of root rot.||Wilting leaves and flowers due to small pots. Leaves turning yellow or brown and drooping if the hydrangea is suffering from root rot.|
|Frost Damage:||Hydrangeas grow naturally in sheltered woodlands and do not tolerate cold winds or late frosts particularly well. A late frost in Spring often damages the emerging new leaves and flower buds and can prevent flowering.||Leaves and flower buds can turn brown or black and mushy. Damaged flower buds most often do not flower.|
|Hydrangea Dying After Plating or Transplanting:||It often takes some time for the hydrangea roots to establish after planting, before they can draw up water efficiently which can cause the hydrangea to wilt and die if the soil is too dry. Transplant shock caused by a contrast in conditions can also be the cause of a dying hydrangea.||Wilting leaves and flowers. Leaves may turn yellow, brown or black with a dying appearance.|
Keep reading to why the hydrangeas is dying and how to implement the solutions to save your dying hydrangea…
1. Hydrangea Wilting and Dying (Drought Stress)
The reason for hydrangeas wilting and dying is because there is not enough moisture around the roots due to lack of watering or rainfall, the soil drains too quickly, too much sun or excessive wind saps moisture from the leaves. Hydrangea flowers can droop due to excess fertilizer.
If the hydrangea is severely drought stressed the leaves can also start to curl and turn brown.
Hydrangeas are native to woodland environments where they grow under the canopy protected from full sun, excess wind and grow in rich moisture retaining soils composed of leaf mold, with frequent rainfall.
Hydrangeas are very sensitive to drought as they have a fibrous and relatively shallow roots system and require a consistent source of moisture at the roots to prevent the leaves from wilting in appearance.
Hydrangeas can wilt in Summer due to high temperatures and low rainfall or wilt after planting, as it takes the hydrangea time for the root systems to establish sufficiently to be able to draw up moisture.
Here are the main environmental stressors that contribute to hydrangeas wilting and dying:
- Hydrangeas wilt if they are in sandy or stony soil that drains too quickly. Hydrangeas require soil that is amended with organic matter which helps to retain moisture around the roots.
- Underwatering or lack of rainfall. Established, mature hydrangeas often do not need watering if they are in the right soil and out of the sun but smaller hydrangeas or transplanted hydrangeas should be watered thoroughly, as often as required to keep the soil moist.
- Watering too lightly causes the roots to grow shallow which increases the hydrangeas vulnerability to drought so always water with a good soak to encourage the roots to grow to a greater depth into the soil to reach moisture as they establish.
- Hydrangeas are adapted to growing in dappled light under the canopy of of a woodland and do not tolerate full sun very well, which can cause the hydrangea to lose more moisture from its leaves then it can draw up through the roots and causes the leaves wilt, scorch brown and die.
- Too much wind saps moisture from the leaves quicker then the roots can draw up moisture. Hydrangeas have a high demand for moisture and too much wind can dry the leaves quickly causing them to wilt and the hydrangea to die of drought.
- Excess nitrogen fertilizer causes hydrangeas to droop as it promotes weaker, sappy foliage growth that droops under its own weight, giving the appearance of the hydrangea wilting.
- Hydrangeas are woodland plants that grow well under trees, however a dense tree canopy with abundant leaves can intercept rainfall and prevent rain from reaching the soil causing dryer conditions.
To save a wilting and dying hydrangea it is important that you make some changes to its environment to help it recover from wilting, with increasing the level of soil moisture available at the roots being the biggest priority.
- Water the hydrangea as often as required so that the soil is consistently and evenly moist. How often you have to water hydrangeas depends on your climate, soil type, weather and maturity of your hydrangea but whilst they hydrangea is wilting, water it with a hose to ensure the soil is moist so the roots can draw up moisture.
- Always water with a really generous soak rather then a light watering. Watering thoroughly soaks the soil around the roots and encourages the roots to grow deeper in the soil and establish properly which increases the hydrangea’s resistance to drought.
- Apply a 2 inch layer of mulch to the surface of the soil around the hydrangea. Leaf mold, compost or well rotted manure are great choices for mulch as they have the capacity to conserve the soil’s moisture after watering. Mulch on the surface of the soil also prevents the sun shining directly onto the soil around the hydrangea to keep the roots cool and reduce soil evaporation.
- If your hydrangea is a sunny or windy area you can either transplant the hydrangea to an area of shelter or create shelter with other plants and shrubs. If the hydrangea is still small and not yet significantly established in the soil I recommend transplanting it to a more sheltered location (under the protection of a tree if possible).
- Or you can use a tall plant such as bamboo or perhaps a tree to plant along side your hydrangea to helper buffer the hydrangea against drying winds and protect it from full sun (hydrangea grow best in morning sun followed by afternoon shade or dappled light throughout the day).
- Scale back the use of any fertilizer whilst the hydrangea is wilting. Too much nitrogen can cause hydrangeas to droop which can come from fertilizer applied to the hydrangea or run off from lawn fertilizer. Cut back any drooping growth caused by the use of fertilizer with a sharp pair of pruners, as it is more susceptible to pests and disease and more vulnerable to frost damage.
If your garden soil is particularly sandy or stony and the hydrangea is wilting and dying just after planting, then I recommend digging up the hydrangea temporarily and amending the soil with lots of organic matter (compost, leaf mold or well rotted manure) to mimic the hydrangeas moist soil conditions in its native habitat.
Preparing the soil so that its retains more moisture is perhaps the best strategy to counter the problem of wilting hydrangea in the long term.
Spring or Fall is the best time to replant a hydrangea as the weather is cooler whereas planting during the higher temperatures of Summer can exacerbate the problem and the plant is dormant in Winter so replanting at this time can risk root rot.
With enough moisture around the roots and protection from sun or wind, the hydrangea can recover from its wilting appearance over the following weeks.
2. Hydrangea Leaves Turning Brown and Dying
Most often the reason for hydrangea leaves turning brown is because they are in too much sunlight which scorches the leaves brown with a dying appearance. Hydrangeas are adapted to growing partial shade or dappled light and their leaves turn brown and die back if exposed to full sun.
Hydrangeas are woodland plants that have adapted to living under the canopy with dappled light throughout they day.
If hydrangeas are in a location of full sun, the leaves can turn brown, crispy and curl in at the edges, particular when combined with high temperatures and a lack of moisture.
Too much sun scorches the sensitive leaves brown and increases transpiration, so the leaves lose a lot of water and die back.
Whilst too much sun is usually the main reason for hydrangea leaves turning brown, drought stress because of lack of water, high temperatures, poor soil that does not retain enough moisture and wind can all contribute significantly to the leaves turning brown.
Hydrangeas in too much sun die from either drought stress, or all their leaves scorch, turn brown and die back which prevents the hydrangea photosynthesizing and the hydrangea dies.
Whilst hydrangeas can grow in full shade, most species of hydrangeas prefer some sun in order to promote flowering.
The key is to finding the balance of sun and shade to protect the hydrangea leaves from turning brown from too much sun and ensure their is enough sun for flowering.
The best way to achieve the optimal balance is by locating your hydrangea in a location with morning sun followed by afternoon shade morning an area of dappled light under a tree canopy.
Morning sun is less intense then midday or afternoon sun and the temperature is usually much lower in the mornings so hydrangeas can benefit from sun (to promote flowering) without risking drought stress or burning and turning brown.
If it is impractical to transplant your hydrangea to a different area of the garden then I recommend planting a tree, shrub or perhaps bamboo next to the hydrangea to help buffer wind and provide the dappled light conditions that hydrangeas prefer.
Hydrangea leaves that have turn brown and crispy do not recover so it is best practice to trim them back with a sharp pair of pruners (this can be done at any time of year).
Because brown leaves are also often associated with drought stress I recommend you follow the same advice as written above pertaining to wilted hydrangeas and give the soil a really generous soak to help the roots draw up moisture.
Apply a layer of mulch to the soil around the base of the hydrangea to help conserve moisture.
With good moisture around the roots and protection from sun or wind the hydrangea should show signs of recovery in the following weeks.
3. Hydrangea Leaves Turning Brown at the Edges and Dying (Too Much Fertilizer)
Hydrangea leaves turn brown at the edges in response to too much fertilizer. A high concentration of nitrogen fertilizer can burn the roots of hydrangeas and cause the leaf margins to turn brown and crispy with a dying appearance.
If the hydrangea has had slightly too much fertilizer then leaves tend to droop and there are often fewer flowers (nitrogen promotes foliage growth at the expense of flowers, read my article, why is my hydrangea not flowering).
However, when fertilizer is applied too often or in too high concentration, then this can cause the leaf edges to to brown with a dying appearance.
Consider that lawn fertilizer can dilute after heavy rainfall and run off the lawn into garden boarders (and towards your hydrangea roots) and burn the plants due to their high nitrogen content.
It is not only fertilizer in high concentration that can cause hydrangea leaves to turn brown and die back but applying fertilizer too often can also cause a build up of salts in the soil around the hydrangeas roots.
The accumulated salts in the soil as a result of excess fertilizer use interfere with the hydrangea roots ability to draw up moisture (by osmosis) and can cause drought like symptoms of drooping leaves as well as brown dying leaves.
- Scale back the use of any fertilizer.
- Cut back any leaves that have been severely affected with a sharp pair of pruners.
- Excess fertilizer causes a build of salts in the soil which can effect the roots ability to draw up moisture, so give the soil around the hydrangea a generous soak to help dissolve excess salts that are left behind by fertilizer to restore balance to the soil and help revive the hydrangea.
- Keep watering the hydrangea generously every few days (ideally with a hose) which helps to maintain the moist soil conditions that hydrangeas prefer and to dilute the concentration of fertilizer and salts around the roots for recovery.
Hydrangeas grow best in rich soil and mature plants often do not necessarily need fertilizer if they are in good soil as they have a developed roots system that can access nutrients.
However fertilizer in the Spring can encourage the growth of less mature hydrangeas and support flowering
Hydrangea roots and leaves are sensitive to excess fertilizer so it is important to use the right product to prevent any further problems.
For hydrangeas I recommend a well balance all purpose granular fertilizer such as miracle-gro as it contains all the nutrients a hydrangeas requires at the right concentration to avoid problems with using too much fertilizer and to support a healthy plant with good flowers.
The granules release the nutrients slowly as they dissolve rather then all at one as with a liquid fertilizer.
Hydrangeas are resilient and as long as you water it often to dissolve salts in the soil, then the hydrangea should recover the following year.
(Read my article, why is my hydrangea drooping?)
4. Potted Hydrangea Dying
The reason for potted hydrangeas dying if often because the pot is too small or the pot is without drainage holes in the base. Small pots dry out quickly, causing the wilting and dying hydrangea leaves. Pots without drainage cause water to pool around the roots and the hydrangea dies of root rot.
Hydrangeas have a relatively large and fibrous root system with abundant leaves that require lots of moisture.
Smaller pots have less capacity for soil and therefore hold less moisture.
The thirsty hydrangea roots quickly draw up and transpire all the available moisture in the pot which results in the hydrangea having a wilting appearance with leaves that can turn brown and curl inwards as a result of drought stress.
If the pot has no drainage holes in the base, then water pools around the roots of the hydrangea.
This either causes root rot or deprives the roots of oxygen, which prevents root respiration and interferes with the roots ability to draw up moisture.
This causes the leaves to droop and turn yellow with a dying appearance.
- Plant hydrangeas in a pot larger then 16 inches across, with the same proportional depth. A pot this size ensures that there is enough soil to hold more moisture for the hydrangeas roots to draw up and to reduce the risk of wilting from drought. However hydrangeas can grow very large and the roots can become pot bound, so it is worth repotting your hydrangea to a larger pot around every 2 years, but check the roots every year just to make sure.
- Water your hydrangea as often as required so that the soil is consistently moist. The soil in pots naturally dries out quicker then garden soil, so it is important to water the hydrangea more often as hydrangeas depend on growing is evenly and consistently moist soil.
- Specifically how often to water your potted hydrangea depends on your climate but at the height of Summer, potted hydrangea can require daily watering. However a large pot with good potting soil which is out of the midday and afternoon sun, generally only requires watering twice per week in Summer.
- Always water with a generous soak rather then a light watering. Water hydrangea with a good soak so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot. This ensures the water has reached the roots where it is required and promotes the roots to establish. If you water too lightly then only the top inch of the soil becomes moist and the water does not reach the roots. Watering too lightly also causes the roots to grow nearer the surface of the soil to access the limited moisture which increases the hydrangea’s vulnerability to drought.
- Always plant hydrangeas in pots with drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to escape to prevent root rot. Hydrangea requires the soil to retain moisture yet also have a porous well draining structure so that excess water does not pool around the roots and cause root rot.
- Ideally before planting hydrangeas in pot, use a layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot or container to ensure any drainage holes stay clear of compacted soil which can slow drainage and cause root rot.
If the potted hydrangea is dying of drought stress, due to a small pot that dries out too quickly, then the hydrangea should show signs of recovery after repotting and a thorough watering
However if the hydrangea has been suffering from root rot due to saturated soil, then it is much more difficult to save the hydrangea, which is why pots with drainage holes in the base is so important.
5. Hydrangea Turning Black or Brown and Dying (Frost Damage)
Hydrangea leaves and flower buds can turn black or brown if they are damaged by frost. The emerging growth of hydrangeas in Spring is very sensitive to cold weather and can die back because of a late frost. Cold weather can cause the outermost leaves to die and prevent flowering.
Hydrangeas are cold hardy plants and can tolerate freezing weather if they plant has had time to harden off before Winter.
However the new leaves and emerging flower buds in Spring are particularly susceptible to damage from a late frost and wind, which can turn the growth brown and mushy.
It is usually the combination of cold wind and frost that damages hydrangeas as they are adapted to growing in areas of shelter.
Hydrangeas are naturally woodland plants that grow under a canopy, which buffers cold wind creates a more stable micro-climate to prevent the hydrangea dying of frost and harsh Winter weather.
So to protect your hydrangea it is a good idea to plant (or transplant) your hydrangeas near a tree or fence or sheltered area rather then in a more exposed area of the garden.
Other tall plants such as bamboo, shrubs or trees can be planted along side hydrangea to act as a wind buffer which is surprisingly effective at protecting hydrangeas from frost damage.
You can cut back any frost damaged growth with a sharp pair of pruners back to healthy grow to help revive the plant.
It it is usually the outermost growth of the hydrangea that is damaged by frost and growth further in that is more protected by the hydrangea’s mature leaves and stems usually survives.
Frost damage can limit the number of flowers on display as it is the flower buds that tend to be the most susceptible to Winter frost, however they hydrangea has several buds down each stem and multiple opportunities from which to display flowers.
This means that the hydrangea can display some flowers, although they are usually a bit later then usual and perhaps not as plentiful.
The hydrangea should make a good recovery the following year.
(Read my article, why is my hydrangea not blooming?)
6. Hydrangea Dying After Planting or Transplanting
The reasons for hydrangeas wilting and dying after planting are because the hydrangea’s root system takes time to adjust new soil conditions before they can draw up moisture properly which causes leaves to wilt temporarily. Transplant shock can cause the hydrangea’s leaves to droop and turn brown with a dying appearance.
Hydrangeas suffer transplant shock after planting as a result of a sudden contrast of growing conditions.
If you have bought hydrangea from a nursery or your transplanting your hydrangea from one area of your garden to another, the hydrangeas is specifically adapted to it current growing conditions and can suffer as a result of a contrast of light, airflow, soil moisture and structure, watering, temperature and shelter.
Hydrangeas that are grown in carefully controlled greenhouse conditions are a lot less hardy and can suffer when planted outdoors
The most common symptom is a wilting of the leaves and flowers of the hydrangea.
Often the stress of being transplanted is exacerbated by planting during Summer in hot and dry weather as the hydrangea’s roots cannot draw up moisture fast enough to support the hydrangeas large leaves causing them to wilt and turn brown.
Spring and Fall are the best time to plant or transplant hydrangeas as the temperature is cooler and the hydrangea’s roots can establish and adjust to the soil so they can draw up water more efficiently before any high temperatures in Summer.
Hydrangeas are very hardy once they have established but the are particularly vulnerable to wilting and dying after planting.
- Ideally you should buy and plant (or transplant) your hydrangeas in the Spring or Fall to prevent any additional stress from higher summer temperatures.
- Before planting hydrangeas it is best practice to amend the planting area with compost, leaf mold or well rotted manure to a depth and width of 18 inches. Organic matter such as compost retains lots of moisture, to ensure the hydrangeas roots are in their preferred soil conditions, with optimal levels of moisture and good well draining soil structure to help the roots draw up moisture after planting.
- Water newly planted hydrangeas as often as required to keep the soil moist but not saturated. It may be necessary to a hydrangea every day after planting with a generous soak if you have planted in Summer.
- Apply a 2 inch layer of compost mulch around the base of the hydrangea to help conserve moisture.
- Temporarily shade the hydrangea if it is in the sun (perhaps with a sun umbrella) as more sun increases the rate at which the hydrangea’s lose water through their leaves and causes the hydrangea to wilt and die.
The key to planting hydrangeas and preventing them from dying is in the soil preparation.
Hydrangeas are wood land plants that thrive in soils that are consistently moist with a high organic content with effectively a leaf litter mulch every Fall.
Leaf litter and organic matter retain moisture yet have a porous well draining structure that allows excess water to drain away from the hydrangeas roots.
This helps to achieve the optimal balance of moisture for the roots to draw up the moisture that the hydrangea requires and the roots are not sat in saturated soil which can cause root rot.
Amending the soil with organic matter before planting effectively emulates hydrangeas natural environment and ensures that your hydrangea can more effectively draw water/
Keep your hydrangea shaded and well watered (with a good layer of mulch) and the leaves should perk up within the following days.
Whilst moist soil is important to revive the hydrangea, it is important to ensure that the soil is not saturated and boggy as this can cause root rot.
- The reason for a dying hydrangea is usually because the soil to too dry round the roots due to underwatering, sandy soil that does not retain enough moisture, too much sun or excessive wind which dries out the leaves causing them to wilt and turn brown with a dying appearance.
- The reason for a wilting hydrangea is because of drought stress due to underwatering, dry sandy soil too much wind, high temperatures or too much sunlight. Hydrangeas need consistently moist soil around the roots to prevent the leaves from wilting and dying.
- Hydrangea leaves turn brown because of too much sun or due to excess fertilizer. Hydrangeas prefer dappled light the leaves are sensitive to too much sun which causes scorches the leaves turning them brown. Too much fertilizer, burns the roots and causes the edges of the leaves to turn brown with a dying appearance.
- The reason for hydrangeas dying after planting is because their roots are not yet established and cannot draw up enough water to support the large and plentiful hydrangea leaves causing the plant to wilt. Hydrangeas need to be watered so that the soil is consistently moist and sheltered from the sun and wind to prevent the hydrangea dying after planting.