My hydrangea is wilting and looks like it is dying

Nobody wants their hydrangeas to wilt and die, I know I certainly don’t want mine to. We spend a lot of time tending to our plants and shrubs and I don’t know about you but I actually take it to heart when things start going wrong in my garden. Believe it or not, it’s actually quite common for this to happen to hydrangeas. There are a few things that could be causing it, so let’s take a look at each one:

My hydrangea is wilting and looks like it is dying snippet image

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My hydrangea is wilting and looks like it is dying

The soil being too dry or your hydrangea being in way too much direct sunlight are the two most common reasons for your hydrangea to wilt and die. Temperature is a catalyst for any biological process so new growth is also very vulnerable to rapid changes in temperature. Frost damage, for example, causes the buds to brown and the roots to decay and eventually die. The main reasons at a glance:

  • Too much direct sun

  • Drought stress

  • Overusing fertilizer

  • Your pot is too small

  • Damage from frost

  • Transplant shock

1. Too much direct sun

It is common for hydrangeas to wilt and die if they are getting too much sunlight:

Overview

So remember that sunlight can be your hydrangea’s best friend or worst enemy. Your job as a gardener is to make sure the sun and your hydrangea get along (almost like a green-thumbed kindergarten teacher).

Hydrangeas are usually found in woodland areas where they receive dappled sunlight through the branches of surrounding trees and shrubs. Plants like hydrangeas that grow in these areas are also protected by these sheltered surroundings from wind and more extreme weather.

Drought stress, which I write about in point 2, has a direct correlation with too much sunlight, but more on that later!

Symptoms

  • Leaves scorched brown

  • Curled

  • Hydrangeas dying and wilting

Problem solved

Your best bet to avoid too much morning sun is to place them in an area that receives dappled sunlight. If you live in an apartment block and your balcony only gets direct sunlight for a couple of hours per day, that’s actually perfect. Just make sure to keep an eye on the soil moisture levels so they don’t dry out.

If your hydrangea is planted into the soil, you need to do your best to build in some shade. You can do this by planting other taller plants around it or by creating a temporary shade with a tarp or cloth.

too much sun

2. Drought stress

It’s common for hydrangeas to wilt and die if they’re not getting enough water this results in their root systems becoming dehydrated.

Overview

So moisture is extremely important when it comes to keeping your hydrangea healthy. If there is a lack of moisture in the soil, your hydrangea will start to wilt and the leaves will often turn brown and curl up. In extreme cases, the stem may start to die back as well.

Hydrangeas are highly susceptible to drought since their fibrous and shallow roots system necessitates a constant supply of moisture at the root level to maintain the leaves from drooping in appearance.

Hydrangeas can wilt in the heat of summer, either due to excessive temperatures or a lack of rainfall, as well as after planting if the root systems do have not sufficient time to establish.

Significant environmental stressors

  • Sandy or stony soil that dispurses water too quickly. Your hydrangeas need soil that contains lots of organic material to help retain moisture.

  • Not watering your plant enough or not enough rain. As mentioned above hydrangeas need a constant flow of moisture around their root system, so not watering enough and having a lack of rainfall can be significant factors.

  • Shallow watering. It’s important that you give your hydrangeas a good soak so that they can establish new roots deep into the soil.

  • They are used to indirect sunlight from woodland and forest. Think about where they naturally grow, if they don’t grow in similar environments they will start to dwindle.

  • Conditions are too windy. A constant flow of wind will make it harder for your plant to retain moisture so it’s a good idea to have higher growing plants around to provide them with cover.

Symptoms

  • Leaves and flowers wilting

  • Leaves are turning brown and curling

Problem solved

The best thing you can do to solve this problem is to water your plant deeply and regularly. If you live in an area where there is a lack of rainfall, you need to be extra vigilant about watering.

You can also place your plant (if it is in a plastic pot) directly into warm water. Make sure you test the water temperature with your hand first so that you don’t scald the roots. Allow the plant to soak for about an hour so that the water can reach all the way to the roots. You can also mist the plant regularly to help raise the humidity around it.

If your hydrangea is planted directly into the ground, you may need to use a hose or bucket to water it deeply.

It’s important to build up the organic matter in the soil so that it can retain moisture better. You can do this by adding compost or other organic materials to the soil around your plant such as mulch.

If you live in an area with high winds, you can try to protect your plant by building a windbreak or planting it next to a taller structured plant like bamboo.

hydrangea leaves

3. Overusing fertilizer

It’s easy to think that the more fertilizer you give your plants, the better they will grow. But overusing fertilizer can actually be harmful, and can damage or even kill your hydrangeas:

Overview

Fertilizers are essentially concentrated nutrients that plants need to grow. While they can be beneficial, using too much fertilizer can actually damage or kill your hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas are especially susceptible to over-fertilization because they have shallow root systems and their leaves are very sensitive to scorching.

When you use too much fertilizer, the roots of your plant can’t absorb all the nutrients and they end up leaching into the soil. This can lead to a build-up of chemicals in the sandy soil which can be harmful to your plant.

It’s also important to remember that different plants need different amounts of fertilizer. For example, hydrangeas need less nitrogen than most other plants.

Symptoms

  • At the edges, leaves are turning brown and crisp

  • A decaying appearance

  • Fewer blooms

Problem solved

The best way to solve this problem is to stop using fertilizer altogether. If you want to fertilize your plant, use a very diluted solution and only apply it every 3-4 weeks.

You can also try to leach the chemicals out of the soil by watering deeply. This will help to wash away some of the excess fertilizer.

Remove any leaves that have been severely damaged with a pair of sharp pruners.

It’s also necessary to water the hydrangea regularly (ideally with a hose), which aids in the preservation of moist soil conditions that hydrangeas like and dilutes the concentration of fertilizer and salts around the roots for recovery.

dappled sun

4. Your pot is too small

Many don’t realize that one of the reasons why their hydrangeas may be struggling is because they are in too small of a pot:

Overview

Without proper drainage holes, the roots of your plant can’t breathe and they will start to suffocate. This is one of the leading causes of death for potted plants.

The roots of your plant need room to grow, and if they are confined to a small space they will become root-bound. This means that the roots will start to grow in on themselves and become tangled and congested.

Hydrangeas have a huge, fibrous root system and numerous leaves that require a lot of moisture.

Symptoms

  • The plant is not growing

  • Leaves are wilting or turning yellow

  • Plant looks stunted

  • Problem solved

Problem solved

You need a pot that is at least 16 inches across with a similar depth. using a pot that is larger in size allows the hydrangea plants to be buried in enough soil, which, in turn, locks in more of that precious moisture and nutrients. If you are wondering how often you should transplant your hydrangeas, the answer is every two to three years.

Keep the soil moist. Make sure you water your potted hydrangea frequently so that the roots don’t dry out.

Consider your climate. If you live in an area with scorching summer temperatures and little rainfall, your plant will need a good soaking from the watering can every day.

Rather than a light watering, water your hydrangeas thoroughly. Water the hydrangea thoroughly so that extra water flows from the bottom of the pot. This will help the water to drain to the very bottom of your pot, allowing it to reach those embedded root systems,

Drainage holes at the bottom are incredibly important. Without proper drainage, the roots of your plant can’t breathe and they will start to suffocate. The last thing you want is for water to pool at the base of your hydrangea pot!

Gravel is your friend. By using gravel at the bottom of your pots, you give the water a place to go so that it doesn’t just sit at the bottom of the pot. It also stops the drainage holes from being compacted by soil which is an added bonus!

root rot caused by too much sun

5. Damage from frost

Winter periods can cause damage from frost on your hydrangeas:

Overview

Hydrangeas grow well in shaded woodlands and are susceptible to cold winds and late frosts, which can severely damage new leaves and flower buds. A late frost in Spring is common, especially on the West Coast, where it may cause budding to be delayed or even destroyed.

Symptoms

  • Leaves and flower buds can turn brown or black

  • Can turn mushy

  • Damaged flower buds will not flower

Problem solved

The best thing to do is to transplant them into a location where they are getting adequate protection. Tucking them behind a shed, under a large tree or under the eaves of your home will give them the shelter they need to survive frosty nights.

Another option is to use frost cloths or burlap to cover your hydrangeas on nights when frost is expected. Be sure to remove the covers in the morning so that your plants can get some sunlight and air.

You can also try using an anti-desiccant spray on your plants. This will help to prevent moisture loss and protect against windburn.

frost can damage your hydrangeas

6. Transplant shock

Transplant shock can be a major problem for potted hydrangeas, especially when you plant them in a new location.

Overview

If the soil is too dry, it may take several weeks for the hydrangea roots to establish, during which time they will be unable to draw up water effectively, causing the hydrangea to wilt and die. A dying hydrangea might also be caused by transplant shock brought on by a shift in conditions.

Symptoms

  • The leaves and blooms begin to wilt.

  • Leaves can turn yellow, brown or black

  • The plant appears to be dying

Problem solved

Before you begin your transplant, you should check out the location of where you are planting your hydrangea. Organic matter such as compost or manure can help to improve the drainage and aeration of the soil, as well as add nutrients that will help your plant to establish itself more quickly.

When transplanting, be sure to replant at the same depth that the plant was previously growing. Any deeper and you risk suffocating the roots, any shallower and the plant may not have enough support.

After replanting, water your hydrangea well and mulch around the base of the plant to help retain moisture.

The ideal time to plant or transplant hydrangeas is in the spring and fall when the temperature is lower and the hydrangea’s roots can establish and adjust to the soil, allowing them to draw up more water efficiently before any high temperatures arrive in the summer.

Provide partial shade to your newly transplanted hydrangea so that it doesn’t experience too much stress from the elements as mentioned above.

The best thing to do is to wait it out. If you have planted your hydrangea in a new location, give it some time to adjust to its new surroundings. With a little patience, your plant will recover and start to thrive again.

I wrote an article about how to take hydrangea cuttings which goes into this in more details

hydrangea transplant shock

Conclusion

So now you have an understanding as to why your hydrangeas may wilt and die. I’ll summarise this below so you can refer to it at a later date:

  • The soil was too dry

  • Too much direct sunlight

  • fertilizer being used too frequently

  • You need a bigger pot 16 inches is best

  • Frost can damage your plant

  • Hydrangea wilting because of frost damage

hydrangea in full bloom
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Oliver Wright

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