Metro-East Living

It’s not your fault your hydrangea bushes aren’t blooming

Q: I have a 4 year old everlasting hydrangea bush that did not produce one bloom this year. Last year it had many blooms, but the year before it had only one bloom. I fed it with Miracle Gro several times this year and water it frequently, but no blooms. What did I do wrong?

M.N. of Belleville

A: If we had a ‘normal’ summer, you would have done nothing wrong. Hydrangeas usually bloom late June through September. But this year, the weather is the problem with your plant. The temperatures are in the upper 80s, and in the 90s starting in late June, which means the plant must transpire water vapor (which is similar to perspiration for us) to keep the plant alive.

The first thing this plant does is to eliminate floral tissue to survive. This year the Miracle Gro stimulated leaf growth, and when it was time to produce flowers, the dryness of the soil — even though you have watered it — helped speed up the destruction of the flowers. This condition can be magnified especially if this plant is growing in full sun or on the south and west sides of a building. In future years when we have hot weather and limited rain during the summer, you may want to build a shade structure above the plant to protect it from these harmful conditions.

Q: Suddenly this summer, our fescue lawn has turned brown and has died. When we had all the rain earlier this summer, we cut the lawn lower so that we did not have to rake the clippings. Should we plant the grass again this fall?

L.W. of Fairview Heights

A: Fescue is a ‘cool season’ grass, and it survives a hot dry summer by going dormant and turning brown. You sped up the process by mowing the grass shorter than it was used to being mowed. At this time, do nothing to the brown grass until the ‘normal’ weather begins in late August or September. As the grass begins to green up with cooler night temperatures and normal rainfall begins, you can begin mowing it again. But raise the height of the mower to at least two and one-half inches. Check your lawn as it greens up, and if there are any thin areas of dead grass that do not recover, you will need to replant.

Until the recovery of the lawn begins, you may want to spray any weeds that begin to grow with an herbicide containing 2,4-D, as the active ingredient kills these germinating weeds. 2,4-D is a natural plant growth hormone that causes non-grass plants to grow themselves to death, and it shows up with a classic ‘curl’ growth, indicating that the herbicide is working.

Q: I have an Alberta spruce which is losing its needles. I have checked for spider mites but have found none. Will my plant die?

E.R. of Shiloh

A: You were correct to check for spider mites, which build up in large numbers with higher air temperatures. You can check for spider mites by tapping your branches on to a piece of white notebook paper and if you see any small darker dots moving, you know that you have spider mites. Do not use a miticide to kill them, as it contains a petroleum carrier which will volatilize and kill your Alberta spruce. But you can spray these little spiders off with a hard stream of cold water. You may have to do this about every 10 days or so to get rid of them, as they reproduce quickly with the hot weather we are experiencing.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Department, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Things to do this week:

  • Whenever you notice your plants wilting, you need to water the foliage in the early morning to help them recover. This way you will prevent fungal diseases from getting started, as the morning sun will dry up the water droplets. Make sure to also apply water to the soil but be careful not to splash the water from the soil back up on the lower leaves and stems of the plants.
  • When temperatures do not fertilize, this will add stress to the plant if there is not enough water to dilute the fertilizer application.