plant recovering hydrangeas outside or coddle them for a year?

Asked June 11, 2019, 5:33 PM EDT

Hi! I need some advice. I ordered a couple of the hardiest dwarf varieties of hydrangeas I could find on Burpee's website: Bobo and Invincibelle Spirit II. I've never ordered plants through the mail before so I didn't know what to expect, but I never imagined the plants would be pruned within an inch of their lives and so dried out that their leaves had begun to shrivel and fall off. (See uploaded photos.) Maybe that's normal for mailed plants, but I was horrified. I immediately transferred them to 6" pots and watered them; after a couple days in our cool, dim garage, they seemed to be doing okay, so I placed them in the shade where they'd get only a few hours of dappled evening sun every day. As they get stronger I'll slowly increase the amount of sunlight they get until direct sunlight stops scorching their leaves.

My displeasure with Burpee aside, now I'm not sure what to do with them. I had intended to plant them in big 10 gallon pots, top the soil with wood chips, put more wood chips on come fall, and hope they survive a Minnesota winter. But these poor things are so pathetic I don't dare leave them to the elements until they're much bigger and stronger. So my question is, if I take good care of them this summer, help them recover from the trauma they obviously endured, what should I do with them for the winter? Bring them inside and treat them like houseplants? Force dormancy and put them out in the shed where they'll feel the subzero temps but not the wind and snow--and where they'll be at risk of alternately thawing and freezing as the temps fluctuate? Or should I have more faith in them and just plant them outside? I've never cared for hydrangeas before and would like to have these plants bloom for many years to come!

Mower County Minnesota hydrangeas

1 Response

The quality of plants purchased online varies considerably. Fortunately, with patience and care even derelict specimens usually survive. The plants shown in the photos fit that description. If you choose to keep the plants, we recommend discussing their condition (save the photos) with Burpee to determine the company's replacement policy in case they don't recover.

The care you have given the plants so far is commendable. Given their condition, acclimating them properly is especially important.

Planting the hydrangeas outdoors as soon as possible in their permanent location is the best way to enhance their potential to bloom for many years to come. Part sun is preferable. Water the plants well during dry spells especially when they occur in late fall or early winter.

The following information was prepared for Ohio residents, but most of it also applies to Minnesota. Some of the cultivars mentioned there may not be winter hardy here.