Hydrangea Not Blooming? Here’s What to Do

Updated: Jun. 21, 2023

A hydrangea not blooming can be a frustrating issue for gardeners who adore its beautiful flowers. Here's how to solve the problem.

Oakleaf Hydrangea Growing But Not Blooming

PwgatsbypinkoakleafhydrangeaCourtesy Proven Winners - Provenwinners.com
Gatsby pink oakleaf hydrangea

“I have a 7-year-old oakleaf hydrangea in a shaded location. It grows a lot of healthy foliage that I have to prune regularly, but my hydrangea is not blooming. It bloomed only once or twice.  Why do you think that is?” asks William Stovall.

It’s all about the timing when pruning this and other hydrangeas. Oakleaf hydrangeas produce flower buds the year before they bloom. Keep pruning to a minimum to maximize the floral display. Remove only the damaged and wayward branches each year as needed. This helps control the plant’s size while encouraging it to bloom. Heavy pruning stimulates growth and results in a larger plant that needs additional pruning. Selective pruning leaves you with more stems with intact flower buds for a better bloom the following year.

Prune Like a Pro: Study the shape of the plant before making any cuts and make sure you always use clean, sharp tools. Avoid overpruning by cutting only a fourth to a third of the canopy per year.

Check out hydrangea facts that even expert gardeners don’t know.

Bigleaf Hydrangea Not Blooming

Hydrngeamacrphyllanikkoblue 440mbbDoreenwynjaphotography.com, photography in the garden of Bud Detrick
Blue Nikko bigleaf hydrangea

“My bigleaf hydrangea has not bloomed in the past two years (and it had limited blue flowers before that). I don’t cut back until I see green sprouts in spring. What’s the problem?” asks reader Don Leeper.

Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) form their flower buds on stems from the previous season of flowering. In colder climates such as yours, the plants often die back to the ground, eliminating the flower buds so you are left with nothing but a leafy shrub. The repeat-blooming varieties of bigleaf hydrangeas are supposed to have two sets of flowers, with the first buds set the previous year and the second on new growth.

Leave your hydrangea to stand in winter and mulch around it to increase the chance of the flower buds surviving the cold. Remove only dead stems in spring, which may mean pruning to ground level.

Fertilize the plants in spring and keep the soil moist, not wet, to encourage flowering. I have seen success using Milorganite nitrogen fertilizer that contains nonleaching phosphorus. Research found that when microorganisms released the nutrients from the Milorganite pellets, some of the phosphorous and potassium bound to the soil also became available to the plants. Phosphorous promotes flowering, fruiting and root development, while potassium helps with hardiness and disease resistance.

Make sure you know these essential tips about caring for hydrangeas.

Climbing Hydrangea Not Blooming

hydrangea not bloomingCatherine McQueen/Getty Images
Trellis covered in climbing hydrangea plant

“My 6-year-old climbing hydrangea has never bloomed. It’s 15 feet tall and spread out over a trellis. How can I encourage blooming?” asks Alyssa Kadyk.

You’re definitely not alone. A hydrangea not blooming is a common issue among gardeners who grow climbing hydrangeas. As you discovered, these plants take a long time to establish and start flowering. Avoid high-nitrogen, fast-release fertilizers that encourage leaf and stem growth but discourage flowering.

Water plants thoroughly as needed and use a low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer if you feel your plants need a boost. Beautiful blooms will grow as a reward for your patience.

Looking for a new hydrangea color to add to your garden? Try the ‘Wee Bit Giddy’ hydrangea.

Protect Hydrangeas in Winter

bigleaf hydrangeaVia Proven Winners
Cityline Berlin hydrangea

“My hydrangeas are about 15 years old and have bloomed only once. I feed them and mulch them with pine needles and leaves in the winter. What am I doing wrong?” asks Loretta McClincy.

Most bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla), those with pink or blue flowers, produce blooms only on the previous season’s growth. They are also known as mophead hydrangeas. Flowers bloom pink in alkaline soil and blue in acidic soil. (Learn how to change the color of hydrangeas.)

If they die back to the ground or are pruned to the ground in late winter, they will not flower. In your climate, you need to protect the future flowering stems from the cold.

Try encircling the plant with 4-foot-tall hardware cloth. Sink it several inches into the ground to keep out rabbits and voles, then fill with weed-free straw or evergreen boughs to insulate the plant. Wrapping the fencing with burlap or weed barrier will add another layer of insulation.

Pink and blue hydrangea hedge.azndc/Getty Images

You might also consider putting evergreen boughs or weed-free straw over the plants after the ground freezes. These mulches provide better insulation than leaves. In spring, remove the mulch and wait to see if there’s any growth on the stems. This is the growth that will flower. You should prune off only the dead portions of the stems.

If you’re growing one of the repeat-blooming bigleaf hydrangeas, like the Endless Summer collection, make sure the soil is moist and fertilize with a low-nitrogen organic fertilizer once in spring. These varieties are supposed to flower on old and new growth with proper care.

Many Northern gardeners have switched to hardier panicle hydrangeas, whose flowers start out white and fade to pink. Moisture and proper fertilization are the keys to success with these.

Discover more breathtaking types of hydrangeas.