The leaf tiers have been at work lately, “sewing” together the terminal buds and leaves of my smooth (Hydrangea arborescens) Annabelle hydrangeas. The best method of dealing with the little nuisances is to simply pinch off the little clusters and dispose of them. They don’t damage the plants, but can reduce the blooms. By removing the clusters now, you give the shrub the opportunity to produce new buds.

Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) like Annabelle varieties may be experiencing leaf tier issues now. Simply pinch of the entire cluster to remove the nuisance insects and give the plant a chance to form new buds. PPhoto by Lynette Walther.

This time of year many folks wonder if they need to prune their hydrangeas. The answer could be “yes” or “no.” The uncertainty has given rise to a number of hydrangea myths and now is a great time to debunk them. National Garden Bureau (NGB) collected and responded to four common hydrangea myths and offers these insights:

Myth No.1: All hydrangeas need pruning

Fact: Pruning depends on the type of hydrangea: Be aware the rules are different for each different type of hydrangea. It is always a good idea to hold on to those plant tags and keep a record of what types of hydrangeas are in your landscape. This is another instance of where the value of a garden journal comes in handy.

Panicle and Woodland hydrangea: The only ones you should think about cutting back now are the panicle hydrangeas such as “Limelight” and the woodland hydrangeas like “Annabelle.” If you must cut, take out every third stem of your woodland plants. Cut the rest of the stems down by about a third (if at all) to leave a framework to support the flower-bearing stems. Otherwise, restrict hydrangea pruning on other varieties to removing dead wood.

Myth No. 2: Home remedies added to your soil can change flower color

Fact: It’s not that easy to change the color of hydrangeas. Are you using rusty nails, pine needles, or used coffee grounds to change your soil? Don’t bother. None of these home remedies releases anything that will help your plants. Spreading pine needles do nothing to acidify your soil, but they are a good, non-toxic, and sustainable mulch. The acid content in used coffee grounds is negligible, however; they make great mulch. Refrain from applying fresh, unused grounds as their acid might be too much for what your plant needs.

To change the color of your flowers, first be certain a color change is possible. Only two hydrangea types undergo significant color changes depending on the soil: Bigleaf and the less common mountain hydrangeas. Then get your soil tested to verify what it does and doesn’t need for the best plant performance.

If that test shows the pH is above 6.5 and your variety of hydrangea can change color from pink to blue, add aluminum sulfate to the soil. This will lower the pH so the plant can take up the aluminum which is what turns the flowers blue. Realize it takes the plant time to absorb and move these nutrients. Do this in the fall to allow the plant the time it needs to work this magic. Also, know your soil will always revert to its natural state, so this is not a “one and done” chore.

Myth No. 3: 10-10-10 fertilizer is the best for hydrangeas

Fact: Shrub or rose fertilizer is best for hydrangeas. So, what kind of fertilizer should you use on your hydrangeas? Select a granular fertilizer formulated for shrubs or one that is a slow-release product. Rose food is ideal. For reblooming hydrangeas, it is recommended to fertilizer two times a year — in the spring and summer to help the later blooms.

Myth No. 4: Hydrangeas need lots of water

Fact: You can overwater your hydrangeas. With too much water, you can smother the roots which will kill the plant. Oakleaf hydrangeas are especially susceptible to that. Or you can encourage your plant to make more leaves instead of flowers. Hydrangeas love to do that as it is an easier task for the plant.

It is true in hot weather, hydrangeas can droop when they are exposed to the sun (which they need), and too much water stress will negatively impact flower production. But as soon as the sun is off them, they reach back into the surrounding soil and recover. But if your plants don’t perk up after they have been out of the sun for several hours, then by all means give them a drink. But then you must also determine why they aren’t recovering. Do they need mulch? Is your soil too sandy and drains too well? Compost can fix that. Or maybe you are in a drought situation. So watch your plant, get a rain gauge, maybe change your watering habits, learn, and adjust.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. She is a member of GardenComm and the National Garden Bureau. Her gardens are in Camden.