Overall, hydrangeas are easy to grow, hardy plants that can grow in many types of soil and weather conditions. They typically grow well in USDA Grow Zones 3 through 9. They’re big, bushy, and beautiful in the spring and summer garden.
Though they are not finicky plants, sometimes they will experience a bit of wilting. What should you do when the broad leaves and bushy flower heads start looking wilty?
Often wilted plants signify a lack of water, but there could be several other problems causing droopy foliage. These other causes may be too much sunlight, a bacterial infection, too much water, or something else altogether.
To find out why, we’ll delve into several reasons why your hydrangeas are wilting. Not only that, but there will be practical, simple to follow instructions on how to tell what the problem is and how to perk your hydrangeas right up again.
Table of Contents
Where Do Hydrangeas Come From?
Hydrangeas have grown wild in North and South America for millions of years. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, they stomped right beside these beautiful plants.
They are also natives of Asia, but it was Japan who first cultivated them and began growing these big bushy flowers in their personal gardens. They were then brought to Europe around the early 1700s by an American colonist.
Since then, these plants have been grown in gardens all around the world. Now there are as many as 80 different varieties of these plants, but exact numbers fluctuate depending on who you ask.
Where Can Hydrangeas Grow?
Since they are native to a few continents, these plants can grow in most areas across the United States and other temperate regions. They are water loving plants that don’t like too much intense heat.
Though they can grow in the desert states, during the hot, dry summers, they will require a lot of supplemental watering. Otherwise, hydrangeas can grow in Zone 3, all the way down to Zone 9. This encompasses a majority of the contiguous 48 states.
Even in the hottest and coldest parts of the US, if they are kept in containers and brought indoors during the frigid winters, or the blazing heat in the deep, deep south, they can still be kept all year long.
Hardy hydrangeas such as the panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea Paniculata) and smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea Arborescens) can withstand temperatures down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
When it comes to heat, most hydrangeas can withstand temperatures up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, but like most other plants, higher temps will cause them to wilt, or slow their growth.
10 Reasons Your Hydrangeas Are Wilting
For the most part, hydrangeas are very hardy. Give them a spot that gets morning sun and shade during the hot afternoons, with good soil, and plenty of water, and you have a showy plant.
You may grow hydrangeas for years on end and never see them wilt or get sick. But when they do start looking droopy you want to know why and fix it right away. Here are 10 reasons your hydrangeas may be wilting and what you can do to bring them back to their happy fullness.
Too Much Or Too Little Water
Most of the time, plants will start to wilt when they don’t have enough water. This is caused by the water pressure in the cells. When there isn’t enough liquid flowing through the veins and cells of the plant, the internal pressure drops, and they will start drooping.
Hydrangeas have large, broad leaves, and semi-succulent stems that will shed a lot of moisture, especially during hot, dry weather.
Hydrangeas are named partly because they love water so much. While you can overwater them, it’s usually difficult to do so. When you’re experiencing a drought, unseasonably hot weather, or have hard, rocky soil that doesn’t retain moisture for long, you might see a weak, wilted hydrangea.
Check the soil around the bottom of the plant. If it’s dry, cracked, or you can’t poke your finger into the ground, your plant is telling you it needs a good, long, cool drink.
You may need to alter your watering schedule and start watering it more often during dry, hot, or windy periods. Hydrangeas do best in rich, moist, but not soggy dirt.
Just as too little water can cause wilting, so can too much water. During rainfall, if your hydrangea has big, puffy flower heads, they may droop because of the excess weight.
The water will collect on the flower heads and weigh them down. As long as the stems haven’t broken, when the water evaporates they will stand erect once again.
When a hydrangea gets constantly soaked without time for the roots to dry out some or “breathe” root rot can set it. The roots do actually begin to rot away. This first manifests itself as a wilting hydrangea, but soon the leaves will turn yellow and eventually fall off.
The only thing you can do for root rot is to try and let the hydrangea dry out, dig it up and move it, or amend the soil. Heavy, clay soils can quickly cause root rot, especially after a long, wet season.
Use compost or clay breaker to loosen heavy soil and allow for good drainage.
Tips On Keeping Your Hydrangeas Properly Watered
Compost the soil
If your soil is too hard or even too sandy, you’ll need to add some kind of amendment to keep your hydrangea properly watered. They love a rich, well draining soil.
While they can grow in clay relatively well, they could easily get root rot, or dry out too much if they get too much or too little rainfall. Adding a good quality compost or soil amendment can drastically improve poor soil quality.
The best time to do a soil amendment is before you plant, but if your hydrangeas are already established you can add a layer of compost to the top of the ground. Over time the nutrients and organic matter will permeate the top layer and reach the roots.
Add up to three inches of compost yearly around the plant, as far out as the foliage. Just keep a few inches of space clear of the trunk or stems. If they get covered in compost or soil they could end up getting rotted.
Adding a thick layer of organic mulch is one of the best ways to protect your plants and help retain moisture. Mulch helps to keep the roots warm during frigid months, and will also keep the roots several degrees cooler in the scorching summer months.
Three to four inches of mulch will help keep the soil cool, and moist during the growing season. Not only will this help to reduce the amount of supplemental watering you need to do, but it will also keep more water from evaporating, letting the plant draw in water as it needs.
Just like adding compost, when you mulch around your hydrangeas, add a few inches and keep an area clear of the stems coming out of the ground.
Move your hydrangea
If you planted your hydrangea somewhere you’re now regretting it, you may need to move it. I once planted an azalea in a bare patch in the front of my house, only to observe months later that it was an area that got a lot of overflow from my gutters.
A valley met above the azalea, and though I had a dam in the gutters to stop water from gushing over, when it rained hard, it looked like a waterfall. I had to move the bush to save it.
It happens, you plant in an area that needs some color, only to find that it’s not an ideal setting. Maybe your hydrangea isn’t getting enough water because of a tree, an overhang, or it’s just getting too much sunlight and the only option is to move it.
Use a soaker hose
Soaker hoses work great at watering most plants because the water slowly leaks out and soaks into the ground. It prevents splashing that can introduce fungal infections, and since water flows slowly, there’s less water runoff.
Place the soaker hose on a timer about 2 to 3 times per week for a more accessible, hands off watering schedule. Just be sure to turn it off when you get a wet week or month.
Until you find the perfect watering schedule, use your finger to check the moisture around your hydrangea. If the soil is dry up to the first joint in your finger, it needs watering. You can also use a Soil Moisture Sensor Meter to check if your bushes need some water.
Watch Your Container Hydrangeas
Plants left outside and in containers dry out much quicker than in ground plants. Not only does the soil dry out faster, but the pots heat up quicker, evaporating even more water from the soil.
These will probably need to be watered daily. Adding mulch, moisture retaining organic matter, or even Water Storing Crystals for Plants can help reduce the amount of water they need.
Too Much Or Too Little Sunlight
Hydrangeas do best with morning sun and evening shade. They can be grown in full sun if they don’t get too hot, but often the late sun is too intense for them.
When your hydrangeas are lush and full in the morning, but then start looking weak and sad in the afternoon or evening they are likely getting too much sunlight.
As the hot sun continues to blast the tender leaves, they will release a lot of moisture. This is called transpiration and will lead to flowers and leaves wilting. When they are constantly put through this stress, they could lose their flowers if they bloom at all, and they could be stunted.
The only things to do in these instances are to provide cover from the afternoon sun or move the plant to an area that’s shady in the evening.
Though they do better in the morning sun, they still need about 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. When they don’t get enough light for extended periods the normally bushy foliage can grow weak and droopy. Watering won’t help. You’ll have to move it somewhere it can get the proper amount of sunlight.
Extreme Heat Can Make Your Hydrangeas Wilt
Most hydrangeas can withstand temperatures around 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, but higher temperatures can cause them to wilt. Hydrangeas will open the tiny holes in the leaves to try and absorb humidity from the air, but more moisture is typically lost this way, leading to wilting.
Too much heat for too long can lead to leaf scorch. The leaves, no matter how much water you give them, will dry up and get crispy. Eventually, they will drop off and in extreme instances, it can be fatal to the plant.
If you’re just experiencing an unnaturally hot day or two, a morning or evening soaking can help perk them back up. During extended hot periods providing some evening shade may help prevent the wilt.
Another tactic to employ is yearly mulching. This can help to keep the roots cool during the unseasonably hot days and may work to keep your hydrangeas healthy. You can also mist them to help keep them cool but don’t do this if they are in direct sun.
The water can intensify the sun’s rays and cause sun scorch or sun bleaching.
Are Your Hydrangeas Flagging?
Flagging is another term for wilting in the extreme summer heat. This usually happens when you get a brief summer rain shower followed by intense sunlight and heat.
It can be alarming to see your hardy hydrangea start wilting and looking flaccid just after a shower. But most likely it’s just because of the humidity and heat.
When your hydrangea is flagging, don’t worry, it’s natural and there isn’t much you can do. If they are sitting in direct sunlight you can provide some shade, but usually, they will perk back up once the heat and humidity return to normal levels.
Transplant Shock Can Make Your Hydrangeas Wilt
After talking about all the times you may need to move your hydrangeas, let’s touch on transplant shock. This can happen after you move your bushes from one place to another, or even after you remove it from the pot and place it in the ground.
Whenever the plant’s roots are disturbed, they can go into a mild state of shock and look wilted. This is perfectly normal and only needs a few hours to a day to perk back up.
Whenever you move or plant a hydrangea, or nearly any plant, be sure to give it a good drink of water. This will help it bounce back quicker. Just keep an eye on the plant in case something else might be affecting it.
Too Much Fertilizer
When water, heat, transplant shock, and sunlight are ruled out, a wilting hydrangea might be caused by too much fertilizer. Hydrangeas do need regular feeding, but too much can be just as bad as too much sunlight and too much water.
Fast release and liquid fertilizers are great for a quick boost, but they can be too strong for some plants. These fertilizers, especially if they are high in nitrogen, can cause excessive stem and leaf growth which can lead to wilting.
If your plant is in a low lying area, it may be getting runoff from another area that could be causing the excess fertilizer. An overabundance of fertilizer can also burn the roots and affect the amount of water the plant can absorb, leading to wilting.
If you suspect a high dose of fertilizer, you can try soaking the ground to wash the fertilizer out, but let the soil dry out before watering it again to prevent root rot.
The best time to fertilize your hydrangeas is in the spring when you start seeing new growth. A slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food Plus is a great option and will help prevent over fertilizing. You can also add a small dose of plant food in early fall to help the roots establish for winter.
Don’t fertilize during the summer or winter as this can damage the soft plant parts. Winter fertilizing is particularly bad because the plant could start new growth that will be damaged during freezing temps.
An Unexpected Cold Snap Will Cause Wilting
It happens sometimes, it’s fall, but an unexpected vortex comes down from the Arctic and puts a light layer of frost all over the ground. If your hydrangeas haven’t dropped their leaves and gone into dormancy, the cold will make them wilt.
There isn’t anything you can do about this unless you’re able to cover them before the frost hits. Once the cold weather sets in, the plant will drop the foliage and go into dormant mode.
Excessive Wind Can Cause Wilting
Big flower heads and broad leaves are beautiful when the plant is healthy and the weather is nice, but these attributes aren’t great when you get a sudden, extended windstorm.
During hot, dry summers, a constant wind can cause the plant to dry out pretty quickly leading to wilting. That is if the stems are able to withstand the pummeling and don’t break.
If a rough wind comes and beats up your hydrangeas, prune off any broken branches, and consider snipping some flowers off and keeping them in a vase. Check the soil around the hydrangea and give it a good soaking if it’s dry to help perk it up.
Bacterial wilt is caused by Ralstonia Solanacearum, a bacteria that will cause the flower cluster to become blighted and cause leaf wilting. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for bacterial wilt.
Once hydrangeas get bacterial wilt, the only thing to do is dig it up and dispose of it by burning or throwing it in the trash. Do not compost infected plants as this could spread the disease wherever the compost is spread.
Prevention is the key but not a failsafe against bacterial wilt. Whenever you prune your plants, be sure to clean your cutting tools before moving to any other plants.
Proper watering techniques can help prevent many bacterial and fungal diseases. Water at the ground level and don’t soak the leaves. Also watering in the morning instead of during the heat of the day is preferred.
Bacterial wilt is relatively rare, but prevention will go a long way in keeping it away from your plants.
Certain Insects Can Cause Wilting
A healthy hydrangea can usually fight off an insect invasion. In fact, insects typically target weaker plants, but of course, there’s always an exception.
Many insects that attack hydrangeas are tiny and hard to spot. You may find your plant looking weak and wilting slightly before you notice the insects bugging your flowers.
Insects that will feed on hydrangeas and may cause it to wilt include aphids, scale, and twig borers. Aphids and scale feed on the outside of the plant and suck the sap from the leaves and sometimes the stems.
You may notice sticky spots on your plant’s leaves, or tiny dots all over the bottom of the leaves or along the stem. These are aphids or scale. These can be treated with Organic Neem Oil Spray for Plants or diatomaceous earth.
Twig borers are tiny beetles that cut a hole in the stems of hydrangeas about the size of a pencil lead and eat the inside of the plant. The stems will wilt, as will the leaves. The entire plant won’t wilt unless all the stems are affected.
The only way to treat these beetles when they get inside is to cut the stems off, 3 to 4 inches below the hole, and burn the limbs. Inside the plant, they are protected from insecticidal sprays, and they become ineffective.
How To Revive Wilted Hydrangea Blooms
One of the reasons many people like to plant hydrangeas is to make beautiful bouquets. They last a long time, and when they are dried, they can last almost indefinitely.
While they are still fresh, the flowers can often be revived a time or two before they finally give it up.
Hydrangeas are often one of the first flowers to start wilting in the vase. That’s because the stems produce a waxy, sticky sap that prevents water absorption. But the flowers can still absorb moisture.
To help revive weak blooms, cut the stems about an inch or two up, at an angle and then soak the whole flower in water for a few hours. The florets and the stem will absorb water, causing them to fluff out again.
This won’t work every time, but it’s an easy hack to restore some vigor to the cut flowers. Flowers you get from the local florist or through a delivery may not work because they’ve been in storage longer, but this works best for fresh cut hydrangeas.
When you’re soaking them, you may need to use something to keep them submerged, otherwise, they will just float on the top. Check on them every hour or so to see how they are doing.
If they don’t perk up after a few hours you may try soaking them overnight. If that doesn’t help to revive them, then it’s time for the compost heap.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will wilted hydrangeas ever recover?
A wilted hydrangea is trying to tell you something isn’t right with it. It may need some more water or less sunlight. Other reasons for wilted hydrangeas include too much water, insect invasion, or it’s too hot. Assess the issue and correct it, and the hydrangea should perk back up. These plants are pretty hardy, and once the issue is fixed they should bounce back.
Why did my hydrangeas wilt overnight?
Check the soil and see if your plants need some water. If the soil is moist, keep an eye on it during the day and see if it’s getting too much sunlight. Hydrangeas like 6 to 8 hours of early sunlight then like it a little shady during the hot evening.
Can too much water cause hydrangeas to wilt?
Yes, too much water can severely damage hydrangea plants. When plants get too much water, the leaf cells can burst, and then the leaves wilt, turn yellow, and fall off. Too much water can also be detrimental to the roots and cause rot. If the plant is not allowed to dry out quickly enough, the hydrangea could die.
Why are my hydrangeas wilting but the soil is moist?
When hydrangeas start wilting but still have moist soil, chances are they are getting too much water. This can lead to wilting and root rot if they are not allowed to dry out. The plant could also be flagging if it’s really hot out.
Hydrangeas like a lot of water, but the roots need time to dry out and breathe. If the roots are constantly soaking, rot will set in and ruin your plants.
We just covered 10 reasons hydrangeas can become wilted:
- Too much or too little water
- Too much or too little sunlight
- Too hot
- Transplant shock
- Excessive fertilizer
- Cold snap
- High winds
- Bacterial wilt
These plants are hardy and don’t typically have any issues. By observing what is causing the wilting and performing the corrective measures your hydrangeas will perk back up and look great again.