Sad hostas

The heat of summer is likely to bring out the worst in any garden, and certainly one without irrigation. After an unusually hot August with barely a trace of rain, the garden is a bit more haggard than most years, though I don’t believe any permanent harm will come of it.

Great Expectations is partially shaded, but filtered sun and a month with negligible rain have left it looking far from its best.
Great Expectations is partially shaded, but filtered sun and a month with negligible rain have left it looking far from its best. In a wetter summer the color will fad a bit, but there will be few or no brown leaves.

Summer is rarely kind to the garden’s hostas, but after too many hot days, and too little rain, a few more than I’d like are shriveled and crispy along the edges (above). Hostas growing in the shaded areas with deeper soils have weathered the heat with fewer problems, but in any spot with a part day sun the hostas are a sad lot. I have no doubt that all will be fine come spring, but they’ll be pretty sad looking until the first freeze kills the top growth.

A variety of hostas in shade have survived the hot, dry summer.

While the summer’s heat could not be avoided, hoses could have been dragged about the garden to remedy the lack of rainfall. But, that would be too much like work, and as long as plants are not dropping off I’m not looking to do anything more than is necessary.Hosrta Striptease

While I try not to go too heavy into characterizing plants with human characteristics (yes, I know, anthropomorphism), it seems okay to describe plants as “happy” when they thrive, or “sad” when they look sad. Today, unquestionably, too many of the garden’s hostas are sad. Several toad lilies (Tricyrtis) planted in nearly full sun are also a bit toasty, but the heat and dryness have not effected flowering, which is just beginning on most. Otherwise, it’s clear to see that the garden has just come through the summer, but I don’t think it’s so easy to tell this dry summer from any other.

In early September, this mophead hydrangea is setting buds and flowering.
In early September, this mophead hydrangea is setting buds and flowering.

This has been an unusual year for mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla). First, foliage began to develop early due to the extremely warm March. Then, new leaves were damaged by two freezes the second week of April. This resulted in dead stems on many hydrangeas, with the best being that leaves and overwintered flower buds were damaged. Starting over with new foliage caused a delay in flowering, and many mopheads did not recover in time to set flower buds before summer heat slowed them down.

New flower buds on another mophead hydrangea.
New flower buds on another mophead hydrangea.

There are rarely flowers on reblooming mophead hydrangeas through the heat of summer, but as soon as temperatures begin to cool in late August (not this year) or September (we hope) flower buds begin to form. If frost and freezes hold off, there are flowers in late September and through October. If the current heat subsides, perhaps there will be flowers in early autumn and gardeners can stop worrying that their hydrangeas will never flower again.

12 Comments Add yours


    Love your blog,Dave. I have been gardening for 45 yesrs and I still learn new techniques from reading. Thank you!

    1. Dave says:

      I have no doubt that I’ve only scratched the surface. Everyday there is something to learn from reading or by observing the garden.

  2. Anne says:

    Thank you Dave! I’m one of those who had wondered what was up with my hydrangea. This spring I’d removed some nearby volunteers to allow more sun on the hydrangea. While 12 years old it’s never been very big – with the extra sun it about doubled in size this year, lovely foliage….and not one bloom. So now I know. Thank you, and looking forward to next year.

    1. Dave says:

      This will be a year when hydrangeas disappoint, and some reblooming varieties might end the year with only a flower or two if this heat sticks around for long.

  3. Bill P says:

    Likewise feel your pain with my hostas, although my variegated seemed to have fared better than the solid green. Would like to divide and move several this year if my back will allow. When is the best time weather-wise do this?

    Fyi, despite our hot/dry weather my full-sun four Encore Azaleas have absolutely flourished — even neglected without supplemental watering for the same reason you don’t want to drag hoses around the lawn. No leaf burn and flowers a’plenty.

    1. Dave says:

      I try to divide hostas in early autumn, but if pushed I’ll do it at any time, like last weekend when I had an itch to move a few things around. I am seeing earlier flowers on Encore azaleas in my garden despite the heat and lack of rain. Several varieties will not flower until there have been several weeks of cool temperatures, but most are showing half or more blooms right now.

      1. Bill P says:

        Speaking of Azaleas, I have this one huge Hershey Red that I’ve allowed to grow for 15 years and produce dazzling flowers. However, it now really needs considerable pruning as it’s exceeded it’s space. Realize I should have done this right after flowering before new buds were set. But, is there any harm in cutting it back now, or should I wait for cooler weather/dormant?

      2. Dave says:

        September is one of the few periods when most plants should not be pruned. Pruning spurs new growth that will not have a chance to harden off and will damaged by cold weather. It is best to wait until mid to late October, or anytime after we have had a frost or two. Flower buds for azaleas form in August, so pruning anytime from August to early April diminishes flowering. The alternative is to live with the oversized azalea until then, and prune it after flowering.

  4. Cee says:

    While I will agree that your Hostas look sad from leaf burn/lack of rainfall, my Hostas have been picked apart, piece by piece, by those friggin’ four legged mammals, despite regular application of various repellants. Hoping to make you feel better about your view than what I must look at. It is very unsightly in my gardens. Ugh!

    Hang in there, Dave. I could be worse 😉

    1. Dave says:

      I also have problems with deer when one is missed when I spray repellent. In business and my personal garden I’ve seen no evidence that deer repellents are not effective when applied every 4-5 weeks. I have tried a variety of repellents with rotten egg or mint scents with success, but have had poor results with hot pepper applications that are very short term in effectiveness.

  5. DeniseinVA says:

    Hi Dave, still loving your blog. I am not a good gardener and need all the help I can get. Your posts provide that and I thank you for it.

    1. Dave says:

      I’m not so sure that I’m a good gardener, but I keep at it and the plants do the rest.

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