I received a message the other day from one of my Instagram friends about a photo I’d posted earlier that day of the scores of hydrangeas wrapping around our front porch on Nantucket. She (teasingly? I’ll have to ask her!) asked me whether I knew the secret to cutting hydrangeas. I was about to write back to her on Instagram, but I thought that it might not be a bad idea to draft a little post about this very temperamental bloom and how to cut it, hydrate it and keep it going for at least a couple of days, either alone or in an arrangement. For purposes of this post, I will focus on French hydrangeas (the hydrangeas people generally think about when they hear the word “hydrangea”). I will not get into planting the shrubs; explaining how to change their colors; when and how to prune….or anything else having to do with “gardening”. I will discuss the way that I cut, prep, condition, arrange and enjoy hydrangeas. I’m stepping out of my realm (I’m a “flower market flowers” kind of girl, and the “gardening” I do these days is restricted to urns and window boxes…). So I am not an expert in hydrangea cut and care, but the following tips have always worked for me…
The first thing that I think is important for a successful hydrangea arrangement is to cut the flowers (stems) when it is cool, preferably early in the morning. From my own experience, an early morning cut seems to “take” the hydrangea treatment better than a bloom cut later in the day. I don’t know why this is–I’ve never asked anyone, nor have I ever looked it up. It’s something I learned when I was young, and I’ve never questioned it. So, Tip Number One is to cut early in the morning.
When you wake up extra early to cut your Hydrangeas, be sure to cut them on an angle–the longer you can make the slant of your cut on the stem, the better, as hydrangeas are huge water lovers. I think it’s best to do this cutting with clippers (real gardeners would probably tell me that I’m actually talking about handheld pruners) or with a sharp floral knife (I think mine is by Oasis). However, if you don’t have either available to you (as I do not, since I left all of my floral “tools” at home–oops!), just try to use some really heavy duty scissors. Be sure to sanitize them so that you don’t transfer whatever bacteria that might be on them to your flowers. That’s it for a quick Tip Number Two.
Tip Number Three deals with water….VERY important to the hydrangea! Look at its stem. It’s wide and woody. If you prepare it correctly, you will find that it goes through water like mad (but will remain looking good, at least in my experience, because you’ve prepared it so well). It will need fresh cuts and fresh water every day or two, depending on the bloom, the other flowers it’s sharing a vase with (if any) and the temperature of the room in which the arrangement will be kept. Things to keep in mind. SO…if you’re just going out into your yard to cut, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need to take a bucket of water out with you. You do. I’ve always been fine using tepid water. I feel as though cold tap water would shock my flowers. I have no idea if that is true or not, but I don’t want to try it. Tepid has never led me astray. After you cut your stems, place them immediately into your bucket of water. And your bucket doesn’t have to be full. You needn’t lug around a whole bucket of water while you’re outside. Just enough to keep the cuts wet and a little more to cover the stems, if possible. If you’re going to be traveling out to a farm or anywhere that would mean your hydrangeas would be suffering in silence without their water, you should plan to bring a bucket of tepid water in which to store them for your trip home. On to Tip Number Four!!
Small Cooler Bucket–I buy everything from Jacobson’s in Boston. And I LOVE buckets!! Shop this bucket at https://www.shopjacobson.com/details/categories/containers/cooler-buckets/1379620
Tip Number Four focuses on prepping the hydrangeas for arranging. Once you bring your newly cut stems into the house, but before you put them into a vase, be sure to give them one more good cut while holding them underneath water. This additional cut will get rid of any sugary, sappy substance that may have formed over the initial cut. You won’t see anything on the stems, but it’s there (or so I’ve always heard), and it is a dirty little trick that these beautiful flowers play on those of us who love them. This substance that forms over the cuts in your stems will (again, apparently) cause your blooms to wilt very quickly because they’re not getting the water that they need. The substance that may form is one that inhibits the stems’ ability to draw water up to the blooms. (Just a note: I do a double cut with all of my flowers when I’m arranging. I take them out of their buckets, do a quick cut and place them into a shallow bit of water on my work surface. When it comes time to use them in my arrangement, I make another slanted cut–while holding the flower stem under water–just for good measure. So I do not use this cut and recut method only for hydrangeas….) When making my second cut on the hydrangea stems, I hold them under running water–I’m not sure if cutting by holding the stem under in a sink full of water would be better, but I like my method just fine. I also sort of score up the stem with my knife in the hopes that water will sneak into the stem and up to the bloom through that long score. Whether it does or not, I do not know. It’s just something that I do. I also strip the stems of unwanted leaves at this time.
Tip Number Five deals with arranging and with follow up. Hydrangeas are gorgeous alone or with other flowers. I tend to prefer them alone or with something simple and unobtrusive–an accent like bupleurum, which I lace through the blooms. It’s easy, quick and pretty. They are also gorgeous with lilies, roses, lisianthum–even juniper or pine….I could go on and on. But truthfully, I do love my hydrangeas alone. SO once I’ve made my second cut under the water and scored the stem from the bottom up a couple of inches towards the bloom, I immediately create a very quick quasi-hand tied bouquet and then place it into my container, which I have already cleaned and filled with tepid (or, ok, a tiny bit colder than tepid) water. I personally like a simple round glass container, but hydrangeas also look pretty in solid white ceramic. I’ve also seen them in baskets. So it’s up to you. Just make sure there is water once you settle them into their new home.
Tip Number Six is a “fix it” tip. IF your blooms start to wilt within a few minutes or even within a few hours of your having cut and placed them, even if you did EVERYTHING right, there is still hope. You can take your stems out of the vase, empty and clean the vase, and then plunge the entire bunch of stems under water for 30-45 minutes. I’ve heard that the water should be very cold, and I’ve heard that it should be tepid. I have always gone with tepid. Again, I worry about shocking the poor blooms. I do my re-cutting and re-scoring while the stems are in their underwater rejuvenating bath, and when I take them out, I immediately place them into clean water. I am happy to report that, of the four or five times (out of dozens and dozens of hydrangea arrangements) I’ve engaged in the “fix it” for hydrangeas, the blooms have all come back looking gorgeous.
Tip Number Seven is not really a tip, but a little reminder….don’t forget to change your hydrangeas’ water to keep them looking pretty for as long as possible. I change my hydrangeas’ water every two days, generally, and I go through the same process of re-cutting and re-scoring, cleaning the container and then placing the flowers back into fresh water. If I can get five full days out of an arrangement, I call that a really good arrangement!
A couple of final notes, disclaimers, etc: I have never tried the boiling water technique (for prepping stems) that I only recently heard about from someone in my mother’s garden club and which I’m sure you can Google if you are interested. Apparently, you can prep the stems with boiling water somehow. I’m not sure how to do it or how much good it actually does, but it seems like a lot more work than is necessary (to me). Though I may try it if my hydrangea arrangements start to go south. Also, I do not engage in the dunking of the hydrangea bloom only into water to rejuvenate it. My view is that if you’re going for rehydration, just go all the way and do it in a way that allows for new life PLUS new water. Anyway, I hope that my post illustrates how many methods there exist that make up the madness that is “hydrangea keeping”!
I hope that my slightly unorthodox ways of wrangling hydrangeas and keeping them looking pretty are helpful to you. But…caveat emptor, just in case!!