Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 25 years experience in radio, television, print
DEAR JESSICA: I have a beautiful deep pink hydrangea bush and am wondering if the flowers will stay pink when I dry them. If so, when is the best time to cut them, and what time of day? I've attached a photo. -- Eleanore Klepper, Setauket
DEAR ELEANORE: For those who prefer the faded color of dried hydrangeas commonly sold at florist shops and home decor stores, waiting until the end of summer to cut and dry the blooms is ideal. But because you want to retain the brightness of the color, you should cut them when the color is at its peak -- and do so in the morning. To dry hydrangeas, simply place in a vase without water and let nature take its course. There is no reason to hang them upside down, as some do, unless the stems are too weak to hold blossoms upright in the vase. This method is the easiest -- and least expensive -- but you should expect a bit of color fading.
To retain the brightest color, try drying the flowers in silica gel, which you can find at craft stores. Silica gel is not really a gel; it's those crystal granules that fill the little moisture-absorbing packets that come with shoes and electronics. Here's how to use it to preserve your flowers:
Add about an inch or two of silica gel to a plastic food-storage container. The size you use is determined by how many flowers you want to fit in there at once, taking care not to crowd them or their shape will become distorted. You also can use multiple containers, preserving one bloom in each.
Snip the stem down to about 2 inches, and place the flower upside-down atop the silica gel. Scoop some granules over the underside of petals, and then carefully add more granules until the container is about half full and the flower is completely covered.
Snap on the container lid and leave undisturbed for four days, then gingerly pour out the silica gel and remove the flower(s).
Use in wreaths and arrangements as they are; to display in a vase, tape dried stems onto the shortened stems with florist tape.
DEAR JESSICA: A hydrangea growing against the house comes back year after year, fairly lush. I never prune it. It faces east/southeast and gets mixed sun and shade. It flowers, but the blooms never fully burst. A second hydrangea, which I planted well over five years ago in a different location, seems to do well, and comes back every year, but again the flowers never fully form the way I see on other hydrangeas. It faces south and gets mixed sun/shade. I've attached a few photos. -- Doug Ward, Lindenhurst
DEAR DOUG: There is nothing wrong with your hydrangeas; they're both in bloom. What you have is lacecap variety plants, not mopheads, which is what you might have been expecting. Lacecaps have more delicate, subtle flowers, as opposed to the pompom type mophead hydrangeas produce.
DEAR JESSICA: Help! I bought three astilbe plants last month. They're getting plenty of water and about three hours of afternoon direct sun. Any clue as to why the flowers are dying and the leaves are curling up? Do you think I can save them? Should I have waited until the fall? - Linda Curro, Jericho
DEAR LINDA: I think the direct sun is your problem. Astilbe are shade plants that can tolerate partial sun but do best in part shade. They also require frequent watering, which you indicate is the case, but if during this summer's heat waves you weren't watering deeply and often (at least once a day, especially early on when they were new plantings), that definitely would explain the curling leaves. Leaf curl disease also sometimes affects astilbe, but your leaves don't appear spotted, so I'm ruling that out. Given the weather around the time you planted them, my guess is your plants succumbed to the afternoon sun.