Dear Garden Problem Lady


What’s a good inexpensive holiday gift for gardeners who have everything?

Gardeners always need disposable gloves to avoid dirty hands and fingernails. In addition, leather work gloves from a hardware store provide strength to aging hands. Or, for the feet, look for inexpensive outdoor clogs that slip on and off, provide support and keep shoes away from garden filth. Or find a magazine (Fine Gardening; Cottage Gardens, English Gardens – many more are listed online).

I think the US Department of Agriculture map of climate zones still has the Washington DC zone split between 7 and 8, even though Climate Change is bringing high summer heat and drought, and also high winds and heavy rains, especially after hurricanes. But now I hear the term “Micro Climates” used about individual gardens. What are they?

Micro Climates have always existed. You may have noticed that some parts of your garden have a different prevailing wind from other parts – or much stronger sunlight, or deeper shade from other parts. In each such place you get much better luck with plantings that benefit from that individual “micro climate”.

Icy northwest winds kill camellias in winter; lavenders do less well in part shade than in total sun. Many flowers can manage these extremes. Others simply can’t.

Is there any quick rule for hydrangea pruning?

Hydrangeas divide into two groups – those that bloom on “old” wood, and those that bloom on “new” wood. This means that when the hydrangea starts growing in the spring, if it blooms on “old” wood it must be pruned only – repeat only — after it has bloomed. But its new buds are set in the fall, so don’t wait too long.

Hydrangeas that bloom on “new” – or “this year’s new branches” – can be pruned anytime.

This timing must govern when you prune to re-shape either type, although obvious dead, diseased, crossing, or otherwise inappropriate suckers and branches can be removed anytime.

Hydrangeas that Bloom on Old Wood: Big Leaf Hydrangeas such as Macrophylla, Mophead (blue, pink), Lacecap and even Oak Leaf set their buds in the fall.

Hydrangeas that Bloom on New Wood: Paniculata types such as Grandiflora (or Peegee) Hydrangea and later-blooming Tardiva Hydrangea set their buds in the spring. Prune branches back to as short as six inches in spring if you need to prevent the plant from getting too tall, or flopping over when blooming. You can wait until a bit later in in spring to shape the shrub by cutting branches about one-third from the top. Cut at just above a new bud.

In December the Capitol Hill Garden Club is having a members-only greens workshop. For information about joining the club and future programs, go to

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