Show us your bloomers

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If you want a giant display of green leaves, I’ve got you covered. If you prefer a vase full of stunning hydrangea blooms, I’ve got nothing. For the last three summers, my blooms have been a bust.

The strong stems and healthy leaves are lovely, but I want blooms. Is that too much to ask? My current situation is like having an ice cream cone without the scoop of Buttered Pecan on top. The cone is good, but it’s the combination of crispy cone plus creamy goodness that makes the combo a winner.

I thought the problem was pruning. Overly aggressive pruning. Ill-timed pruning. Old wood versus new wood. It’s all so confusing. So this year I took a “less is more” approach and pruned nothing. (It turns out that I’m excellent at pruning nothing.) Then in late spring, when it was apparent which parts of the plant were simply old, dry “deadwood,” I snapped those off.

As in years past, vibrant new stems and leaves grew into what looks like a plant that might come alive with deep blue or bright pink blossoms any second. But so far, it’s not happening. I’ve got no buds and no blooms.

So I did what I always do when nothing else is working. I turned to my laptop and typed, “Why aren’t my hydrangeas blooming?” And I instantly felt better because I’m not alone. Plenty of people have no-show hydrangeas because more than 300,000 websites are answering this question.

But the internet is rarely definitive. Most of the Google results list the possible reasons my bushes aren’t holding up their end of the blooming bargain. After 20 minutes of research, I realized that Tom and I hadn’t created the right conditions for blooms. Experts say hydrangeas prefer acidic soil with plenty of phosphorus. If you give them too much nitrogen, they’ll give you lots of leaves and zero blooms. And guess who has been using a high-nitrogen fertilizer for years now?

So perhaps the mystery is finally solved. A little time and phosphorus will tell. But in the meantime, this dilemma has reminded me how vital the correct diagnosis is. Hydrangeas aren’t the only ones trying to grow and bloom. We’re all hoping to have a solid foundation that sprouts something special. The real question is whether we’re giving ourselves the right growing conditions.

I don’t know what you hope will bloom in your life – healthier relationships, professional success, better health, or any long-wished-for goal. We all have those “if only” thoughts that take root in our minds and keep us up at night. But maybe we’re like my misunderstood hydrangea bushes – waiting for a missing ingredient so we can finally take off and do something we’ve never done before.

The good news is that no one knows you better than you do, so there’s no need to search Google for answers. Deep down, you already know what needs to happen to foster your next growth spurt. Self-honesty might be the only thing standing between you and the change you want and need.

For three summers, I made the same mistakes and expected different results. I hoped I could wait it out or that magic would intervene. I finally changed a variable, which means that, at the very least, I’ll learn something new.

And who knows? With the right conditions and commitment, this just might be the year something beautiful happens.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.

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