March is the time to prune panicle and smooth hydrangeas

Here’s a recent Master Gardener Minute I did on pruning panicle hydrangeas

Hydrangea paniculata or “panicle” hydrangeas and hydrangea arborescens or “smooth” or “wild” hydrangeas can be pruned in late winter or early spring. I try to attend to mine around St. Patrick’s Day.

Both panicle and smooth hydrangeas bloom on new wood that begins growing in the middle of spring, so before that starts, in Zone 7b, the middle of March is a good time.

Do you have to prune panicle and smooth hydrangeas? No. Should you? Probably. When I bring home one of these varieties, I usually leave it grow for a about 3 years to let it get established. If you don’t prune them, they can get leggy or droopy and the newest and thinest twigs will not support a large bloom very well.

I was taught that if you leave these hydrangeas alone you will get a lot of smaller blossoms. Prune back by one third or even one half,and remove thin, twiggy branches you will be rewarded with fewer, but much larger inflorescence. I prefer the larger blooms.

I know people who have mowed down their smooth hydrangeas, like the popular Annabelle, and they come back! My panicle hydrangeas include Limelight, Little Limelight, Little Quickfire, Bobo, Vanilla Strawberry, Strawberry Sundae, and Pinky Winky. My Smooth hydrangeas include Incrediball, Annabelle and Haas Halo.

Incrediballs – second year, no pruning. Note lots of smaller blossoms
Same shrub as above third year after a early spring pruning. Still some blossoms flopped. It is important to prune out weak, thin branches as they will not be able to hold the heavy blossoms upright.
The large, dinner plate sized inflorescence comes with pruning in the spring.

So, while it looks drastic, don’t be afraid to cut your panicle and arborescens hydrangea back in March or early April. Remove any small twiggy branches, or any new growth that grows toward the center of the plant. I also remove thin branches that lay along the ground. New wood will grow off of old wood. It is the old wood that will serve as the support system for all the new growth.

As the Master Gardener Minute states, do not prune big leaf macrophylla, serrata or oakleaf hydrangeas. They rarely need pruning and if done for sizing or shaping are best pruned in late summer after blossoms begin to fade.

My Master Gardener Journey

Today, I began my journey to be a Delaware Master Gardener. I first heard about the Master Gardener program in 1994, when I entered my city back yard in a garden tour contest (I didn’t win anything) but I got on a mailing list and received information about the program.

Delaware Master Gardener official logo

Fast forward to 2001 when I began a new career at the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. I learned about the Master Gardener volunteers who help extend university research to the public. My new career coincided with a new home, three-quarter acre plot without a shrub, flower or tree, so I was eager to absorb the many fact sheets made available to the public.

Over the past 20 years I’ve gotten to know and admire the people involved in this program. I’ve certainly enjoyed spending my lunch breaks in their demonstration garden, and as my position officially switched to communications, helping to promote their workshops and outreach events such as their open house. I’ve also been thrilled to be a part of their many celebrations and hallmark anniversaries.

I’ve long known that gardeners are incredibly generous people. They love creating, growing and sharing. Getting to know the Master Gardeners affiliated with our land grant university only strengthened my opinions.

I wanted to be a part of their ranks!

While I know a lot about Cooperative Extension, and have learned through the successes and mistakes of my own garden, I am eager to have the formal training that this program will provide.

Because of COVID and the danger looming over the Delta variant, we will be receiving our 12 weeks of training via Zoom.

I am looking forward to sharing my journey here each week, sharing the resources that will be taught to my class via Extension professionals.

Stay tuned!

Introducing Master Gardener Minute

Being a social media enthusiast (I graduated from the University of Delaware  Social Media Strategic Social Media Marketing course in 2014) I kicked around some ideas to share Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program on various platforms.

Working with county agents, we developed the idea of a Master Gardener Minute, using the hashtag #MGMinute. One minute or under, the short informative video series will cover popular garden topics at a length suitable for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, as well as YouTube.

Yesterday, I shot a few segments with Delaware Master Gardener Wendy Ferranti and here is the first roll out. What do you think? What future topics would you like to see?

Extension welcomes little hands and big eyes to discover the wonders of gardens & nature

I love my job!

It allows me to intermingle with experts and follow along as the lessons of nature, flora and fauna in Delaware exist, thrive (and sometimes threatened) are shared with the public. I can’t say enough about the men and women who work and volunteer with Cooperative Extension outreach and teach curious minds, young and old alike! I always learn something new following them around!

Each May, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension agents and their wonderful volunteer Master Gardener experts, invite local second graders to visit their Demonstration Garden in Georgetown, Delaware. After exploring and discovering herbs, seeds, plants, flowers, trees and compost in the morning, the students enjoy a lunch break in our picnic grove area, and then trek off under the canopy of many leaves to explore the University of Delaware’s woodland classroom.

We never know what experience might spark a young mind and continue with a fascination of our natural world into formal education and a career. A day like this could be the start of something spectacular!

I listen to the “oohs” and “ahs” and when I am not doing that myself, I try and snap a few pictures of wide-eyed children in the throes of imagination and discovery! There were many more pictures that I did not have photo releases for. But here are a few — okay few hundred — photos of three marvelous days in May, 2015. Thanks to my assistant Jackie Arpie for joining me in taking pictures!

The embedded Flickr slide show won’t play on some iOS devices. Here’s the link to the photos!

Sussex County Delaware Master Gardeners’ Open House

It is a great honor to be asked to take photos of one of my favorite annual events, the Sussex County (Delaware) Master Gardener Open House. Their beautiful demonstration garden just happens to be located directly in back of my office and I even have a window so I can look out!

20130713-195554.jpgThe garden has many interesting niches and surprising little things peeking out of corners and unusual places. The demonstration garden is actually open all year long, and the public is welcome to stroll through the clearly marked plantings any time of the day, but a few times a year, the Master Gardeners have planned events, which allow the public to not only tour the garden, but have informal, friendly chats with Master Gardeners.

Enjoying a summer slurpee
Enjoying a summer slurpee

Like most gardeners I know, the Master Gardeners are a generous and humble lot. This is their passion and they love to share it. Not everyone is an expert in everything. Each Master Gardener brings his or her own talent to the table…or raised bed. Some are into veggies, others native Delware plants, children’s gardens, hostas, hydrangeas, garden photography. You name it! We have someone who knows their garden subject matter. Together, it all homogenizes into a poetry of color, nutrition, affection for all things fora and fauna. In Delaware, Master Gardeners are selected, trained and supported by Delaware Cooperative Extension through the University of Delaware and Delaware State University. Delaware has a lot to be proud of with these tireless and talented volunteers. What a treasure we have!

Here’s a photo set of pictures taken today at their premiere annual event.

2013 Open House

Master Gardeners are awesome!

I am very lucky to work in very close proximity to the Sussex County Master Gardeners, who are a volunteer corps of Cooperative Extension. I am not sure how many are in currently active in the county, but judging from their monthly meetings, we have more than 100 active volunteers. Each talented individual brings something unique to their volunteer service. We have Master Gardeners who write press releases, others who do training of staff and administrative work. Many go out into the community and teach at libraries and garden centers. Others answer phones on our seasonal helpline, and a large portion work in a teaching garden, known as the Demonstration Garden.  Recently my office moved toward the back of the building and my window overlooks the hydrangea section. I can see University of Delaware’s blue and gold tent, under which many free or very low cost workshops are offered during nice weather.

The Demonstration Garden is open to the public, who benefit from the clearly marked flowers, annuals, trees, shrubs and specialty attractions. Each year, something in the garden is added and changed. A big emphasis in the last few years or so has been on Accessible Gardening, or “Making Gardening Smart and Easy” by incorporating raised beds, pulleys and the  many tools that are available to encourage gardening at any age. I can still bend over and kneel to weed and dig, but it is going to get harder as I age. Good to know these resources are around. Nothing should stop anyone from gardening!  Sussex County Master Gardeners do however, have one special day, their Open House, this year on Saturday, July 13, when the Master Gardeners will be there in force, to answer questions, conduct workshops, sharpen tools and share their enthusiasm and knowledge. There is something for everyone; a children’s garden, with fun things to touch, taste and smell, a shade garden, and if I am not mistaken, a beautiful contemplative garden too.

When I retire, and if they’ll have me, I will sign up for the intensive and very thorough training offered by both University of Delaware and Delaware State University’s experts.  In the meantime, I am content to drift past the flowers and sneak a couple of photos on my lunch hour! If you are in the area on July 13, you can too! Here’s more information on the Sussex Master Gardener Open House and here is a link to pictures I took at the 2012 event.

Photos taken with my old Nikon D50, kit lens 55-200mm

Walk through the shade tunnel
Walk through the shade tunnel

Each year the Master Gardeners who tend to this demo garden, add garden art. Love this bird bath!
Each year the Master Gardeners who tend to this demo garden, add garden art. Love this bird bath!

They don't call it bee balm for nothing! These are a pretty shade of  magenta
They don’t call it bee balm for nothing!  Two are busy collecting. These Monarda are a pretty shade of magenta!

A perfect spot to contemplate, read, rest and smile
A perfect spot to contemplate, read, rest and smile

The view from my office window. Hydrangeas!
The view from my office window. Hydrangeas!

All plants are labeled with the common and official Latin name. Those plants that are native to Delaware have a special designation at the bottom right.
All plants are labeled with the common and official Latin name. Those plants that are native to Delaware have a special designation at the bottom right.

This bee has a pollen mother load on its legs!
This bee has a pollen mother load on its legs!

Touch and smell  - part of the Children's Garden
Touch and smell – part of the Children’s Garden

A bold burst of red, just showered by the sprinkler system!
A bold burst of red, just showered by the sprinkler system!

An Acuba and fern share a shady spot
An Acuba and fern share a shady spot

Coral Bells
Coral Bells. As an educational Demonstration Garden, all plants are clearly named.

Herb Garden. Think they'd mind if I snipped a few sprigs here and there?
Herb Garden. Think they’d mind if I snipped a few sprigs here and there?

The wonderful world of bees!
The wonderful world of bees!