Hydrangea Leaves Turning Brown? Here’s Why

Hydrangea plants are best loved for their wide lush leaves and clusters of summer blooms that last until fall. Yet, what really makes them a fan favorite is that they’re easy to care for and great at handling dim-lit areas.

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So, we can imagine your frustration when you start growing one of these attractive deciduous shrubs only to find that your hydrangea leaves are turning brown. If this is the case with your plant, it’s probably suffering from a lack of water or nutrients. It could also be they’re getting too much sun or fertilizer, causing their leaves to dry and wilt.

The good news is that there’s plenty you do to bring your plant back to life. In this article, we bring you the six possible causes and solutions. We’ll also tell you the best way to keep your hydrangeas looking strong and healthy all year.

Let’s get started.

6 Reasons Why Hydrangea Leaves Turn Brown

Before we get started, we must mention that part of a hydrangea’s life cycle is to shrivel and die when the weather starts to turn cold and chilly. In turn, this causes their leaves to become brown, wilt, and fall out.

Then, a few months later, in early spring, new growths will begin to appear from the stems that were once thought to be dead.

Yet, if the plant is looking drooping when it should be blooming with a beautiful palette of blooms and vibrant green leaves, then other factors are probably at play.

Keep reading to discover why this is happening to your hydrangea plants and how to treat it.

1.   Too Much Sun

Hydrangeas are known to prefer partial shade over sunny spots. They also like bright light, as long as it’s not directly pointed at them. Otherwise, it’ll cause the leaves to wilt and turn brown.

So, what do you do if there’s no way around putting them somewhere that gets plenty of direct light? First, you try to give them shade by setting up any type of temporary covering or shelter.

You also try to keep the soil moist and well-hydrated. Thus, the best way to keep your plant perky and lush is to water the shrubs deeply, especially during the hot summer months.

Another great idea is to add a 2-inch layer of mulch to the surface of the soil around the base of the plant. The best types of mulch include anything from leaf mold to well-rotted manure to compost.

This allows the soil to hold in as much moisture as possible, thus ensuring that the leaves get the water they need to stay healthy and lively.

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2.   Toxicity Poisoning

If you typically fertilize your plants, adding too much can lead to toxicity poisoning. In turn, this will cause the leaves to turn brown and wilt.

Too much fertilizer also increases the soil’s acidity, which makes it an inhospitable environment for the hydrangea. It also increases the salt concentration in the soil, causing the roots to shrink and the leaves to dry up.

According to the United States National Arboretum, it’s recommended that you don’t use more than two cups of a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer for every 100 square feet of soil.

So, if your hydrangeas are in a smaller area or the plant is in a pot, you’ll need to reduce the amount of fertilizer. Otherwise, the risk of toxicity poisoning becomes significantly higher.

It also becomes much higher in the summertime when it’s hot, and the plants are more exposed to the sun’s harsh rays.

Keep in mind that the best time to apply fertilizer is once in the spring. This ensures that the plant benefits from the fertilizer as much as possible throughout the growing season.

3.   Transplanting Woes

Sometimes, you feel like it’s time to transplant a plant from one pot to another or plant it in a new spot in your garden. While this may be true, the plant needs time to adjust to its new surroundings.

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They have feelings just like we do and can get jittery at the idea of relocating. For some plant species, it can actually take them a while to acclimate.

Another problem with transporting hydrangea plants is that it could simply be that their new soil doesn’t have enough water. This is particularly true when you buy a new hydrangea from the store because they typically place their plants in peat moss.

While accessible and more affordable, peat moss is known to dry out quicker than other soil types. Thus, the roots become dry and brittle, and the leaves turn brown.

So, the next time you get a new hydrangea or decide to move your old one, keep an eye on the roots. If they’re knotted up, gently loosen them before planting them in the new soil mixture. Then, add water until the soil is damp to the touch to ensure that the soil, and the roots, are evenly moist.

4.   Fungal Attack

Unfortunately, one of the reasons your hydrangea leaves are turning brown might be caused by a fungal infection. The problem is that it’s not just one type of fungus that targets hydrangeas; it’s a bunch of different types.

That said, it’s still relatively easy to protect your plant against a fungal attack once you know how. Here are a few tips to keep your hydrangeas fungus-free:

  • Avoid watering the leaves
  • Water at the base of the plant only when needed as excess moisture leaves the plant vulnerable
  • Choose either the morning or evening to water the plant when the sun isn’t at its highest
  • Remove leaves with brown spots immediately to avoid transmitting the fungus to healthy leaves
  • After removing infected leaves, disinfect your pruners to avoid transmission from one leaf to another
  • Give hydrangea plants about 6 feet between each one to improve airflow and reduce the risk of a fungal infection
  • Don’t place hydrangeas in dark, moist areas where fungus thrives

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5.   A Pest Problem

If you feel that your hydrangea leaves are looking limp and turning brown, it could indicate a pest problem.

Take a close look at the leaves. Do you notice a sticky honey-like substance? This likely means the plant has been infected with aphids or hydrangea scale.

The good news is both are easy to clean. One way is to opt for a simple direct stream of water. It’s quick and easy. Just make sure the water isn’t coming out too strong, or it might damage the leaves.

The second option is to wipe the leaves with a mixture of dish soap and water. Add two tablespoons to a cup of water, and mix well.

One way to remove the pests is by dipping a cloth into the mixture. Then, wipe each leaf, making sure to cover the top and bottom of the leaf.

Another idea is to put the mixture into a 32-ounce spray bottle and thoroughly spray each leaf before wiping dry with a clean cloth.

Keep in mind that if you use a pesticide, there’s a chance that it might scorch the leaves in the process. So, be careful when spraying any type of pesticide. Also, never spray the plant when it’s in the harsh sun.

6.   Hardiness Zones

Hardiness zones are often the last thing people think about when planting, especially beginners. Yet, it’s so vital to a plant’s health that it directly affects its growth and development. In other words, knowing your zone can help you figure out which plants can survive and which won’t make it.

Let’s take bigleaf hydrangeas, for example, which are the most widely cultivated species of hydrangeas in the US. These robust plants prefer hardiness zones that range between 6–10.

This zone is typically found in many northwestern states along the Pacific, such as Oregon and Washington. It also includes some mid-western states like Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas.

7.   Too Windy

By now, you’ve probably figured out that hydrangea leaves turn brown when they lose moisture faster than the roots can draw up from the soil. In other words, if the soil at the base of the plant isn’t consistently damp, then the leaves will sag and become darker as a sign of distress.

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So, if the plant is in an area with a draft, this could be yet another reason the leaves are turning brown. Too much wind can sap a lot of moisture from the surface of the soil, causing the leaves to wilt and dry up.

Make sure you choose a suitable location for your hydrangeas. Whether indoors or out, it’s always good to place them against a wall, fence, or hedge to help buffer the wind. You can also plant them under trees to provide them with the right conditions and protect them from the wind.

A Final Note

For any plant, the leaves are the main indication of its health. This article has shed some light on potential causes for your hydrangea leaves turning brown.

While it’s pretty frustrating to see those rich, lush leaves start to sag and wilt, it’s important to remember that these plants are relatively easy to look after. If you give them the attention and love they need, you’ll be rewarded with vibrant leaves and bountiful blooms.