HOW TO REVIVE A HYDRANGEA. AND POSSIBLY A WEDDING.

 
how-to-revive-hydrangeas

 

There are two types of people in this world that I am suspicious of. People who wearing black hoodies while breaking into cars and people who don’t like flowers.

People who like the taste of Tonic Water are also on my watch list.

There aren’t many rooms that don’t look better with some sort of flower or at least plant in them.  It adds life to a room. A living and breathing thing.  Like a decorating pet.

 

hydrangea

One of my favourite flowers has always been the hydrangea because a) it’s really great looking and b) just a few flowers fill up a LOT of space.  Roses are great and all but you need about three billion of them to make a vase look full even if you add in filler.

Hydrangeas are just charming.

They’re also evil, neurotic, easily offended and have an astonishing ability to play dead.  They’re the opossum of the flower world.

You know it. You’ve been there.  You’re in the grocery store or florist and you see the hydrangeas all big, and white and huge and bouncy like a rare albino afro.  You know you shouldn’t go for the afro. It’s too much work.  It’ll be a mess within a day.

But you give in.  You relent.  You buy the big white afro flower.

 

 

wilting-hydrangea

And within one day it’s a goner.

For years I avoided buying my favourite flower because of this but about a decade ago I learned a trick that will bring back even the most wilted of hydrangeas.

Boiling.  Hot. Water.

Just recut the end of the hydrangea, stick it in a cup of boiling water, and let it sit in that cup overnight (or until the water cools).  Within a few hours you’ll notice it starting to perk up and within 5 hours it’ll be back to its old bouncy self.

This method always works.  100% of the time this method works.  Always.  The only time it wouldn’t work is if your hydrangea has already lived out its full life and isn’t just playing dead, but actually is dead.

So when  reader emailed me and told me she had the same luck with using Alum to revive her hydrangeas I had to try it out.

One sure fire remedy is good.  Two is even better.

So when the spring flowers I bought started to keel over I whipped out the Alum and gave it a shot.

 

alum

 

Just recut the hydrangea stem (preferably under water) and dip it in about 1/2″ of alum.  Then stick the flower straight back in the vase.  No waiting, no screwing around, no nothin’.

Take a look at the difference.  This is what my hydrangea looked 3 hours after using the Alum treatment.

really-wilted-hydrangea

Yes indeed, it was twice as wilted as it was before.

I’ve read that other people have really good luck using this Alum method too, but I tried it three times and it didn’t work for me.

I’m sure it does work for some people some of the time, but the boiling hot water method works always.  Always.

 

pouring-water

 

So I took my double wilted hydrangeas and did what I always do.

  1. Recut the stems.
  2. Put them in a glass filled with boiling (not just hot) water.
  3. Protected the blooms from the steam by wrapping them in a paper towel.
  4. Leave them alone for several hours.

 

hydrangea-reviving

 

And back they came, as perfect as they were before the wilting.

You can see a couple of areas on the leaves and stem where it got scorched by the steam but it’s just cosmetic, the flower was protected and the flower did just fine.

revived-hydrangea

 

I first wrote about this tip years ago, but with wedding season coming up I thought it was a good idea to mention it again.  I’ve had more than a dozen emails over the years from brides, wedding planners and frantic family members thanking me for saving their wedding with this tip.

The hot water method will only save a wedding.  Not a marriage.  But you can decrease your chances of a bad marriage by asking 3 important questions before you get hitched.

  1. Do you drink Tonic Water?
  2. Do you like flowers?
  3. Do you own a black hoodie?

 


 

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99 Comments

  1. Paula says:

    Love your arrangement on your island.

  2. Michelle says:

    Love hydrangeas but hated being disappointed! Thank you! I can enjoy one of my favorites again.

  3. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    That is so cool…I love Hydrangeas too…they are so fluffy…

  4. Mike says:

    I think your trouble with the world is that you’ve never had good tonic water. If you make it yourself, you can adjust the flavors to get the right notes of citrus and spice and not the nasty medicinal taste of the store bought stuff. It’s not likely to save a wedding or anything, but give it a try.

  5. Nancy says:

    Tell me about the teakettle. Do you like it? Do you know how hard it is to buy a great teakettle? I love hydrangeas but that’s where I throw the coffee grounds. I never noticed that they sold the blooms?

  6. catt says:

    The method that works for me is to cut the end of the hydrangea, put the stem into just boiled water for about 30 seconds, remove from water and then immediately dip the end into the alum, then it goes back into room temp water. It will revive completely in a few hours. The alum keeps the cut stem from sealing and ensures that the stem will continue to draw moisture. This has worked every time for me.

  7. Jan says:

    Holy Cow! Even the ones I pick in the yard sometimes wilt. Weird that it’s just sometimes. But I’d really like to understand what’s going on physiologically to chase the wilt away.

  8. Christy says:

    Now if only I could learn how to revive my actual hydrangea in the yard. It hasn’t bloomed like a normal one in a couple years 🙁

    • Karen says:

      Do you trim it back? Try not trimming it back. ~ karen!

    • tracij says:

      Where do you live? The year before last we had a harsh winter in PA and surrounding states. Apparently, the hydrangeas not blooming was a widespread problem. It was a question on “You Bet Your Garden” on NPR. Interestingly, my native white hydrangeas did bloom that year, but my non-native blue hydrangeas did nothing! Since this winter wasn’t as cold, the hydrangeas should bounce back and bloom this year.

  9. Cynna says:

    Great tip! I’ve been growing and propagating hydrangeas for years–they’re my favorite. Question…where do you find them blooming in the winter? I’m in Zone 6a. They’re not even in stores (cut) until May.

  10. Kathleen says:

    I am wont to shove the hydrangea blooms under water in a vase and float candles on top. No need to worry about wilting. However, now that I know how to revive them, no need to drown them anymore! 🙂
    A beautiful post, Karen. The photos are stunning.

  11. Elaine says:

    Thanks a lot, Karen. I’ve always been nuts about hydrangeas and bought Alum a while back getting ready for this year’s blooms at the market. But now, I’ll definitely do your boiling water method instead. You’d think scalding water would kill a plant considering florists place their flowers in coolers to keep them fresh. Weird, isn’t it?

  12. Laurie says:

    Am I the only person who had to google Alum?
    Great tip on reviving hydrangeas!

  13. Cath says:

    My daughter in law wanted all hydrangeas at her wedding, from the bouquets to the table arrangements. I too was worried about the wilt factor. An elderly lady down the way gave me a fool proof tip and not one wilted. When you prepare the hydrangeas, take a hammer and smash the bottom of the woody stems and put them in water.( I used a brick as the smashing block) Works like a charm!

    • Annette says:

      This method works great for all woody stemmed flower including roses! I use the handle end of my heavy knives to smash the stems as I have just used the knife to cut the ends, so it all happens fast. More surface area to suck up warm water works great!

  14. Janet says:

    Does this boiling water trick apply to all varieties of hydrangeas? I hope so!!! I have a beautiful Annabelle Hydrangea, HUGE white heads with small petal blossoms. Gorgeous on the plant, hardly ever gorgeous in the vase. I can’t wait to try it out this summer. Thanks, Karen!

  15. shirley says:

    I know this will sound really weird but I don’t like cut flowers in my house. I think it had something to do with reading the “Little Prince” when I was a child and noting the concern the little prince had for the one and only flower on his planet.
    Flowers know this and they start dropping their beautiful petals the moment they enter my house.
    I feel I am living in a flower graveyard.
    Here are all these beautiful blooms cut off at the knees and left to die far away from the beautiful outdoors, birds, insects etc. Just seems very sad to me.
    I prefer flowers to live and die in their own land and in their own time.
    I was once told that a lemon tree can be revived and made to bear more fruit by hammering long nails into its trunk. The principal seems to be the tree feels it is dying and suddenly summons up enough energy for a last stab at life.
    All this cutting and plunging into boiling water or poison like Alum sounds very much the same to me.
    Silly I know but the fewer things dying in my house, the better.
    (I also liberate potplants and creepy crawlies back into my garden!)
    No I am not the earth mother type of person!
    I don’t wear black hoodies or drink tonic water – diluting any drink with water seems a sacrilege – haven’t the distillers spent weeks taking the water out of the drinks?
    Just asking……
    Besides you can fit way more gin in the glass if you omit the tonic water!
    Then you don’t notice the flowers dying around you – I do this at weddings – often. 🙂

    • Linda Weber says:

      Lol!

    • Ev Wilcox says:

      My eldest son hates to see cut flowers for much the same reason. I rarely cut any when he is going to visit, unless they have blown over or are otherwise damaged. My spring daffodils and narcissus are beautiful in or out!

      • BaconBleuCheez says:

        My dear departed mother said she felt this way too when she was younger. She grew a beautiful garden, but felt heartless when she picked flowers to bring into the house. Then one day she realized that the blossoms were going to die anyway, wouldn’t they rather spend their brief life indoors where they could be appreciated and admired, rather then outside alone. Our home was filled with flowers all spring and summer from then on.

  16. Rhonda says:

    I love the pussy willows in your arrangement. As a Ukrainian kid in Saskatchewan we always had them in our Easter floral arrangements.

  17. Milton says:

    With my wife, I’ve grown and propagated Hydrangeas for years, we furnished all the flowers for my brother’s wedding 10 years ago. We apply sulfur and aluminum sulfate to the bed in the spring to turn the flowers deep blue. That is a wonderful trick on the boiling water, I had never heard of it before. Will try it in May when ours come in.

    As for tonic water, it is great for leg cramps. If you have that problem you will learn to love it or add a little gin to ameliorate it.

    • MaggieB says:

      Yes, this! Word of the Day with Karen – Ameliorate. Hmmm now to think of a sentence to drop into everyday conversation! However, if I use unameliorable I can score more points in Scrabble and in order to practice pronounciation add more Gin (pref Botanicals from Islay) to my tonic. Love it when I have my day planned out! Cheers everyone.

      • Penny says:

        Botanicals from Islay is a new one for me, I had to scout around for that. But if you like a gin with LOADS of complex flavours, try Bulldog. It comes in a black bottle, same as Botanicals.

  18. Judy says:

    The very hot or boiling water works on roses too.

  19. DonzaMama says:

    This post wins the internet today! I have so enjoyed reading not only the post, but also the comments. Thank you, Karen, for the tips! I can’t wait to try them on my cut hydrangeas this spring and summer!

  20. Linda says:

    I’m 100% with Karen on the tonic water taste–yuck! Think the Brits used it in India against malaria and probably in Africa before that. To keep from getting really sick I guess I could hold my nose and chug it–otherwise, no way.

  21. Marna says:

    Wonderful post! I have been afraid of cutting mine because they do seem to wilt right away. I love hydrangeas because my grandmother grew them, they make me think of her and her beautiful garden. Love your floral arrangement, gorgeous! 🙂

  22. Grammy says:

    Cool! I, too, love hydrangeas but had never heard of the boiling water thing. Actually, I don’t recall ever buying them, so maybe that’s why — I don’t recall having a wilt problem with the flowers grown at home. In fact, many times I’ve just allowed hydrangeas in a vase to sit there until all the water in the vase has evaporated, and they begin drying during that process and continue looking good while they dry further. They lose color and don’t look alive, but they are sturdy and beautiful in a dried arrangement, or just by themselves in a vase. But now I want to but some just to try this, and I can justify it because I took out all the hydrangeas in the yard several years ago.

    My question is, does the boiling water work for other flowers? If so, which ones?

  23. Kim says:

    Thanks so much Karen, this is such great info!!! My grandmother had 3 huge, beautiful hydrangea bushes in her yard; one white, one pink and one blue (She was constantly checking the pH of the soil to keep the colors pure). However, she never used them as cut flowers b/c of the wilting issue. I absolutely love them but I’ve never purchased one b/c I worried it would wilt and die before I even got it home. This is going to be the year of the Hydrangea! I’m going to buy one of my favorite flowers for a daily reminder of my Nana!! Also, your pics are stunning!! I love the flowers on your counter 🙂

  24. robert says:

    Karen, I wear a hoodie every single time I go out anywhere, a very dark blue one, almost black or a slightly discolored black one to the chagrin of every one who knows me, I’ m also known to drink the occasional gin and tonic, I love flowers and I wouldn’t mind to live in a set a la Raf Simons first collection for Dior if all those flowers were immortal and super easy to dust but I would never break into a car. So, where do I stand in your suspicions?

    • Karen says:

      a) you don’t break into cars with your hoodie b) you’re familiar with and admire Dior c) you don’t drink tonic straight, you mix it with gin You’re A-okay. ~ karen!

  25. gabrielle says:

    Tonic water? Really?? 36 years ago I toodled in my 1972 VW van 3,500 miles away from the California beaches to get here, and every time I take a pull on a tall, icy gin & tonic it’s like getting a smack in the face by 6 foot Pacific wave. You do not know what you are missing.

  26. Cindy says:

    I never would have believed it! But your pictures proved me wrong. I’m a convert 🙂

  27. J says:

    Amazing! I love these flowers as well and always avoided buying them since they go kaput the following day. I’ll definitely be using this method. Thanks Karen!

  28. Darlene says:

    Yep…. I am a tonic drinker….

  29. Monique says:

    I saw the cutest miniature hydrangeas at Home Depot yesterday..you hve to see them to believe them..adorb.
    In a tiny pots.
    I used to like Diet Tonic 15 yrs ago..I have black hoodies..in fact one is living at my young grandsons’ home..he went home with it one day and I never got it back..he has no idea a black hoodie can be cool in certain circles..especially thoe he has of mine..it has embossed flowers on it;)
    I love that age they don’t care.
    I think I cultivate hydrangeas..they are invasive for me..but I do love them.
    Great tips.

  30. Heather says:

    1. yes
    2.yes
    3. no
    The tonic water does taste better with gin & lime added, though.

  31. Allison says:

    Former florist here, and I did not know this trick. We usually just smashed the stems like someone mentioned above. Now I’m ready to go buy some hydrangeas for my desk!!!

  32. In Texas, where it’s generally 147 degrees in the shade from May to October, I can’t even begin to grow hydrangeas. Strange, considering how much the blooms seem to love hot water.

  33. stefani says:

    I have seen them revived by soaking the whole flower in water over night.

  34. Miriam Mc Nally says:

    I don’t like hydrangeas (prefer roses!) but thanks for the tip anyway, in case I ever need to save a wedding!

  35. Sakura Sushi says:

    1. Only with vodka and a twist of lime.
    2. Love, love, love them. Especially peonies.
    3. Nope, but I do have a lovely turquoise-colored one that I got on vacation. And I never wear it.

    At least you’ve the decency to take a break from knocking us tea lovers for a change (I expected that to be item number 4). The hydrangea thing I totally learned from you, and it has been successful. Every. Damn. Time. Which is a magical thing, leading me to believe that you are indeed, magical.

  36. Dan says:

    1. Yes. But only diluted with tremendous amounts of gin and lime.
    2. Yes. Only crazy people don’t like flowers. And I’m not crazy. Though I suppose some crazy people do like flowers. See #3.
    3. Yes. It says “Trust me – I’m a geologist”. So maybe crazy. But the gin helps.

  37. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Wonder if your trick will work on lilacs? I used to get suckered into cutting a bunch from the wild ones in the field across the street from my house and every time they’d wilt within hours. Every time. And I did the whole smashing the stems thing too. Unfortunately those old shrubs have been replaced by hundreds of houses . . .

  38. Danni says:

    yes, yes, and yes!! Triple threat!~! AND I’m a florist, so who knew? You might find tonic and vodka in my emergency kit along with the band aids, double-stick dots, wire, duct tape and breathmints. You might. That is an excellent trick, and it also how you pre-treat dahlias. If you get them at the real flower market, they are already done, but if you’re buying from a farm and need them to last for a wedding or what not, look it up. You do just the very bottom of the stems. And you don’t need to ‘re-do’ it later if you cut them up shorter. As you say, since it’s wedding season and all, it’s a great time to share tips.

  39. ShelleyBC says:

    I always had this sort of problem with poppies before I learned that right after you pick them from the garden, you must flame the bottom of the stem to melt the oils/sap then place in water. The oils sizzle and turn black but they last so much longer this way!!

  40. Barbie says:

    …..I can understand this completely! As when I am tired and wilted….one soak in my “hot as I can stand it” tub and I am back and perky once again too! LOL

    But seriously Karen, I have been a florist for over 40yrs and I did not know this sweet little trick! the only thing that concerns me is that scorching on the stem….once it is in a bqt or oasis doesn’t that scorching prevent the flower from the absorption to the petals? ….like once a stem is bent it will no longer get the hydration up the stem…stops at the break. Just a question.

  41. Linda says:

    So after you revive the hydrangeas with boiling water, how long does the bloom last? And can you do it again and again?

  42. Lucy Clayton Gorman says:

    As a florist, and loving hydrangea, I always cringed when I put hydrangea in anything and crossed my finger they would look great days later. Then a Charming Little Old Lady came into the shop with her daughter, who was a great customer, and told me the secret to hydrangeas. The advise she gave me was was just as you described but she recommended removing more of the leaves and only cutting between the joints of the stem. This step is soooo important even before you have to revive them. And of course a sharp angled cut. That was ten years ago, thank heavens for Charming Little Old Ladies.
    Cheers!

  43. Cindy says:

    Karen, do you grow them? If you do, is there a trick? Hydrangeas are one of my favorites but I can’t grow them to save my life. I don’t get it. Maybe because it’s such a sturdy flower growing from a sturdy bush that I feel like growing them should be no big deal. I kill them every time. Got anything up your sleeve?

    • Karen says:

      I do grow them Cindy but I don’t do anything special to them unless I’m looking to change their colour. I just … let them grow. :/ ~ karen!

    • tracij says:

      Not sure what you’ve tried, but they are a shade plant so that matters. Also, maybe they aren’t good for your region. There are some native hydrangeas in the US. Check if any are native to your area and look for some at native plant sales. Native plants are always much easier to grow as they are already adapted to your conditions.

      • Cindy says:

        For the past several years, on Mother’s Day, my son takes me to lunch, a movie, and then to Home Depot to buy a hydrangea. The hydrangea part of this lovely afternoon has become a running joke now. They do grow in Oklahoma but I will check to see if HD is selling natives. I may to to a local nursery instead this year. Thanks Traci!

  44. trish says:

    Great post !!! I too am in love with Hydrangeas. i am lucky to have a bed of white ones that vertually look after themselves but sometimes after cutting the younger ones limp right away so I may try the alum treatment to save them.
    This post made me laugh out loud by the way !!!
    Thanks for your efforts .
    I am originally from Ancaster but transplanted to California.
    Trish 🙂

  45. Renee says:

    I have a lovely blue hydrangea, and it was cramped in a location, so I moved it. The next year it exploded HUGE and the coolest thing was that I had blue, pink & white blooms all on the same shrub! Some of the blooms were even marled all three colors! Never did it again, and I wish I knew what I did so I could do it again, but it was waayyy cool.

    • Pam'a says:

      The color of hydrangeas is determined by the pH of the soil. If it’s acidic, you get blue. If it’s alkaline, you get pink. If you bought a blue-flowered one and live in a place with alkaline soil and don’t add acid to the soil, you get disgusting browny-purple the next year before it goes to pink.

      Since you moved yours from one area to another, it was probably working with two types of soil that first year. Thus, the Sybil-esque display. Alas, it was probably just a one-time thing.

  46. kari says:

    I love your commenters Karen! Most fun group of people around the web. I can’t wait to try this on my ever so wilt-y hydrangeas from my garden. If I don’t cut them at 8am, in the south it’s a big old wilt-fest straightaway! I don’t want to be on the watch list, but I have to admit that a cold Pellegrino with a drop of grapefruit essential oil in it is my favorite summertime beverage. That’s mineral water, just a cousin to tonic…right….right??????

    • Karen says:

      I LOVE Pellegrino. (don’t like flavoured sparkling waters like lemon,lime or grapefruit tho) But that’s beside the point. Pellegrino is NOT tonic (blech) water. ~ karen!

  47. That is so cool…Great tip on reviving hydrangeas! Wonderful post! Thanks for your efforts .

  48. Bianca says:

    Never heard of the boiling water trick!! I used to work for a florist, and our trick to revive hydrangeas was to remember that they like a LOT of water and they take water in through the head (the petals)… unlike other flowers. If one started to look a little wilty, we would just spray the heads generously with water from a spray bottle. If it really looked sad, we would take a clean bucket of water, turn the stem upside down and put the head of the hydrangea in the water for 2-3 hours. Then we would gently shake it out, recut the stem and put it back into water (right side up this time), and let it dry out. Good as new and worked every time!

  49. Diana says:

    Black Hoodie… Shhhhhh

  50. Jessie says:

    I was hoping this would be about reviving hydrangea plants. I have a limelight hydrangea that I planted last year that is looking mighty sad and leafless so far this Spring (and Spring has sprung here in Texas). Any tips?

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