Flowering Plants|Why Won't This Thing Bloom?

 Flowering |Why won't this plant bloom?
A hydrangea bush in our yard that suffered late freeze damage. It was pruned back in late spring. The blooms are very late this year.

Bloomless in your yard

What a frustrating dilemma! You purchased a beautiful, healthy plant anticipating the gorgeous blooms in your landscape.  You carefully plant it in the perfect location; you water it just enough; you fertilize it and protect it from bugs and diseases. Three years later the plant has grown beautifully.  The foliage is lush and deep green…but no blooms!  Let’s take a look at the possible problems.


First of all, what is the purpose of a flower?  Flowers are the reproductive parts of the plant. Their colors, shapes, fragrances and even timing are all part of the plan.  As with all other living things, plants must reach a particular level of maturity in order to reproduce, and so this may be a reason for not flowering…it could be a bit too young.  An extreme example would be the century plant which may live thirty years only to flower once, signifying the end of it’s life.

Agave (Century Plant) Photo credit: Wikipedia


Another issue that has a direct effect on flowering is pruning.  Plenty of folks believe that their plant won’t flower unless it is pruned, but consider this: did that type of plant not flower before there was someone around to prune it?  The fact is that pruning is often more beneficial to the owner than the plant. By removing dead or unproductive parts, reducing the overall size of the plant, eliminating competition between two plants in close proximity, and even “dead-heading” or removing old blooms, pruning has more to do with our wishes for the plant than for the plant’s ability to produce flowers.  In fact, pruning incorrectly or at the wrong time of year can remove what would otherwise have been flowers.

Some plants like crape myrtles, shrub roses, and Hydrangea paniculata produce flowers on branches that grew in the same year or “new wood”. Other plants like forsythia, rhododendrons, and Hydrangea macrophylla produce flowers on branches that grew in the previous year or “old wood”. In a tightly manicured landscape it is possible to continually cut off the wood that would otherwise produce flowers.  Plants that flower as they “wake up” in spring are blooming on old wood and should be pruned (if needed) immediately after blooming.  Those that begin with green growth and then flower in the summer are usually blooming on new wood and should be pruned (if needed) in the late winter while they are still dormant.  If you are not sure, don’t prune it.

Growing conditions

The next issue effecting flowering includes several aspects I’ll lump together under “growing conditions”. Plants that prefer “full to part sun” may not flower if planted in less than a couple of hours of direct sunlight.  If the soil is too wet or too dry, that will effect flowering as well as overall health of the plant. Using a fertilizer with too much nitrogen can stimulate lush green growth at the expense of flowers…this is an especially prevalent concern with enthusiastic novice vegetable gardeners.

 Flowering |Why won't this plant bloom?
A nasturtium that has yet to flower. It has plenty of foliage, but no sign of buds. Patience….it will come.

Occasionally there are times when flower buds form and never open.  This can be due to fungus, insect or mite infestation.  A sharp eye aided by  a hand-lens should be able to detect the culprit if it’s a bug.  If you are not comfortable making the judgement call, take a sample to your local independent garden center and ask for help.


I Don’t Know

Finally, there’s the unexplainable.  There are times when the plant is healthy and everything is done “correctly” but the plant just doesn’t bloom.  At this point, get creative… talk to your plant, play music for it, pray for it, play a different kind of music, stop looking directly at it, stop doing anything at all for it.  Sometimes the struggle is the whole point.

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