So That’s Where Baby Hydrangeas Come From!


Bee 4

I remember the day I first learned about the birds and the bees, which — surprise — really had nothing to do with birds and bees.

I was watching an afternoon rerun of “Marcus Welby, M.D.” with my mother, and the episode focused on a patient with an STD, only it was called VD at the time.  My father walked in at that moment and asked if I knew what that meant.

“Um, yeah?” I said, unsure if the question mark at the end of my response gave me an air of authority or uncertainty.

And then came my father’s response, “Let’s go for a drive.”  Uncertainty it was.

So into the car we went — one of those awkward, teachable-moment discussions between a parent and a child.  If only birds and bees had been part of the conversation — or, for that matter, hydrangeas.  That would have been a nice way to ease into the topic.  If hydrangeas had been the opening, maybe I wouldn’t have been so stunned when I looked under some of the lacecap hydrangeas in my garden.

Hydrangea babies, I get.  In fact, I’ve actually assisted in a few births — a hydrangea midwife, if you will.  It involved a sharp pair of clippers, some water, rooting hormone, and sandy soil.

Hydrangea Propagation Tools

But this is the first time I’ve witnessed a live hydrangea birth — and boy, was I surprised.  My inner thought was more of a shout, “So that’s where baby hydrangeas come from!”

I was under the shrubbery, on my hands and knees with branches scratching against my head.  As I brushed away brown winter leaves from the base of a hydrangea, I noticed that a mature branch had touched the ground.  Roots had emerged and grabbed hold, and now a green stem and leaves rose from the contact point.

Hydrangea

I’m not sure why I was surprised — the process makes perfect sense.  As I said, I already had success with rooting hormone on tender green hydrangea stems.  Why, then, was it surprising that a plant had done it without my help?

The question twisted and turned itself inside my head as I went about the task of cutting the woody umbilical cord and gently removing the infant plant from its birthplace.  It was time for it to put on its big girl panties and move to a spot of her very own.

Hydrangea

And that’s when the answer to my question began to take shape.

I am amazed — if that’s a strong enough word — at what plants do when no one is looking.  From above, the baby plant could not — was not — visible.  It simply looked like a branch that reached over the bed’s edging.

But at ground level, in the shadow of the mother plant, the baby was content and growing and staring back at me.

At this point, my partner Joe would probably warn all of you: Nerd Alert!  As I worked on the plant and got into my own head, I thought about time — or rather, how two different time speeds can exist in the same timespan.  As I buzzed through my life, other life was growing.

Think about it.  During a specific stretch of time, say a year, I went about my business: waking up, going to work, food shopping, going to work, keeping doctor appointments, going to work, gardening, going to work, writing, going to work — a hectic, whirlwind life in which time seems to fly.

Hydrangea

And there, beneath a shrub that I pass each day, a single branch had arched downward until it touched the ground and grew — a process so slow and miraculous that it forces one to breathe and contemplate.

I then embarked on a mission, crawling under the branches of other hydrangeas, reaching my hands into their hearts to pull out leaves that were trapped between the stems, searching for more babies.

Hydrangea

There they were.  In total, one lacecap had sprouted two young ones, and a second lacecap produced three — an unexpected gift from nature that not only produced joy and excitement in the garden, but will also fill an open area along the side of the house.  I’m also a bit consumed with the idea of bending branches to the ground, securing them, and letting nature take its course.  I could totally run a hydrangea mill of sorts.

So, Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms and Mother-figures out there — and when you sit down to have “The Talk” with your kids, remember to begin with hydrangeas.  It will make things easier.

39 thoughts on “So That’s Where Baby Hydrangeas Come From!

  1. Hi, Kev –
    My first “birds & bees” discussion consisted of the following information – “The birds go tweet, tweet, tweet, and the bees go buzzzzzz.” At least you got to go on a drive! LOL! Grandma was VERY uncomfortable talking about those things with me!
    Love,
    Aunt Pat

  2. Your first sentences drew me in…I had to see where this was going. Having a 13 year old boy I was wondering If I might pick up some sage advice. Marcus Welby was quite a flashback.

    Layering is the technique, and it is often the way many invasive plants spread.(Multiflora Rose, Barberry and Ivy to mention a few) Many ornamental plants like the Hydrangea can be layered too: Viburnum, Dogwood, Rhododendron(and Azalea) and many more.

    • Hi Reed. Thanks for the lesson. I knew ivy spreads that way, but the hydrangeas were a bit of a surprise. As for that talk. . . Take a deep breath, be honest, offer what you think your can handle, and reassure that the lines of communication are always open. Layering is easier. 🙂

  3. When I gave “the talk,” I used a toaster plug and an outlet. Very effective visual. I’ll try the hydrangeas on my next child.

  4. It is an amazing process of rebirth in nature that goes on all around us all the time . . . I will try to remind myself to step back and enjoy these little details as I finally look to clearing off my gardens of their winter muck!

  5. I’ve gotten starts of azaleas , and clematis this way but never a hydrangea. Maybe I’ll have to “help one along” by pinning a stem down.

    • Now that I think of it, an azalea did the same thing for me years ago. By all means, give hydrangeas a try. It’s a lot less expensive than buying an actual plant from the nursery.

    • Seed starting and plant propagation are my favorite aspect of gardening. It’s incredible what plants are able to do, and the challenge keeps life interesting. 🙂

  6. Loved your witty post! I’ve always been a spider plant “midwife” waiting until the proper time to sever the umbilical cord. What a wonderful thing that nature had it all figured out!

    • Hi Diane. Spider plants — now that brought back memories! We used to have these when I was a kid, and the baby plants fascinated me. How cool to be able to get more plants for free! 🙂

  7. Brilliant (as ever) Kevin! The connections and whirrings of our minds never ceases to fascinate me, so thanks for sharing your whirrings!
    And strangely enough I’m trying to remember the name of the hydrangea that is evergreen, has white flowers and likes shade, for the life of me I can’t remember it …. need one for my garden 🙂

  8. Hey! Cut a guy some slack. I was never a parent before and felt the timing was right for a talk. Come to think of it, you didn’t turn out to bad so the drive wasn’t the worst experience of your life, although another drive was.
    ps-just planted two Oak Leaf Hydrangea’s and the rabbits are having a field day. Had to surround them with chicken wire.
    Love Dad

    • LOL. It’s just one of those moments seared into my memory — traumatic at the time, but funny now. Priceless. Good luck with the rabbits.

  9. So, when a mommy and daddy hydrangea love each other very much they hug each other in a special way and nine months later… When we wanted to have a child, we simply placed mommy’s arm on some soil and a year later we cut it off because you’d taken root on your own. I think I need more rehearsal. Fortunately, I’ve no children to scar permanently trying to explain the whole thing.

    Fun post!

    • LOL. I wish I had thought of your comment for the post. You have to admit, though, hydrangea love is a lot easier for a young, impressionable mind. In fact, HBO should create a show around it, “Real Hydrangeas.”

  10. What a fantastic surprise. I’ve read about layering before, even tried it with a rhododendron once but was too impatient for it to work. So nice to see this works with hydrangeas as well. Now what to do with all the bounty?

    • Hi Marguerite. I had nothing to do with the layering, but now that I know that I can . . . Bounty for me and friends and neighbors. Hope you have layering success.

    • Hi Donna. That’s too bad that you can’t really enjoy hydrangeas where you are. Here on Long Island, hydrangeas drop their leaves, but the stems remain. New green shoots appear each spring, as well as leaves on the older branches. As you know, some hydrangea types produce flowers on new stems, while others produce on older stems. Finding baby plants was a very happy accident.

  11. Well congrats to you! The proud father. Our hydrangea has finally taken off this year, after a VERY slow start…I think I’ll have to have a rummage this weekend to see what’s going on down below. 🙂

    • Hey Jane. If there’s nothing going on down below, you can always take clippings of new shoots, root them with the help of rooting hormone, and produce more plants. Here is a how-to link:

  12. That was quite a transition from sex ed in the car to searching under hydrangeas, but must confess I loved. No one can measure the fulfillment of starting a plant from a baby and watch it grow. Much more fulfilling than starting with a 5 gallon plant from a retails. Enjoy your babies and try to refuse determining which you like best. They’re all your precious and sensitive babies, now.

    • Hi Patrick. I think that’s my favorite part of gardening — making new plants, either from seed starting or propagation. I like enjoy the challenge and celebrate the results. Hope all is well.

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  14. How long does it take until those little clippings bloom? I ordered some online and they were about 3-4″ high. I put them in the ground and they barely gained an inch. I’m wondering how long it will be until they get big enough to bloom.

    • Hi Nikole. It may take a while for small plants to bloom. They need to establish themselves and get in the rhythm of your climate. Be patient. 🙂

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