Potted hydrangea may thrive outdoors – or not

I was given a potted hydrangea flower as an Easter gift. Can I plant that outdoors?

Mophead (Grandiflora) hydrangeas are hardy outdoors, but yours was bred for greenhouse culture and forced into bloom for the holidays, so its chances are less certain. Sometimes they make the transition fine. Because it is essentially a houseplant at this point, adjust it to outdoor temperatures slowly over several days or wait until your indoor temperatures and the outdoor temperatures are similar before taking it outdoors. The leaves are acclimated to indoor light levels and must be slowly exposed to stronger sunlight. Plant it in sun to partial shade. Water-loving hydrangeas are like the canaries in the coal mine in regards to water — if weather is dry, they'll quickly wilt. Like all new plantings, water when necessary for the first two years.

Deer are destroying my plants, and I'm afraid to garden because of ticks and Lyme disease. Can't we bring in a big predator like pumas?

Pumas eat people. We probably don't want them in the backyard. Coyotes, however, have been reported in every county in Maryland. And deer have an even bigger predator — man. When American Indians hunted (before Europeans arrived), there were about eight to 10 deer per square mile. Now they reach 25 and above. Today's managed deer hunts attempt to control populations so deer do not destroy wildlife habitat. This allows stripped forest floors to regrow and seedlings to replace dead trees. Natural ecology aids in tick control. Wild turkeys, for instance, eat 500 ticks a day, but their numbers have plummeted because they don't have low undergrowth for nesting and protection of chicks. You can mimic natural ecology in your yard by planting a diversity of plants —especially natives, and avoiding invasive ones (especially barberry).

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the Week

Swamp Azalea 'Delaware Blue'

Rhododendron viscosum 'Delaware Blue'

When typical azaleas and rhododendrons finish blooming, our native azaleas begin. There are several species of these deciduous azaleas, and they come into flower at a time when shrub bloom is scarce. One of their best qualities is rich fragrance. Swamp azalea, for instance, smells spicy, sweet, and faintly of clove. Flowers come in clusters of four to nine flowers each, with super-long showy stamens, sometimes brightly colored. The growth habit is loose and natural, with some species suckering into colonies if you're lucky. Swamp azaleas grow about 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide or more. Foliage on Delaware Blue has a blue-green cast. As its name implies, it prefers moist, organic soil, and an acid pH, thriving in full sun and damp soil. Like other azaleas, it is shallow-rooted and appreciates an organic mulch. Propagate from cuttings in late summer to fall or by layering in fall. —Ellen Nibali

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