Martha Stewart: Pruning may hamper hydrangea blooms

  • Martha Stewart Living
  • Wednesday, February 22, 2012 3:55pm
  • Life

Q: My hydrangea won’t bloom. Why?

A: This issue occurs with bigleaf hydrangeas, which includes the mophead and lacecap varieties. These bloom in July and August and then set buds for the next summer. Prune at the wrong time and you’re in for a blossomless season. The easy solution: Don’t cut it. If the shrub is too large, move it to a roomier spot.

A hydrangea that still doesn’t flower may be losing its buds to cold winters or an unexpected freeze. You can replant it in a sheltered area or wrap it in burlap during chilly months.

Another option: Plant one of the newer cultivars, such as Endless Summer. These form buds after blooming and again in spring. If the first set falls victim to errant pruning or harsh weather, the shrub will still flower.

Q: I’ve heard that fiddlehead ferns are toxic. Is this really the case?

A: To many, the asparaguslike taste and pleasantly chewy texture of fiddleheads herald spring’s arrival. The shoots of the ostrich fern, fiddleheads get their name from their shape: The tightly coiled shoots resemble the scroll carving on a violin. They grow near streams and rivers in the eastern half of the United States and Canada and are harvested by hand.

Even though fiddleheads have been consumed for centuries — if not longer — researchers aren’t sure whether they contain a toxin. The shoots have been linked to cases of food poisoning. In 1994, health officials reported that 75 people in New York and Canada got sick after eating raw or lightly cooked shoots. A few similar episodes have occurred since.

Alfred Bushway, a food science professor at the University of Maine who has studied fiddleheads, hasn’t seen evidence that they contain a toxin. One theory that explains the cases of illness: contamination from agricultural runoff or bacteria in river water. Whatever the cause, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends boiling the shoots for at least 10 minutes or steaming them for 20.

“If that was my only option, I wouldn’t serve them,” says Sam Hayward, a James Beard Award-winning chef and co-owner of Fore Street restaurant in Portland, Maine, where fiddleheads are blanched and briefly sauteed. “They would be flavorless, drab and mushy,” he says. “We trust our foragers. No one has reported a reaction to fiddleheads we’ve served.”

Still, even if food poisoning from fiddleheads seems unlikely, avoid eating them raw.

Address questions to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 601 W. 26th St., Ninth floor, New York, NY 10001. Send email to

&Copy; 2012 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc.

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