Hydrangeas are garden favorites for a reason – they are gorgeous deciduous shrubs, grow in sun or dappled shade and bloom like soldiers all summer and into fall.
As you would expect from a shrub that is so popular, hydrangeas are very easy to grow. The only drawback to them is that they tend to be the first thing in the garden to start suffering if the weather is too dry, wilting alarmingly and taking gallons of water to get them going again, so be prepared in hot, dry weather. And water accordingly.
It is a good idea to improve the soil before planting by adding plenty of organic matter, as this increases water retention in the soil. It is also helpful to apply a thick layer of good mulch (homemade garden compost and well-rotted manure) around its base each spring.
One of the best things about hydrangeas is their large, bulbous flowers, which often change color as they mature and age. They last well in a vase, so they are a great addition to arrangements at home. They can also be left to ripen and dry on the plant, and the resulting beige, skeletal flower heads make equally beautiful decorations during the fall and winter months.
When it comes to pruning, the usual practice is to leave the faded flower heads in place over the winter, then in mid-spring, prune the stems back to a healthy pair of new buds below.
What hydrangeas should I plant?
Hydrangea mowed (varieties Hydrangea macrophylla) are all beautiful and stocked at most garden centers and major DIY stores. Its flowers tend to be shades of white, pink, blue to purple. Unfortunately, unless they are grown in acidic soil (soil with a low pH) blue hydrangeas tend to turn back pink.
Hydrangea paniculata It is so named because its flowers are formed in large, cone-shaped clusters, making the flowers a very different shape to the familiar “mophead” type. There are lots of beautiful varieties to choose from, including ‘Unique’ with large white flower heads and early blooming ‘Praecox’.
oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifoliaIt has large leaves that resemble an oak tree in shape. They develop gorgeous autumn colors of bronze and purple as the weather gets cooler, and they also have a fine display of white flowers that become tinged with pink as they age.
Hydrangea bushes ‘Annabelle’ is a florist’s dream, with huge balls of creamy white flowers on a rounded bush. They look great with herbaceous perennials – thanks to the sheer flower power, they can almost be disguised as one. Perhaps avoid planting this in exposed parts of the garden exposed to wind gusts, as the heavy flowers can be blown away and damaged easily.
Hydrangea Aspira The Villosa variety has velvety leaves and in late summer purple-purple flower heads with sterile pale purple flowers arranged around the outside like satellites. It doesn’t really need pruning, but it can be done if it gets too big – just cut the older wood back from the base in spring.
climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petularis) The walls of the house look beautiful while growing thick logs. It sticks to itself so there is no need to set up wires and vine eyes. It has something for all seasons: fresh new growth in the spring, greenish-white flowers in the summer, fall color as its leaves turn buttery yellow, and then a frame of rusty-brown stems to admire in the winter.
For a really good selection of hydrangeas by mail order, try Ashwood Nurseries, Burncoose Nurseries or Golden Hill Plants.