For a long-lived display of huge showy blooms, few plant families can top the diverse Hydrangea. Every year we see dozens of new Hydrangea varieties introduced, making this plant more of a problem-solver and a landscape staple.
To choose the right Hydrangea you must first answer two questions: how sunny is my location, and how much room do I have? The answers will lead you to the right Hydrangea family, so then you can choose between the many gorgouse blooms available in that particular family.
To make sense of the huge variety, we group the Hydrangeas in six families: large-leaf (macrophylla), long-flowering (paniculata), oak-leaf (quercifolia) serrated-leaf (serrata), smooth-leaf (arborescens) and climbing Hydrangea (petiolaris).
The largest and most popular group is the large-leaf. The introduction of Bailey Nurseries’ “Endless Summer” series revolutionized Hydrangeas by offering plants that bloomed on their new growth each year, guaranteeing continuous bloom. “Endless Summer “Blushing Bride”, “Twist N’ Shout”, and “Bloomstruck” soon followed. The HGTV Home Plant Collection burst on the scene this year with spectacular new varieties like “Double Hot Pink”, “Sweet N’ Salsa” and “Peppermint Swirl”.
Large-leaf Hydrangeas have huge mop-shaped flower heads. Some are “lacecaps”, with interesting compound blooms that look like old-fashioned lace doilies. All the new large-leaf types bloom on new wood, so you can depend on flowering every year even if plants are cut back or the tips freeze. Large-leaf Hydrangeas do best in partial or filtered sun, with protection from hot afternoon sun, or they’ll wilt and get sun scorch.
Long-flowering Hydrangeas have cone-shaped flower heads that keep expanding, with the new blooms at the tip of the cluster. This extends their bloom, and the flower heads change color over the season. Our favorite is “Limelight”, with immense lime-green flower heads that turn pink and burgundy in fall. “Pinky Winky” is a new introduction that has particularly huge bloom heads. This group of Hydrangeas is less attractive to Japanese beetles than most shrubs. Most long-flowering Hydrangeas grow quite large and need lots of room, and they can grow well in full sun.
Oak-leaf hydrangeas have eye-catching foliage with intense red-purple fall color and peeling bark similar to that of river birch. These versatile plants do well in shade, so they make a terrific informal hedge or foundation planting where sunlight is scarce. The new “PeeWee” variety fits in smaller spaces. Oak-leaf Hydrangeas are problem-solvers for shady areas, and produce masses of sturdy blooms that can be dried for flower arranging.
We like the smooth-leaf Hydrangea family which includes “Incrediball”, “Annabelle” and “Invincibelle Spirit”, all classic old-fashioned “snowball” lawn shrubs with heavy flower mops. Most smooth-leaf Hydrangeas will thrive in full sun.
Climbing Hydrangeas look stunning when trained up a stone wall, trellis or fence. They are a problem-solver for narrow beds.
We often get questions about managing Hydrangea bloom color with various soil amendments. In particular, the blue varieties need acid soil or they will bloom pink. We recommend lots of peat moss mixed with your planting soil, since all hydrangeas prefer well-drained acid soil. We use “Holly Tone” fertilizer when we plant Hydrangeas and continue to fertilize every year. Pine bark mulch is much more acid than hardwood or cypress, and helps maintain soil acidity over time. Adding garden sulfur, Espoma Soil Acidifier or Miracid will help maintain color also.
Steve Boehme and his wife Marjorie own GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located near Winchester, Ohio at 9736 Tri-County Highway. More information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.