By Steve Boehme
For a long-lived display of huge showy blooms, few plant families can top the diverse Hydrangea. We took a walk around our nursery looking for summer color and realized that we had almost a dozen Hydrangea varieties in bloom. From the spectacular new “Big Easy” and “Incrediball” to the creamy pale pink “Blushing Bride” to the intense blue “Endless Summer”, hydrangea blooms dominate our nursery yard right now.
To make sense of the huge variety, we group the Hydrangeas in six families: macrophylla (large-leaf), paniculata (long-flowering), quercifolia (oak-leaf) and serrata (serrated-leaf), arborescens (smooth hydrangea) and anomala petiolaris (climbing hydrangea).
The largest and most popular group is the macrophylla, Latin for “large leaves”. “Big Easy”, “Endless Summer” and “Blushing Bride” have huge mop-shaped flower heads. Others are “lacecaps” like “Twist N’ Shout” with interesting compound blooms that look like old-fashioned lace doilies. These showy plants bloom on new growth, with new bloom buds forming all season long, so you can depend on flowering every year even if plants are cut back or the tips freeze.
Paniculata 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 “White Diamonds”, with immense pure white flower heads. “Quickfire” is a new introduction that the first to bloom, with white blooms that turn pink and burgundy in fall. “Pinky Winky” has particularly huge bloom heads and red stems. This group of Hydrangeas is less attractive to Japanese beetles than most shrubs.
Oak-leaf hydrangeas have eye-catching foliage with intense red-purple fall color and peeling bark similar to 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.
The Hydrangea family arborescens will thrive in full sun all day, unlike most Hydrangeas which need protection from the hot afternoon sun. This group includes “Incrediball”, a classic old-fashioned “snowball” lawn shrub with heavy white flower mops. “Invincibelle Spirit”, is similar but has pink blooms, symbolizing the fight against breast cancer. The cost of each plant includes a contribution to breast cancer research.
Most Hydrangeas do best in partial or filtered sun, particularly with protection from hot afternoon sun.
Some, like Oak-leaf Hydrangea, are problem-solvers for shady areas.
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, ammonium sulfate, or Espoma Soil Acidifier when watering will also help maintain color.
Steve Boehme is the owner of GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located at 9736 Tri-County Highway, near Winchester, Ohio. To e-mail your landscaping questions click “Contact Us” from their website at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.