Container Gardening · Shrubs

Hydrangeas: A Plant Obsession

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’ was a breeding breakthrough – the first of its species to bloom on old and new growth.

Hydrangeas are my current plant obsession. Hybridizers tempt me over and over again with each new variety introduced. I guess it all started when Bailey Nurseries introduced Endless Summer and although this one was quickly replaced with Bloomstruck in my garden, it got me hooked on a hydrangea high that can only be satisfied with another hydrangea.

In the past, I wasn’t happy with cultivars of H. macrophylla. They grew fine; they just never bloomed. Bigleaf hydrangeas bloom on growth produced the previous season and harsh winters killed all their flower buds. H. macrophylla ‘Maresii Variegata’ was the only one allowed space in my landscape because of its impressive white-margined foliage.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bloomstruck’

But that was the past. Even though Endless Summer didn’t behave as promised, Bloomstruck has delivered non-stop blooms in shades of blue and purple or rose tones depending on the soil pH.

Hydrangea ‘Let’s Dance Moonlight’

Proven Winners offered the next generation of reblooming H. macrophylla with its Let’s Dance series. Let’s Dance Moonlight has bloomed its heart out since early summer in a pot on my deck. Let’s Dance Diva is near the top of my wish list. It boasts dinner plate sized lace-cap blooms. I just have to see these in my garden.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Glowing Embers’

Glowing Embers has grown in a container with a Japanese maple and a shrub rose since May. Vibrant dark pink blooms have delighted me all summer on this compact hydrangea. It may grow 3 to 5 feet tall in the garden, but in the pot it has remained under 3 feet.

The best location for bigleaf hydrangeas is a spot with moist, well-drained soil amended with lots of organic matter that offers morning sun but relief from the hot afternoon sun.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ has formed a large colony in one of my shade gardens.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ has been growing in gardens for decades. Discovered in Anna, Illinois in 1910 and introduced to the world in the 1960’s it has become synonymous with the species of smooth hydrangeas that grows quickly into multi-stemmed, mounding shrubs three to five feet tall and wide. Unfortunately, their stems often flop under the weight of its large, pure white flowers.

Flowering occurs on new growth so H. arborescens can be pruned to the ground in late winter or early spring if plants are growing too tall or were damaged in the winter without sacrificing blooms.

Although smooth hydrangeas prefer to be shaded from the afternoon sun, they can handle full sun if their roots are in consistently moist soil. It is often said they are sensitive to drought conditions, but a large group of Annabelle hydrangeas flourish in my shade garden sucked dry by the roots of silver maples. In summers with very little rainfall, their foliage may yellow or even drop, but the shrubs bounce back the following spring.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincibelle Spirit II’

Incrediball is a newer cultivar with even larger flowers than Annabelle but grows on sturdier stems. Invincibelle Spirit II, a Proven Winners introduction, and Bella Anna, part of the Endless Summer collection, are pretty in pink versions of Annabelle.

I can’t wait until next year when I can add H. arborescens ‘Invincibelle Wee White’ to my growing collection. This little cutie – just 12 to 30 inches tall and wide – will be perfect for containers on my front porch all summer before they are planted in their forever home in the landscape.

The family of panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) has exploded with new introductions in the last several years. Easy to grow and very cold-hardy, they are adaptable but would prefer moist, well-drained soil enriched with compost. Panicle hydrangeas tolerate drought better than other hydrangeas and never have to be pruned, but don’t mind a haircut if they are growing too large for their space. They bloom on the current season’s growth just like smooth hydrangeas so flowering is not affected.

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’

Large, upright, cone-shaped flowers bloom from mid-summer to fall. Limelight sports soft green blooms until they turn deep pink in fall. It grows up to 8 feet tall. If Limelight is too big for a space, Little Lime is perfect. Tardiva blooms later than Limelight with white flowers that mature to soft purplish-pink. It grows even taller than Limelight.

Quick Fire is the first of the hydrangeas to bloom with its loose, creamy white flowers that quickly turn pink before settling to deep rose in fall. Its red stems add to its appeal. Quick Fire grows 6 to 8 feet tall.

Want something just like it but a little smaller? Grow Little Quick Fire.

Tickled Pink has tickled my fancy this summer. Lacy white flowers have almost covered the shrub since it started blooming. As they aged, the blooms turned rosy pink. H. paniculata ‘Tickled Pink’ grows 4 to 6 feet tall and wide.

Bobo is one of my favorites. It is a little guy – just 2 to 3 feet tall and slightly wider. It is smothered with white flowers that turn pink as they mature.

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are hydrangeas made for the shade. They are slower to establish than other hydrangeas, but pick up speed as they mature and eventually form a colony in rich, moist, well-drained soil. Large, pyramidal panicles of white flowers take on shades of rosy pink. Prune oakleaf hydrangeas right after flowering because they bloom on last season’s growth.

Their foliage is deep green throughout summer but turns an impressive mix of wine red, purple, orange and bronze in fall. When leaves drop, exfoliating bark adds to the shrub’s winter interest.

Cultivars of oakleaf hydrangeas grow from 2 to 8 feet tall and wide. Alice is one of the largest. Snow Queen is a bit smaller reaching 6 feet tall and wide. Little Honey is a small variety with golden yellow foliage. Sikes Dwarf is another oakleaf hydrangea for small gardens topping out at just 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Ruby Slippers is similar in size to Sikes Dwarf with flowers that turns rosy-pink sooner than other cultivars of oakleaf hydrangeas.

Hydrangea ‘Next Generation Pistachio’

And these are just a sampling of the hydrangeas available to us lucky gardeners today. There are also cultivars named Bombshell, Honeycomb, Vanilla Strawberry, Strawberry Sundae, Pink Winky, Phantom, Fire Light, Little Lamb, Baby Lace, Everlasting Amethyst, Sweet Summer, Next Generation Pistachio, and more and more and more.

What is a hydrangea-obsessed gardener to do? Buy more hydrangeas, that’s what! Garden with me!

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4 thoughts on “Hydrangeas: A Plant Obsession

  1. Thanks Diana. I love reading about hydrangeas because I too am up cbsessed with them. Obsessed to the tune of 72 hydrangea plants in our yard! I am in search of a hydrangea that blooms white and stays white through the whole season. Any ideas?

    1. We have a Limelight planted at the garden center where I work that is about 10 feet tall and gets a lot of sunshine. It is beautiful! Check it out and see if it might work for you.

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