In mid summer when the last blooms of the spring flowering shrubs have vanished, the hydrangea plant takes center stage. Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs which are generally quite hardy and bloom in shades of blue, rosy pink and creamy white.
Their blossoms are bountiful and long lasting, providing wonderful color through the hot summer. The name hydrangea comes from the greek words “hydros” meaning water and “angeion” meaning a vessel, related to the cup form of their seed capsule.
In general when planting hydrangeas they grow well in almost any well drained soil. They enjoy a sunny east location but will also bloom adequately in light shade. To flourish most require an adequate and reliable source of water. With over 500 cultivars in existence, there is a glorious selection for the gardener to choose from, and a hydrangea suitable for a multitude of garden sites. Plant hydrangea in pots or tubs for patio and deck beauty.
The first hydrangea species in cultivation was Hydrangea arborescens, native to eastern North America. Grown to zone 3 it has large 6 inch white lacecap flowers and reaches about 10 feet tall. A cultivar to look for is ‘Annabelle’, having flowers up to 12 inches across.
Native to China is Hydrangea aspera. With long pointed hairy leaves it has its own unique look. Beautiful pink and mauve lacecap flowers appear in late summer. The variety ‘Vilosa’ is one of the best and grows to zone 7. Unlike many hydrangeas this cultivar can withstand more heat and drought than most.
Probably the most familiar and popular hydrangea is Hydrangea macrophylla. A robust and wind hardy species the macrophylla have large leaves and either flat lacecap flowers or big round mophead flowers. Growing in sun or shade they can also tolerate wet soil. If grown in acidic soil their blooms will be blue, but if grown in alkaline soil the blooms will be pink or red. In acidic soil the acidity increases the shrubs absorption of aluminum giving the blue color. In alkaline soil the absorption of aluminum is prevented thus the flowers are pink. White hydrangea plants remain white until the fall when they become tinted in lovely shades of pink or pale green. This is when you can cut them to enjoy indoors for many months. The blooms take well to drying and can be used in a variety of indoor arrangements or crafts. Generally hardy to zones 5-6.
Hydrangea paniculata is often called the pee gee hydrangea. We usually see “Grandiflora’ which has huge creamy white flower heads which turn to shades of pink in autumn. Probably one of the hardiest hydrangeas out there, it will grow to zone 3 and adapt to most soils and average water. Cultivars to look for are ‘Pink Diamond’, ‘Unique’ and ‘Praecox’.
Wherever you garden, do yourself a favor and buy hydrangea plants suitable to your conditions and enjoy.
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