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How to Grow: Hydrangeas
Watch this video about some new, smaller hydrangea types how to care for them in your yard.
Learn about hydrangeas, including how to plant care for, and grow them.
Listen to podcast:
Listen To Podcast on New Hydrangeas:
How to Grow: Hydrangeas
full sun, part sun, part shade
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Mid to late summer in colors such as white, pink, red, and blue,
Mature Height x Spread
3 to 15 feet x 3 to 12 feet
Native, deer resistant
Hydrangeas have been making a comeback. They were popular Victorian flowers but then fell out of grace for years. They are mostly for their large flowers that bloom from mid summer to fall. This group is diverse from the native, smooth leaf hydrangea (H. arborescens) with flowers so large they tend to flop over in mid summer, to the tall, stately paniculata hydrangeas (H. paniculata) that look like small trees. The oak leaf (H. quercifolia) hydrangea has oak-like leaves. Probably the most highly prized are the colorful, big leaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) with their red, pink or blue flowers. Hydrangeas are showy plants in the landscape, growing in full sun to part shade. They tolerate salt air conditions so are common seaside plants.
When, Where and How to Plant
Many hydrangea species are hardy throughout New England. Choose hydrangeas based on your hardiness zone. The big leaf hydrangea and oak leaf types are less hardy than the smooth leaf and paniculata types. Purchase plants from a local garden center and plant from spring to early fall on well-drained, moist, slightly acidic soil. Space plants 4 to 10 feet apart.
Hydrangea roots don’t like to dry out. Water plants well and mulch with pine needles or bark mulch to preserve the soil moisture, keep the soil slightly acidic and prevent weed growth. Fertilize in spring or fall with an acidifying plant food similar to what you’d use for rhododendrons. To turn the flowers on big leaf varieties blue, lower the pH by applying sulfur to the soil. To turn the flower color pink, raise the pH by applying lime.
Regional Advice and Care
Prune smooth leaf varieties to a few feet tall in late winter to stimulate new growth. Prune tall, paniculata-type hydrangeas in late winter to remove dead and diseased branches and shape the plant. Prune smooth leaf hydrangeas after flowering so the stems are a few feet off the ground. Depending on the variety they will bloom on old wood and/or new wood next year.
Companion Planting and Design
Plant hydrangeas as foundation or specimen plantings along your house or garage. Lower growing hydrangeas can be planted in a perennial flower garden. Plant large varieties in island beds with other deciduous shrubs such as fothergilla.
The ‘PeeGee’ hydrangea is a famous paniculata type with white flowers that turn pink with age. ‘Limelight’ is a newer selection with lime-green flowers. ‘Endless Summer’ is a popular big leaf hydrangea that flowers on old and new wood with blue blossoms. It’s good for cold areas because even if the old growth dies to the ground, the new growth emerging in spring will flower in late summer. ‘Forever Pink’ and ‘Forever Red’ are two compact, pink and red versions. ‘Annabelle’ is a popular smooth leaf variety with large, 12-inch diameter blossoms.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
Grandma’s flowers are back! I associate blue mophead hydrangeas with sweet elderly ladies in white clapboard houses. But these old fashioned flowers have a new following with the advent of hardier varieties.
Endless Summer Blue, Forever and Ever Red, and the new Forever and Ever lacecap are some of the recent introductions that can flower in Vermont. Unlike earlier varieties, these mopheads bloom on the old and new wood, so even if the plant dies back to the ground in winter, the new growth will produce blossoms the next year. This year the flowers are forming later than usual in many gardens because a May freeze killed many flower buds on the old wood.
To keep your mophead hydrangea happy plant it in part to full sun on well-drained soil amended with compost. Hydrangea flower colors can be altered depending on the pH. An acidic soil creates a deep blue flower, while an alkaline soil promotes a pink flower. Keep plants mulched and well watered as they will quickly wilt in the heat of summer. Only prune mophead hydrangeas in spring to remove dead growth. Pruning after July will remove flower buds for next year.
Now for this week’s tip. There’s a sucker born every minute – a tomato sucker that is. Remove new tomato suckers from indeterminate plants now. These suckers won’t have time to mature fruit before a frost and will just take energy away from the other fruit.
Podcast Transcript: New Hydrangeas
There are more than 600 varieties of hydrangea around the world. While the blue hydrangea gets the most press, I’d like to focus on newer selections of two other types. Hydrangea arborescens is probably best known as the ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea. This one is blooming now with large, fluffy, white flowers. A newer selection called ‘Invincibelle Spirit’, feature ruby-pink colored flowers. I love this shrub. Not only does it add more color to our perennial flower garden, the blooms are smaller and stems thicker so it doesn’t flop over as much after a rain. To make the white types less floppy, prune branches in spring to 1 to 2 feet tall. The flowers that form off these branches should hold the blooms upright better.
Another hydrangea that has gotten a facelift is the Hydrangea paniculata or panicle hydrangea. Many are familiar with the ‘PeeGee’ hydrangea often pruned as a tree form. Newer varieties improve on this mid to late summer bloomer. ‘Limelight’ is a 6 to 8 foot tall shrub whose flowers change from green to white to pink to burgundy. ‘Bobo’ only grows 3 feet tall and wide and ‘Quickfire’ is one of the fastest panicle hydrangeas to turn its flowers to red.
Both of these types of hydrangeas bloom on new wood. Prune them in spring to stimulate new growth and remove errant branches. They bloom consistently each year in part to full sun regardless of soil, pH, and weather. They are more tolerant of dry conditions than the blue mophead hydrangeas, but remember they have the word “hydra” in their name for a reason. Hydrangeas need consistently moist soils to grow and flower their best.