By Leah Allen
Truthfully, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with hydrangeas for years. I absolutely loved the “cottage by the sea” look with the huge ball-shape blue flowers, but honestly that didn’t happen in my garden. Some years it was a tie between the deer eating them and not getting any flowers at all. I realize my frustration is shared by many as hydrangeas questions are the leading landscaping topic I get asked.
First, let’s talk about what kind of environment hydrangeas prefer.
They prefer full morning sun with afternoon shade, however many will grow and bloom in partial shade. Most hydrangeas prefer well-drained organic rich soil. A lack of blooms can be traced back to either too much fertilizer, frost damage, or improper pruning either too much or at the wrong time.
There are many different varieties of hydrangeas and knowing which variety you have is important, especially where pruning is concerned.
The most iconic hydrangea variety and most popular grown in landscapes and gardens is Hydrangea macrophylla, also known as the Mophead or Bigleaf hydrangeas. They come in colors of blue, white, or pink, yet the soil your hydrangea calls home may change those colors; if your soil is more alkaline, the flowers will be pink and if your soil is more acidic, the bluer those flowers are. Submitting a soil test to a lab where they test more thoroughly is the most accurate way to tell what kind of soil you have. There are quicker commercial soil tests available at any garden center, hardware store, or online. There’s many ideas about how to change the pH level of your soil; pennies, vinegar, coffee grinds, even a rusty nail. Although I can’t vouch for any of those. I do recommend color changing soil additives, available at garden centers and online, to safely amend your soil. It won’t change your pH overnight, but it will overtime with proper usage.
When it comes to pruning the Mophead variety of hydrangeas, prune in late winter or early spring. Prune only what you must, hydrangeas are naturally best with little pruning. Some people massacre them to the ground (you know who you are!!) and although they will grow back slowly, it may take even longer to get flower blooms, if ever.
Also, some Mophead varieties bloom on old wood so hard pruning will eliminate those flower buds. Some newer varieties such as Endless Summer blooms on new wood and old wood so any pruning won’t prevent flowering.
For best results, know your variety. They all come with plant tags stating the proper planting care. Research as much as you can about your variety so you can be the one in control.
Lacecap hydrangea is another Hydrangea macrophylla variety that has flatter flower heads, smaller florets in center with showier bigger florets around the edges. Follow pruning techniques as above mentioned Mophead variety.
Two hydrangea varieties I’m positively crazy for are Hydrangea quercifolia and the Hydrangea paniculata. I adore them for their beauty, ease of care, cold hardiness, and their resistance to disease and drought.
Hydrangea quercifolia, or the Oakleaf Hydrangea is a stunning native variety and offers four seasons of beautiful interest. The foliage is stunning on its own in the spring as it’s big lobed leaves unfurl into what resembles oak leaves. They turn beautiful shades of cranberry, bronze, orange and yellow the fall. And then there’s the dramatic cone shaped cream colored flowers that bloom in June not to be outdone by the exfoliating bark in the winter.
Hydrangea paniculata is a variety known for being easy, reliable, and considered the most adaptable of all hydrangeas. They have football shaped beautiful blooms that readily bloom in summer. I have three ‘limelight’ paniculatas in my landscape and I revel in their beauty!
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