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Why The Hydrangea Hype?

You ask what’s so special about Hydrangea?

Hydrangea in their own right are simply put ‘SPECTACULAR’. They bloom from summer until frost (if you have a frost). They are easy to grow. They put on a show. They cut and hold beautifully. They can be dried, glycerin-ized, used in crafts, made into wreaths, gifted to a friend, a wedding theme flower either fresh cut or dried, I can go on and on and on. They are in every nursery but to say they are ‘common’ is inappropriate. There is nothing common about hydrangea!

There are hundreds of cultivated Hydrangea on the market, it can be quite confusing to determine the difference between them. Let me simplify for you.

For easy identification, Hydrangea can be categorized in three basic groups :

1. Bigleaf, mopheads, & lacecaps (H. macrophylla) Leaves are broad and rounded.

2. Panicles (H. paniculata) Leaves are broad but oblong or ovate.

3. Oakleaf (H. quercifolia) Leaves resemble an oak leaf.

There is also a climbing hydrangea (H. anomala, formerly petiolaris), and last but not least, my personal favorite and the original queen of hydrangea ‘Annabelle’, (H. arborescens 'Annabelle'))

I am in Central Pennsylvania, and nurseries everywhere know the good fortune of stocking hydrangea of multiple varieties. It can be a bit confusing for the novice, so consult the nurseryman before making your purchase. It is a good idea to have a planting spot in mind before you buy. Know what space you have, how much sun it gets, and if soil amendments are necessary. Rich loamy well drained soil are preferred.

*A tip to you: if you have a dull area in sun or shady spot, Hydrangea can brighten it up better than any other plant.

As a landscape designer and home gardener, I fell in love with hydrangea long ago. Once planted in rich loamy fertile well drained soil (the key to success), you can admire the brilliance of your investment for years to come. Most hydrangea do best if they receive morning sun, and some afternoon shade to protect from dog days of summer. They are tolerant of all day sun if the roots are in cool rich humus. They will let you know if they need a drink by bowing their heads and leaves.

Years ago I got this pictured Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ from a friend. They were changing things up and thought it had reached it’s peak. Actually, if truth be told, at that time I was their landscaper and when the client told me to dispose of it, I adopted ‘Annabelle’ and planted her under some high branched evergreens in the center of our property. I cut her back every fall. Every spring I am not disappointed with her remarkable resilience. Now Michael Dirr would say ‘Annabelle’ ‘probably does not belong in the average landscape, that it flowers so heavy that it looks unkempt, and should be in an out of the way place’, but forgive me Michael, I disagree. I think of her as the queen of hydrangea and give her the stage she deserves!

To some folks, PeeGee Hydrangea deserves that label of queen. Hydrangea paniculata ‘PeeGee’ has been

around since first introduced in Japan in 1862. Another beauty for sure, and either single stem tree form or multi-stemmed shrub, this species is usually up to 10’ high and wide, but capable of growing up to 20. I am in Zone 6 on the USDA Hardiness Zone Map and I have not had success with ‘PeeGee’ hydrangea. It does not like our harsh winters. The new cultivated varieties with panicles such as ‘Limelight' and 'Tardiva' however seem to thrive in this area. In judging Flower Shows I have seen outstanding cut specimens of these two hydrangeas that always make me wonder what the grower is using for fertilizer. The panicles range from 6-14”. Imagine 14"...Wow! Spectacular is an understatement.

I use ‘Limelight’ and ‘Tardiva’ readily in Wedding Bouquets and in centerpieces as well. The shrubs shown here are approx 8 years old and each gets several hundred blooms each year. They hold long and ‘Limelight’ and ‘PeeGee’ can be dried after the freshness is gone. The heads turn brown but are very popular among brides in the fall. Actually, popular is the general consensus. If treated

with glycerin while in their prime, they can be preserved indefinitely as supple as when you first cut them. Beautiful, simple, and the price is right when you or your neighbor grow them. I vote you get at least one of each!

Hydrangea quercifolia, or Oakleaf Hydrangea is the unique broad leaf specimen plant to use where shade and traffic are heavy. It’s coarse texture and cone-like white to pink flowers create interest in an otherwise boring view to passers by.

The large leaves turn red, purple, and orangish color in the late summer into fall. Probably this reason alone is why some would choose the Oakleaf Hydrangea. Size at maturity of ‘Snow Queen’ is 6’ high and wide. Dwarf varieties such as ‘Sikes Dwarf’ or ‘PeeWee’ get 3-4’ high and wide and work better in a smaller area.’


Now Hydrangea macrophylla has the broadest leaf, and can be the most colorful and versatile of all hydrangea. ‘Endless Summer’, ‘Harlequin’, ‘Nikko Blue’, and many others are available readily at nurseries. They are known as mopheads. The average size or growth habit of most of these varieties is 3’ high and wide. Colorful round flower heads range from 2” up to 6” in size. Color varies depending on the ph of your soil. You can alter the color to pink by adding garden lime. This raises the ph and removes the aluminum ions in the soil. To get your flowers to turn blue, you must lower the ph by adding wettable sulfur. ¼ cup per plant sprinkled underneath will do the trick. Both products can be found at your local nursery or ordered online through

Lacecaps generally have flat heads. The lacecaps have a center of fertile seedy like flowers and an outer ring of showy open flowers. ‘Twist & Shout’ and ‘Lady In Red’ are pictured here. They look distinctly different and easy to remember.

NOTE: It is important to note that macrophylla flowers from buds formed on the previous year’s growth. You should prune right after it is done flowering. In our zone and northern areas, often winter is harsh and buds are killed, thus no blooms

the following season. Sometimes I cut them to the ground because the entire tops have died back due to extreme cold.

I recommend planting your hydrangea macrophylla where they might be surrounded by larger shrubs, or along a fence or foundation away from harsh winds. This creates a micro-climate and can protect your flowers from year to year.

What did you learn of importance?

- Hydrangea like rich, well drained, loamy soil. Lots of Humus. Half day to full sun (When roots are cool in humus)

-There are 3 basic species of Hydrangea macrophylla, quercifolia, and paniculata. Others of interest are H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’, and H. anomala(Climbing hydrangea)

-Hydrangea brighten the dull spots in your garden.

-Hydrangea bloom from summer to frost.

-Hydrangea paniculata cut, dry, and preserve the best.

-Hydrangea macrophylla are more compact, therefore suitable for smaller gardens, and offer variety of colors.

-You NEED these in your garden.


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