Plant of the Month: Hydrangeas

June 13, 2014

This month we found ourselves unable to choose just one plant to feature.  Instead we decided to share with you our love of the whole genus…Hydrangeas!

Hydrangeas are so much more than those pink mop-head hydrangeas that we see all around the Seattle and Puget Sound region.

Here are some of our favorite hydrangeas for different situations in any garden.  Whether you have sun, shade, dry or moist…we have a Hydrangeas for you to try!

Hydrangea paniculata, Panicle Hydrangea

Great grown as a large shrub or small tree, depending on the variety used.  This plant has panicles of creamy white to greenish flowers in late summer through fall.  As they age they fade to pink and dusty rose, holding on even through the winter with brown tones.  I love this Hydrangea because it tolerates much more sun and drier conditions than the standard big leaf Hydrangea that most of us are familiar with.  With so many of us living in smaller urban lots it is the perfect alternative to a small patio tree with multi-season interest.  As it ages the bark becomes furrowed and peeling.  A great disease resistant tough plant for any garden.  Some of our favorite, more compact, cultivars lately have been: Little Lamb and Little Lime.  These will stay under 6 feet tall, as opposed to the roughly 10′ of the larger cultivars.  One more great thing about Panicle Hydrangeas is the pruning.  Because they bloom on growth from the current year, pruning them is much more forgiving.  Just prune as needed in February or March and you will still see a beautiful array of flowers come late summer.

 Hydrangea macrophylla, Big Leaf Hydrangea

Often viewed as the quintessential hydrangea species, Big Leaf Hydrangea is what many of us grew up seeing in our yards and grandparents yards in the Pacific Northwest.  From the large ball shaped flowers of the mop-head to the flat clustered flowers of the lace-caps we see them everywhere. These hydrangeas are just starting to bloom in June with colors ranging from pink to blue and purple.  This is the one people talk about being able to change the color of.  More acidic soils will lend themselves to more blue tones while pinks come from soils with higher pH.  Even with this there are some cultivars that will always want to be more blue or pink and attempts to alter that often do not result in the richness we desire.  These shrubs often grow 4-6 feet but some can reach 10′.  There are too many cultivars to even note here but here are some we’ve encountered in our travels.

More Unusual Hydrangeas: H. aspera & H. arborescense ‘Annabelle’

Hydrangea aspera is another great larger growing Hydragea.  We love it for its large felty leaves, peeling bark and dark stems.  The flowers appear in early summer or late spring.  Lacecaps with white petals and blue-purple centers.  If you’ve got some room this would be a great one to grow. It can be a bit hard to find but certainly not impossible.

Hydragnea arborescense ‘Annabelle’ is best known for its amazingly large flowers.  Annabelle’s creamy white to greenish flowers can get as large as 10-12″ across!  Grow this in similar conditions as you would the big leaf Hydrangea but perhaps a bit more sun.

Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea

Where do I begin…this is not only one of my all time favorite Hydrangeas but one of my favorite plants!  This shrub has everything; great foliage texture, fantastic white flowers that fade to a deep rose in fall, fall colors ranging from red-orange to deep burgundy and exfoliating bark lending great winter interest.  If all that weren’t enough it also is a great plant for sunny or shady gardens, virtually disease and pest free and can tolerate much drier conditions that other Hydrangeas.  Larger cultivars will grow 6-8′ or larger but there are a number of more compact cultivars sold that will stay closer to 4′.  These picture don’t do this plant enough justice, just wait until you see the fall colors and the rich tones of the flowers as they fade!

Every garden needs a Hydrangea!

What’s your favorite Hydrangea?  Be sure to leave a comment and let us know.

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