By Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Buyer/Manager

Hydrangea quercifolia Pee Wee

I think it’s a safe bet to say that everyone has grown or at least seen hydrangeas; they permeate the American landscape. What many may not have experienced is the range of hydrangeas out there to try.

There’s a trifecta, if you will, of hydrangeas that are the most commonly encountered: Smooth (‘Annabelle’ is the star child of this group), Panicle and Bigleaf (also known as mopheads, lacecaps, or simply Hortensias; there are a gazillion of these). Each beautiful in its own right, we’ll showcase these plus some others that we feel are among the best to grow.

Hydrangea quercifolia Pee Wee

While ‘Annabelle’ is the famous white snowball-flowered early summer showoff, there are other Smooth Hydrangeas out there. Try White Dome® if you want something more subdued and closer to the wild form (yes, they’re native!) as it’s a lacecap type. Two new varieties, Incrediball and Invincibelle Spirit are making their way into the market.

The former is a large-flowered white; the latter a rare pink. It’s also a pink-ribbon plant that benefits the Breast Cancer Research Foundation®. Bigleaf types have pink, purple, blue or white flowers in either mophead (ball) or lacecap (flat) forms. The recently developed Endless Summer® series gives you a longer flowering due to the ability to grow flower buds throughout the summer – something old varieties don’t do.

Endless Summer Hydrangea

A few other newbies do this too, like ‘Penny Mac’ and its little sister, ‘Mini Penny.’ Cultivars in another new series, Cityline™, are very compact and sturdy growers. They are named after European cities, hence Berlin and Vienna. Then there are fantastic oddball varieties with black stems, double lacecaps, or variegated foliage.

Hydrangea macrophylla Cityline Berlin

Panicle hydrangeas are branching out too. New cultivars like Pinky Winky™ and Quick Fire™ start turning pink from the bottom of the cluster up before the white flowers have even finished opening at the top. They also have spectacular fall color – rich russet-orange and bronze-red – where others just turn yellow.

Limelight® is popular for its pastel lime-green young flowers, and ‘Little Lamb’ is a more compact and smaller-flowered version of PeeGee so it doesn’t tend to arch under the weight of the flowers (which, admittedly, can look nice). White Diamonds™ has strong stems with large white flowers than open earlier than most.

Hydrangea quercifolia Little Honey

Oakleaf types have, you guessed it, oak-shaped leaves that are covered in downy silver fuzz in spring on soft, cinnamon-orange stems. Fall leaves are burgundy, red and caramel-orange, and I have seen a few of them remain on plants sheltered from strong winds well into early spring. Bark peels on older plants, an excellent feature in winter. Flowers are ivory-white, with some fragrance, and open in early summer.

Schizophragma hydrangeoides

Climbing hydrangeas are the best flowering vine for shady spots. They cling to bark, brick, or wood; although they are slower than most vines, I have seen them reach 50’ or more on tall tree trunks. There are three members of the hydrangea family that grow well here, and they’re all a mouthful: Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris), Japanese Hydrangeavine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides) and Woodvamp (Decumaria barbara), the latter being native in this area.

White flowers show up between late spring and early summer, and leaves turn yellow in fall (only Woodvamp can be evergreen). Climbing Hydrangea also has peeling bark like the Oakleaf types. Since they also take part shade, I like throwing Clematis in to scramble up through them and extend the flowering season.

Hydrangea quercifolia Snowflake

All hydrangeas prefer to be moist in well-drained soil that is at least slightly acidic. During drought, you should soak them every now and then. Afternoon shade and mulched roots will keep them cooler and less likely to wilt in than full sun. For the Bigleaf hydrangeas that have flowers that can change color, stronger acidity will give you purples and blues. Less acid soil that has some extra potassium will give you pink.

Smooth and Panicle hydrangeas flower on new growth and can be cut back in late winter with no worries; Oakleaf, Bigleaf, and Climbing types flower on old growth from the prior year, and if you prune before they flower you risk removing all your flowers for that year. Generally, though, most hydrangeas don’t even need regular pruning. Just sit back and enjoy the show!

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