Good morning from the garden! Today I’m going to share my favorite flowering shrub, hydrangeas.
There are five main types of hydrangeas, so let me first mention the two that I don’t grow.
First up is hydrangea quercifolia or oakleaf hydrangeas. Although some gardeners do attempt to grow this one in our zone 4b, it’s a tricky one. They require hot, sunny summers in order to produce blooms and Minnesota doesn’t always provide that. They also bloom on old wood, so getting them to bloom in our climate is challenging. I’m not into tricky gardening, I prefer to grow plants that aren’t so finicky.
Next up is hydrangea petiolaris or climbing hydrangeas. These will grow in zones 4 to 8, but also bloom on old wood. I don’t really have a good spot for a climbing hydrangea, so I’ve never even attempted one.
Next up is a variety that I do actually grow, but not successfully. Hydrangea macrophylla or mophead hydrangeas are absolutely gorgeous … when grown in the right climate. These are those beautiful hydrangeas whose bloom color changes depending on the pH of the soil they are grown in. When I visited the Jersey shore a few years back I saw lots of these and they were stunning. Every bush was absolutely loaded with blooms.
Typically these hydrangeas do well in zones 6 – 9. They bloom on old wood, so in other words if they die back to the ground every winter you’ll never get any flowers. Ventnor City, New Jersey, where I took that photo, is a zone 7b.
So imagine my excitement when Minnesota’s Bailey Nurseries developed a macrophylla that bloomed on both old and new wood, the Endless Summer hydrangea. Gardeners all across the north rushed out to buy these hydrangeas, including me and pretty much all of my gardening friends. I initially planted two of them. But their performance for me has been pretty sad. I think 2016 was the best year for them and I got six or seven flowers that year.
And as you can see, the colors on my Endless Summer flowers weren’t nearly as spectacular as those Jersey hydrangeas.
I pulled one of my Endless Summer plants out a couple of years ago, but I still have one in my back garden. Last year I didn’t get any blooms at all on it, and so far I don’t see any this year either. But hope springs eternal and I haven’t dug up that last one quite yet. I have read that you can grow these in containers, bringing it into a sheltered area for the winter to prevent it from dying down to the ground. Maybe I’ll dig mine up and try that.
Do any of you grow a macrophylla in zones 4 or 5? And if so, have you had luck getting it to flower. Leave a comment and let us know.
Next we have hydrangea aborescens or smooth (or wild) hydrangeas. The most common, and more old fashioned, of these is the Annabelle hydrangea and I have two of them. Mine started blooming back in early July (or maybe it was late June). Here is one of them behind the fresh flowers cart …
The flowers on the aborescens are more rounded in shape than the paniculata (which we’ll talk about next), and they start off white and by this time (mid-August) they have aged to a green color.
They produce tons of flowers each year (they bloom on new wood), and they make great cut flowers.
However, they are less than ideal in the garden. The stems tend to be weak and thus they flop when loaded down with big blooms. I have an old brass bed frame supporting the Annabelle by our deck …
but I just allow the ones out back in the cut flower garden to flop away. They can look quite bedraggled after a rain.
There is a new and improved version of the Annabelle called Incrediball that supposedly has stronger stems. I have not grown that variety myself, but in a recent video Laura from Garden Answer mentioned that although the Incrediball is an improvement over the Annabelle, it still tends to flop a little.
In my opinion, why bother with that when you can grow my favorite variety, hydrangea paniculata or panicle hydrangeas?
Paniculatas are the most cold hardy of the hydrangeas and can be grown as far north as a zone 3. They have more of a cone shaped flower (compared to the more rounded flowers of the Annabelle), and they bloom on new wood. That means that in my zone 4b garden they are absolutely loaded with flowers every year no matter how harsh the winter may have been.
I grow four different varieties of paniculatas; the Limelight, the Little Lime, the Vanilla Strawberry and the Little Quick Fire.
As the names imply, the Little Lime and the Little Quick Fire are dwarf versions of Limelight and Quick Fire. I put in one Little Quick Fire last summer, and another one this year, and so far, obviously, they are still pretty small at around 2′ tall.
The Little Quick Fire starts blooming a few weeks earlier than the Limelights, which may be a selling point for those who don’t want to wait until mid-August for some flowers. But I have to admit that so far I’m not super impressed with this one. The flowers on mine are rather small and dull compared to the Little Lime. But maybe I just need to give them some time. They also are mostly white so far with just a little tinge of pink. I’m guessing that they don’t turn that ‘fire’ color until fall.
My Little Lime is at least 10 years old (or more) and although they are only supposed to get 4′ tall and wide, mine is easily as tall as I am (that’s 5’10”).
If you love the look of a Limelight, but don’t have space for a shrub that can get to be 8′ tall or more (my Limelights are about 9.5′ tall), a Little Lime is a great option.
We have a Vanilla Strawberry hydrangea out back next to the carriage house. The flowers on this one start out white, and gradually turn pink.
I do like this one, and it is just as prolific a bloomer as the Limelight, but I haven’t kept up with the pruning and it’s looking a bit leggy.
Just a quick note on that, you should prune your paniculatas in late winter/early spring (it tends to be the very first garden task I tackle each year) by about 1/3 to promote strong new growth and larger flowers. This is basically the only maintenance required for these plants.
But back to the Vanilla Strawberry, I was hoping for a gorgeous show of pink color on this hydrangea but it doesn’t start out with a bang, but rather slowly turn pink. There is a new variety out this year called Berry White that I want to get my hands on. It supposedly has stronger stems and deeper, richer color.
That being said, by early October the Vanilla Strawberry does look pretty spectacular …
I may have to do another Sunday morning post about how the colors of the paniculatas change into fall. Because truly, if you think they look good now, just wait until October!
Finally we get to the star of the show, and my personal favorite, the Limelight.
There is definitely a reason this plant has become so popular. It’s easy to grow, requires very little maintenance, is covered with blooms (if you’re giving it enough sun), and is basically a show-stopper.
We planted a pair of them in this spot next to our deck to provide additional privacy around our outdoor dining space and they’ve worked perfectly for that.
I love being able to enjoy my morning coffee with a backdrop of gorgeous flowers this time of year.
Another thing that I love about growing hydrangeas is that I can dry them for use in my winter window boxes. I’m doing a little experimenting this year to figure out the best way to dry them and I’ll be sharing that soon so be sure to stay tuned!