Hydrangeas are the queens of the summer garden. Most deciduous shrubs and trees flower in spring giving more time to set seed throughout the summer. Since many hydrangeas flower at this time of year they definitely take the spotlight, not that they wouldn’t anytime with all those big blooms.
Hydrangeas are native to the northern hemisphere, mainly Asia. There are a few North American species but the ones that are most popular originated in China, Japan and Korea. The big mophead type hydrangeas were popularized during Victorian times when plant hunting by English explorers was taking place. As with many plants, hydrangeas have come in and out of favor. I think they are experiencing a resurgence now thanks to the plant collecting of many modern day plant hunters. It may just seem that way to me because I love them and have about 40 in the garden and can always find room for one more.
Hydrangea macrophylla, or the mophead type is the one you see everywhere. It blooms either blue or pink and that usually depends on the acidity of the soil. The more acid the soil the bluer the bloom while a more alkaline soil will produce a pink bloom. Here in the northwest our soils are naturally acidic so most of the Hydrangea macrophylla blooms are blue. If you want to encourage pink blooms you can use lime chips or there are some cultivars that have been hybridized for a more pink bloom. This hydrangea also blooms off two year old stems so you need to be careful in pruning not to cut off next years bloom. Hydrangea macrophylla is also known as the big-leaf hydrangea. It’s foliage is larger than many hydrangeas. As a result they require a bit of shade to support those larger leaves.
Another large leaf hydrangea is Hydrangea aspera. This is another large shrub with even larger, sometimes fuzzy leaves. It will tolerate full shade and still bloom with beautiful lace-cap flowers from early July until September.
A hydrangea that will tolerate a bit more sun is Hydrangea serrata. Everything about this hydrangea is a bit smaller than a Hydrangea macrophllya. This is one of my favorites. The foliage gets a burgundy cast and some of the stems emerge dark. They also seem to bloom for much longer. The cultivar ‘Preziosa’ starts to bloom in early June and still looks good in late September. Because this hydrangea is slightly smaller it is easier to work into the landscape. In recent years there have been a number of small cultivars introduced that only get about 3 feet tall.
If you have a lot of sun a hydrangea you can grow is Hydrangea paniculata. Unlike the previous ones I have mentioned this hydrangea requires some sun. it is also a much larger shrub getting 8 to 10 feet. The blooms are in shades of white to rose. A popular selection, Limelight is pale green. The bloom is a cone shape rather than rounded or lace-capped.
Another sun loving hydrangea is Hydrangea quercifolia, the oak leaf hydrangea. It gets its name for obvious reasons, the leaves are the shape of oak leaves which gets great fall color. Its blooms are a cone shape, creamy white starting in July. Hydrangea quercifolia is a North American native along with Hydrangea arborescens. Hydrangea arborescens will also tolerate sun but preforms well in shade too. Hydrangea arborescens claim to fame is the fact that unlike many hydrangeas it will bloom off new wood, which means you can cut it to the ground in early spring and it will still bloom that summer. My favorite of this type is the ‘Annabelle’. It is very vigorous and forms a nice thicket or can even be used as a hedge.
Now if you run out of space on the ground you can always go up. There are several climbing hydrangeas. We grow 6 different types in the garden. We also have 11 big firs so have room for more. Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris is the most common and grows to about 40 feet. That is quite a show on the truck of a big tree and is in bloom for a very long time. Most of what we grow are other cultivars of that but there is an evergreen type Hydrangea seemanii. Another genus that climbs, Schizophragma hydrangeoides has beautiful leaves with silver veining and still has the hydrangea type bloom.
As you can see I can kind of get off track. When it comes to hydrangeas I like them all. Whats not to like?