All around the world, hydrangeas are a popular shrub for the garden or container, and why not? The most common varieties produce showy and large flowerheads in a range of color set against attractive leaves.
Hydrangea do best in rich, moist soil and three to six hours of morning or late afternoon sun. Their gardens should be enriched with good compost, and the soil must never be allowed to dry out. Think about pairing hydrangeas with other water-lovers, like astilbes, for a woodland garden feature.
Pro tip: Hydrangeas can also thrive in containers, planted in the same conditions. Transplant a store-bought plant into a larger pot with good drainage. Use potting soil and compost for best results and keep the soil moist at all times. The potted hydrangea will overwinter, but some protections may be needed to keep the container-grown hydrangea from freezing.
One of the most important factors in getting your hydrangea to set big blooms is how it is pruned. However, different types of hydrangea require pruning at different times and by different methods. Make sure you know what type you have planted and prune as directed for it.
Here are a few of the most popular varieties you might like to try:
(Hydrangea anomala petiolaris)
This is a beautiful vine that blooms with white lacy flowers in early summer. It attaches with suction feet to walls and can climb to 50 feet or be trimmed back for smaller gardens. The purpose of pruning climbing hydrangea is mainly to control its size. Shape (and shorten, if needed) it in early spring and remove dead or loose, hanging parts.
This hydrangea, which dates from the 1860s, grows (and can be shaped) to have a single trunk and a tree-like canopy of white flowers. The Pee Gee blooms on new wood, which means you can (and should) prune the old branches quite vigorously any time from late fall to early spring.
Bigleaf or Hardy Hydrangea
This hydrangea produces the colorful snowball-shaped flowers often seen in florist arrangements. Though most of the varieties of hydrangea produce white flowers, this variety blooms in colors that range from light blue to dark purple or light pink to almost red, all in the same plant. The flower buds are formed in early autumn on old wood, so pruning should occur after the summer’s flowers are finished and before the new buds begin to form. One disadvantage of this garden favorite is that cold winters can damage the buds and lead to inconsistent flowering.
Pro tip: The blue flowers are produced when the soil is acidic, so if that’s what you want, put an inch or two of milled peat moss covered by compost around the hydrangea. Pink flowers are the result of neutral to alkaline soil, which you can get by dusting around the plant with lime or wood ash.
‘Annabelle’ is a member of a family of hydrangea that grow as loose-limbed informal shrubs with white blossoms. Annabelle’s flowers are large globe-shaped frilly blossoms that bloom from midsummer until fall. The plant blossoms on new wood, so should be trimmed back vigorously in winter once the plant is dormant.
Hydrangeas take some care, but nothing even the novice gardener can’t handle. The key is to keep them in sunny, moist locations and to prune them according to the needs of their variety. Accomplish those simple tasks, and you will have a plant that lights up containers and landscapes alike.