Hydrangeas are easy to grow, deciduous plants with big, bold leaves and large clusters of long-lasting flowers which range in color from creamy white to pink, red and dark blue. Hydrangeas bloom in late spring or summer and prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. They thrive in rich, well-drained soil and love a good dose of organic matter every spring. Mulching these beauties helps keep the weeds at bay and maintain the moisture that they love.
Plan a Shade Garden with Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas thrive in the Midlands under our tall pines and lower canopy dogwoods. They also enjoy the acidic soil that surrounds these trees. Two easy varieties are Hydrangea macrophylla (large leaf variety) ‘Nikko Blue’ and Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ which is an oak leaf hydrangea. These two plants look beautiful together in a shade garden. Add a row of evergreen shrubs along the back line such as Viburnum macrophylla. If the garden is 20-feet long and 10-feet deep, a garden this size will probably take five or six seven-gallon plants. In front of the viburnum, add three ‘Snow Queen’ hydrangeas. Stagger them in front of the viburnum. This variety of oak leaf hydrangea grows to six to seven feet tall and has long, snow-white blooms that cover the end of each stem during the month of May. As the blooms mature, they turn a light pink color. The blooms become seeds in the fall, and the birds enjoy them all winter if the flowers are not pruned from the bush. Oak leaf hydrangeas have eight-inch, lobed leaves that do look like an oak leaf. The leaves turn a wonderful shade of rusty red in the fall adding another dimension to the garden.
In front of and in between the oak leaf hydrangeas, add five ‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangeas. These sturdy bushes will be covered with dark blue blossoms in early to mid-May and are a wonderful companion to the Oakleaf blooms. Stagger three to four Autumn Ferns in front of the ‘Nikko Blue’ and then add five fabulous Sum and Substance Hosta and five white variegated hosta, such as ‘The Patriot,’ in front of the ‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangeas. If there is any room left, add a flat or two of white or light pink impatiens. Add a layer of hard wood mulch, which will finish the bed, and you will have a gorgeous shade garden that has wonderful texture, color and structure. It will also be easy to maintain and should provide years of gardening pleasure.
Another favorite hydrangea is the climbing hydrangea or Hydrangea anomala. These blooms are not as showy as the macrophylla or oakleaf varieties, but the leaves and bark are a wonderful addition to a brick or stucco wall. This is a deciduous vine that grows up a wall by clinging to it. The blooms are lace-cap like. They are usually four to six inches across and are a creamy white. Mature plants have interesting cinnamon colored bark that begins to peel with age. The bark looks similar to the bark on a mature crape myrtle tree. Don’t grow this vine for its bloom; grow it for its bark!
How To Root Hydrangeas — Two Methods
An easy way to increase the number of hydrangeas in the garden is to use the layering technique to “make” more plants. It is a very uncomplicated task. Choose a low growing long limb and bend it to the ground. Dig a trench under it and lay the branch in the trench. Cover the limb with soil and put a large stone or brick on top of it to ensure that it stays underground. Water it regularly, and in a matter of months a good root system will form. Then cut this “new” bush with sharp pruners or loppers and plant it immediately in the garden. Make sure the new plant is watered regularly and shielded from harsh afternoon sun. Mulch the new plant to help maintain moisture.
Another way to gain more hydrangeas from the ones you already enjoy is to take cuttings and “root” them. This method takes longer, but you are able to make lots of cuttings that will result in many more plants. In July or August, cut a healthy branch 15 to 18-inches in length. Then cut this stem into two or three pieces, making sure that each piece has at least two healthy leaf nodes. Strip the foliage leaving the top two or three leaves from each piece.
If the leaves are large, cut them in half so that they will not require as much water. Pour rooting compound in a tin pan. Dip the ends of each cutting into the rooting compound. Then push the stems into a four-inch pot filled with new, clean potting soil. Make sure that the two leaf nodes are under the soil. Water gently and thoroughly.
Most plants will take two years to develop a good strong root system. However, some of the more vigorous growing hydrangeas may be ready to be transplanted into the garden in a year. The pots may be left outside during the summer and fall. It is advisable to move them into a garden shed or garage during the winter when the temperatures are below freezing. The roots could freeze because they are planted in such small pots.
The very good news is that most hydrangeas never need pruning! Sometimes very old bushes will need the old branches or dead wood cut out. Removing the dead stems is really the only necessary pruning, and it can be done at any time because it will not interfere with bloom time. Just cut the dead wood back to the ground. This will improve the shape and the health of the plant.
Every Southern Garden Should Have One
Every Southern garden should have at least one variety of hydrangea. They are easy to grow, easy to propagate and easy to maintain. If they are planted in the right spot, they will provide years and years of pleasure in the garden. The flowers are wonderful for cutting and add a soothing, cooling effect to the garden. The birds love the seeds in the winter. This plant is truly a beauty in the Midlands garden!
• ‘Gatsby’s Gal’ hydrangea — an oakleaf variety — large white blooms
• ‘Ruby Slippers’ hydrangea — an oakleaf variety — pink, red and white blooms
• ‘Little Lime’ hydrangea — a large leaf variety — lime green blooms all summer
• ‘All Summer Beauty’ — a large leaf variety — blue or pink blooms depending on the pH of the soil
Chores For The May Garden … A Busy Month For The Gardener
• Visit a locally owned garden center for the best selection of hydrangeas for our area.
• Plant warm weather annuals such as salvia, columbine, cosmos, impatiens, vinca and caladiums.
• Plant warm weather vegetables in early May.
• Prune spring flowering shrubs as soon as blooms fade. Early May is the perfect time to prune azaleas to maintain shape or cut out dead wood. They start to set blooms for next year in July, so don’t delay.
• Remove seed pods from daylilies as they bloom.
• Shrubs benefit from a light application of slow release fertilizer. A good rule of thumb to follow is one tablespoon per foot of height of the shrub.
• Annuals and perennials thrive with regular fertilization every two to three weeks.
• Water early and water regularly.