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Hydrangeas – Hallmarks of the Southern Garden

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Hydrangea macrophylla Robert E. Lyons©

Hydrangea macrophylla
Robert E. Lyons©

Hydrangeas have always been an old favorite and are even more popular with the newer hybrids. There are more than 100 different varieties, including the climbing hydrangea, dwarf container plants, large oak-leafed varieties, red-stemmed choices and hydrangeas with pure white blooms. There are too many cultivars to list, but hydrangeas are usually placed in three basic categories: Hydrangea macrophylla, also called bigleaf, mop head or French hydrangea; Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea; and Hydrangea paniculata, often referred to as PeeGee hydrangea.

The most popular hydrangea is the big-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla. This is an older cultivar, usually pink or blue, depending on soil pH. Soil pH affects available aluminum uptake responsible for color change. However, a few white cultivars are available. Acidic soils produce blue flowers and alkaline soils produce pink petals. Newer cultivars such as ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Blushing Bride’ are touted as ever-blooming plants. When planting, locate big-leaved hydrangeas in a semi-shaded spot where the soil is moist and drains well.

Hydrangea paniculata "White Moth' Robert E. Lyons©

Hydrangea paniculata ‘White Moth’
Robert E. Lyons©

Oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, is a dramatic, white-blooming shrub with four seasons of interest that include fall foliage color, leaf texture and bark interest. It thrives in much drier locations than its cousins.

Hydrangea paniculata types boast blooms that are usually panicle-shaped (somewhat cone-shaped) rather than bell-shaped. Often, in late summer, the blooms develop a pink shade as the blooms age, extending their beauty into the fall. PeeGees are desirable because they tolerate pruning well. Prune at any time except when they begin forming bloom heads in the summer. PeeGees often get very large, with some the size of small trees in the mountains. However, compact forms for smaller spaces are appearing in nurseries.

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