HYDRANGEA-SUMMER'S BIGGEST BLOOMER
PLANTING & PRUNING
My obsession with the gargantuan celestial blooms of hydrangea emerged after spending a week in Nantucket with my husband and our just-learning-to-walk son, Christian, nearly eighteen years ago. We biked around the island and enjoyed the salty air, spectacular miles of sandy beaches, and cottage gardens which displayed massive plantings of hydrangea along white picket fences. Most of the island's hydrangea are blue, but I was delighted to learn that many colors and species thrive in the loamy soil conditions and temperate zone typical of most New England backyards.
Good news! Some hydrangea are happy in full sun, but most prefer morning sun and afternoon shade--some lovely specimens even need only partial sun, otherwise known as filtered sunlight to avoid scorched leaves and flowers. Once established, little more than water is necessary to maintain their lush bodies and richly colored flowers. This is a shrub for nearly anyone who can handle a garden hose.
Before planting these gorgeous perennial shrubs, have on hand a bag of organic compost and a bag of loam. If you want the blooms to remain Nantucket blue or shades of purple rather than pink, then also buy a bag of hydrangea tone. Used coffee grounds tossed once a week around the base of the plant (other organic material such as orange peels and crushed eggshells also work, but take a bit longer—think next year before the soil is acidic enough to keep the plants alkaline balanced for blue flowers) also works if you are a resourceful, think ahead gardner (unlike me--and I don't drink coffee anyway).
All hydrangea drink tons of water and need well-drained soil to flourish. Deadheading (removing bygone blooms) may be done at anytime without worry and will keep the plant perky looking —this is different from pruning (see below).
Most hydrangea sold in garden stores are sold when the flowers are in bloom—be careful! Read the small print carefully. A small pot of two or three flowers can grow to be four feet wide and four feet tall, or even three feet wide and six feet tall, depending on the species in less than two full seasons!. Importantly, pay attention to sunlight needs of a particular hydrangea. Most perform best with morning sun and afternoon shade. Generally, hydrangea planted in full shade will have fewer blooms, but still maintain gorgeous foliage from June to November.
FULL SUN TOLERANT VARIETIES: Oak Leaf, Strawberry Sundae, Paniculate, Limelight, Pinky Winky, Quick Fire, Little Lime
FULL SUN/PART SHADE NECESSARY: Annabelle, Fuji Waterfall, Hydrangea Macrophyllia, Lacecap, Endless Summer, Next Generation, Everlasting, Let’s Dance, Gatsby Moon, Cityline)
Once planted, hydrangea need very little care or effort to be beautiful. Only the dreaded “knowing when to prune which hydrangea” agitates some nerves. In reality, I don't prune any of my hydrangea often--they grow back quickly when I try to squeeze them into a smaller patch of the garden and they are perfectly happy doing their own natural thing.
BUT IF YOU MUST PRUNE....
Pruning hydrangea means knowing little more about hydrangea than what type was purchased (save the tag taped to a piece of paper noting its location in a file and this should eliminate any confusion). With the help of a file folder, paper, tape and the plant tag, growing hydrangea outside every window in all four directions needs little gardening expertise.
Determined by whether flowers bloom on old or new wood.
I think it easier to remember what type of hydrangea is in the yard rather than which blooms on old or new wood. Most hydrangea have gorgeous names to go with their gorgeous colors making it decidedly more fun to remember and easier to identify--think lime light, strawberry sundae, Nikko blue--I know each of my 32 beauties by name.
LACECAP HYDRANGEA (regardless of color):
Blooms on old wood only.
Old wood is not the same as dead wood. All dead stems should be removed as noticed.
Prune ONLY before August 1st to insure that next years buds are not clipped off.
After four or five years, prune 1/3 of the oldest stems to help reinvigorate the shrub. If you want to prune to reduce this hydrangea’s size, then do so in early summer (before the middle of July), but don’t be surprised if it quickly grows back to the larger size—best to plant in an area where it will be able to grow with abandon to its natural size.
Be careful when cutting Lacecap for vases! No worries before August 1st—cut as long a stem as needed. After August 1st, however, short stems only and cut above the first set of flushed out large leaves to avoid the possibility of cutting off next year's flowers by accident.
OAK LEAF HYDRANGEA (Harmony, Snowflake, Snow Queen, Alice, Sikes Dwarf, Peewee)
Blooms on old wood. PRUNE THE SAME AS LACECAP.
MOPHEADS (All Summer, Nikko Blue, Endless Summer, Frillibet, Harlequinn, Penny Mac, Lemon Zext, Amethyst, Altona, Dooley, Forever Pink, Pretty in Pink)
Blooms on old and new wood. Prune the SAME AS LACECAP to ensure maximum number of blooming flowers.
PANICULATA (Limelight, Big Ben, Silver Dollar, Pink Diamond, Chantilly Lace, Pinky Winky, Starlight, Tardiva, Annabelle)
Blooms on new wood, new stems only.
A forgiving hydrangea, they can be pruned to a few inches off the ground annually, but completely unnecessary. Strong, thick stalks that can hold the weight of heavy blooms need a few years of maturity to establish and cutting them back annually makes this process take longer.
DO NOT PRUNE Annabelle types of hydrangea in the spring. Wait to prune to a desired shape until blooms are present on the branches and it is obvious what will be flowering and what will not.
DO NOT PRUNE PG (Limelight, etc.) types of hydrangea in the summer as the later blooms will be removed and all that will be left is a lovely shrub or tree.