“I felt a sudden shock of beauty so strong that I could only stand frozen in wonder.” – Billy Baldwin
Yes, those blue hydrangeas are a show. Actually, traffic stoppers. And, to see them blooming in a mass planting, Billy Baldwin is correct, you will receive a “sudden shock of beauty.” Hydrangeas add glorious beauty to the garden, as well as inside your home when cut. They have a long vase life and many varieties dry beautifully.
If you have read the title of this column and are on board to read further, probably you are a romantic at heart. How do I know this? Because, I share your passion. I know you swoon over these beauties and have fallen in love with them. Let me confess to you, I have been in a love affair with hydrangeas for over 40 years, with no end to the relationship in the foreseeable future. Clearly, I understand you can’t help yourself and now you have decided you absolutely must grow them. You love them all, they are all beautiful, but which plant do you choose? Let me help. I want to share with you some hydrangea details perhaps you may not be aware of, or, may not completely understand. And, I trust after reading on, your purchasing decisions will be easier.
There are many outstanding blue varieties. But first, the most important question – what is your planting zone? Harrison County, West Virginia is zone 6-A. Meaning, one should choose plants which will survive temperatures to 10 below zero. If you do not live in Harrison County, please google USDA Plant Hardiness zone map. Once there, you will enter your state, zip code and it will provide you with your planting zone. Now, a few words of caution, based on my experience: Plant hydrangeas one zone colder than what the plant specifies. Example: North Central West Virginia is zone 6A, purchase a plant that is hardy to zone 5. I have Nikko Blue hydrangeas and when I purchased them (at a reputable nursery) I was told they were hardy to our zone. Even though I questioned the information at the time, my love for them blurred my decision. Understand, I had just left our home in Virginia with numerous beds of blue gorgeousness. Two years ago, we had a winter with 12 below zero 3 nights in a row. My dear Nikko Blue’s froze to the ground. Which meant, the freezing temperatures killed their branches (Nikko’s bloom on old wood), and I had no bloom the following summer. The plants themselves, were not killed, they came up from the ground. But, it was terribly disappointing not to see their blooms the following summer. Actually, more like – dreadful.
Another extremely important question you must have answered when purchasing your plant is: Does the variety you have chosen bloom on old or new wood? If your plant blooms on old wood, DO NOT cut the stems to the ground in the fall. You are cutting away the bloom. If the plant blooms on old and new wood, it is fine to cut the stems in the fall. Although, this is not necessary. Should you not be familiar with old wood bloom and the new wood bloom, here is a simple explanation. Old wood means, the branches which are currently on the plant and show leaves. New wood means, branches which will come from the ground next spring. Simply, take time to read and understand what you are purchasing. Never, purchase a plant that does not provide a name or reads “assorted variety.”
Most blue hydrangeas prefer to be planted in dappled light under the shade of mature trees. All hydrangeas require a thorough soaking at least three times a week in hot, dry weather conditions and enjoy an annual feeding of well composted manure (worked in around the plant) in the early spring before leaves appear. In North Central West Virginia, this means the first or second week of March.
The range of color in blue hydrangeas can be extremely varied, fluctuating from pale blue to an almost dark blue violet, with a pink to purple scattered in the mix. These colors are determined by the pH level of the soil, and this can be altered. Acid soil, pH below 6, will produce blue blooms. Alkaline soil, pH above 7, will produce pink blooms. Products which will change the pH level in the soil can be found in all garden centers.
Now that you have absorbed the details about the “moody blues,” there is more, much more. The fabulous white hydrangeas, rather elegant looking. They are stunningly beautiful, but don’t play by the “change color rules” like their blue friends. White, remains white and additions to the soil will not alter their color. They are white – period. However, white hydrangeas will provide a show just the same as the blue. It took me several years of my gardening life to realize the significant impact white can have in a garden. The photos in this column of the white Annabelle hydrangeas are from our garden, and they have honestly stopped traffic. Additionally, Annabelle’s, unlike most blue hydrangeas, are happy in afternoon sun.
Now that we have discussed color, let’s talk about which bloom type you prefer. Romantics, are typically drawn to the “mopheads.” Mophead is a nickname for the snowball type bloom. Giant, round magnificent blooms. There is nothing quite like them, other than peonies of course. But, did you know there are other bloom types? There are conical or cone shape blooms and also lace caps. Lace caps are a favorite of mine and were given their name because their bloom resembles the crown of a baby’s bonnet. Yes, I know this makes any woman love them, however, they are quite impressive.
In closing today, hopefully I have provided you with a bit of information helpful in assisting you to purchase the hydrangeas you love. Also, at the end of this column, I am listing a few varieties hardy for North Central West Virginia. So go ahead, plant those gorgeous hydrangeas. I promise you will have no regrets, because when they bloom you and others will “stand frozen in wonder.”
See you soon,
- Penny Mac, named for the beloved founder and longtime president of the American Hydrangea Society, zone 5-9, blooms on old and new wood
- Endless Summer, zone 4-9, blooms on old and new wood
- Let’s Dance Moonlight, zone 5-9
- Annabelle – zone 3-9
- Limelight, zone 4-8 – Be sure you have space, size 6ft.x 6ft.
- Little Lime, zone 4-8
- Vanilla Strawberry, zone 4-9
Lace Cap Variety
- Endless Summer – Twist and Shout, zone 4-9
Source for purchasing Hydrangeas
Hydrangeasplus.com – Can’t say enough good things about this company. Do yourself a favor and visit their website. They are located in Aurora, Oregon.
Source of information and events pertaining to Hydrangeas
The American Hydrangea Society – theamericanhydrangeasociety.org
Remember: I am always happy to answer any questions and I always enjoy hearing from you.