Unrivalled in the shrub world, Hydrangea can be deciduous or evergreen shrubs, or self-clinging climbers. They are easy to cultivate, hardy and tolerant of almost any soil. From late spring to late autumn these elegant plants produce an abundance of delicate flower heads in shades of pink, white or blue. When little else may be in bloom, this makes them invaluable in almost any garden.
With different varieties come different habits.
- macrophylla are the most common hydrangeas with two well-known types; hortensia (also known as mophead) and lacecap. They are both compact bushy deciduous shrubs with broadly ovate leaves. Both varieties are well-known for their ability to change colour in different soils.
- Hortensia have rounded clusters of sterile flowers
- lacecap are comprised of a round disk of small fertile flowers surrounded by showy sterile ones.
- arborescens is a large branching shrub and can reach heights of up to six feet. Their flowers are typically white and smaller than H. macrophylla varieties.
- paniculata is a deciduous woody plant with toothed, mid to dark green leaves and flowerheads in large, conical panicles of showy, pinkish-white sterile flowers scattered amongst smaller creamy-white fertile flowers.
- anomalasubsp. petiolaris is a large self-clinging, deciduous climber with broadly oval leaves turning yellow in autumn and large flower-heads of small fertile flowers surrounded by showy white sterile ones
- quercifolia, named after the Latin for oak tree, this variety has foliage shaped like oak tree leaves which changes colour in autumn. This attribute is unique among hydrangeas and the range of autumnal colours makes them invaluable in winter gardens.
All hydrangeas will tolerate sun or partial shade, but a part-sun, part-shade location is ideal. They will thrive in a moist well-drained soil enriched with well-rotted organic matter at the time of planting and will benefit from an annual organic mulch in subsequent years. They are particularly successful in coastal regions.
Named from the Greek for ‘water’ and ‘vessel’ hydrangea certainly require adequate irrigation. They dislike extremely hot conditions and do not like to dry. The most drought tolerant variety is H. quercifolia, but all varieties will recover quickly from drought symptoms if thoroughly watered.
Pruning is easy. Climbing hydrangeas are generally pruned after flowering, while shrubby hydrangeas are best left until early spring. In both cases simply remove spent flower heads and trim shoots back to a pair of healthy emerging buds. Shrubby hydrangeas may be dead-headed after flowering if desired, but doing so will rob you of a real winter treat. The spent flowers of H. macrophylla are beautiful even in winter. Covered in frost they will be a jewel of your winter garden.
Propagation of hydrangeas is easy and has a high success rate. Softwood cuttings should be taken in spring and early summer from the new season’s growth. If potted by mid-summer they will develop sufficient roots to survive the winter. If not they should be potted the following spring, giving you many, many plants for free.
Due to their longevity, versatility and variety, hydrangeas make excellent specimen shrubs. They are perfect for group plantings, borders and containers. With so many positive attributes there is a hydrangea for every situation. Whichever you choose will reward you with an ‘easy’ shrub which will give you weeks of joy.