Carefree shrubs for lasting summer color
Photographs by Stacy Bass
Good gardening, like good cooking need not be formal, complicated or expensive. That thought immediately brings to mind one of our most prolific yet easiest shrubs to maintain—the hydrangea.
In just the past decade, advances in breeding have made hydrangeas more adaptable, accessible and easier to care for. Many of the newer hybrids grow in cooler climates down to zone 3a. Some are so small they comfortably nestle into nooks of narrow borders and pocket gardens. Others have amazingly large clusters and intense, deep colors. Most do not require pruning unless they get to be too large. For these reasons, the popular woody shrubs are just about everybody’s favorite. Keep them watered and watch them thrive.
This summer I can’t help but notice the plethora of hydrangea thriving all over our towns and villages. Yards are brimming with their large blooms in shades of blue, white, pink, purple and cream. The garden centers are stocked to the gills with mopheads, lacecaps, oakleafs and PeeGees.
Most of the mopheads and lacecaps (hydrangea macrophylla) we see in this area are blue, due to the condition of our soil. A blue hydrangea indicates that aluminum is present in the soil. It is much easier to change a hydrangea from pink to blue than it is from blue to pink. Changing a hydrangea from pink to blue entails adding aluminum to the soil. Changing from blue to pink means subtracting aluminum from the soil and taking it out of reach of the hydrangea.
My personal favorites are Nikko Blue for its very intense color and the unusually hardy Endless Summer, which flowers on both new and old wood. It also has a long blooming cycle, giving off months of nonstop flowering through October.
Hydrangeas prefer a moist warm climate. Minimal pruning is recommended for the most prolific flowering. The most common problem is often a temporary one, wilt. Should your hydrangea suffer from wilt, there are a few easy fixes.
The most common cause of wilt is transplant shock. As with all plants, transplant shock may occur once you move hydrangeas to a new location. Make sure the soil is kept moist and mist the leaves each day until they recover from the shock of transplanting. The best time to transplant hydrangea is when the plant goes dormant, between late November and late December.
Wilt is also caused by exposure to full sun. Hydrangea blossoms prefer some shade at the hottest point of the day. Make sure they get additional water during dry periods and use a tarp, an umbrella or plant a taller shrub nearby for shade.
Hydrangeas may wilt after being cut for bouquets. For longer lasting cut flowers, cut long stems and remove the leaves. Then cut the bottoms of stems under warm water and place the stems in a vase with water up to the blossoms. Finally, mist the flower heads to help them absorb more water.
I am not a professional garden designer, landscape architect or horticulturalist. I am, for the most part, self-taught.
I don’t garden for a living, I live for gardening.
I came to gardening late in life, so I am making up for lost time.
I hope to share my insights, resources, and gardening experiences in the coming months.
My aim is to educate, enlighten and inspire gardeners to take chances, break new ground, dig deeper and stretch themselves.
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