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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hydrangeas - Part I

I have no idea how many parts this will result in because I am writing this as I type. Anybody else still like writing in notebooks or filling up tablets - then transfer it to the computer? No? Just a quirk I have cornered on the market? *Edited to add: I got kinda wordy and this is a long post - if you're not interested in learning about hydrangeas, you might just want to check out the pretty pictures. (Click on any picture to enlarge.)

Anyway, I began my love affair with hydrangeas when Mr. Sassypants and I moved into our home 13 years ago. My Ma-Ma sent me one as a housewarming gift and it is the stunner I still have at the bottom of our front porch steps. Um, I'm going to try and not gush on and on about the beauty of this plant...
(Merritt's Supreme Hydrangea)
Since I have an obscene number of these gems (50 total - 18 varieties and three "unknowns") and because I think I've been so fortunate to learn from some of the best hydrangea "experts", I want to share the knowledge I've gained from others and from my own experiences. Please take into account I am gardening in Zone 7, so my info translates well if you are in the Southeast. Mophead hydrangeas are the pickiest about their climates (in my opinion) and will do best if grown in Zones 6-9. (Tiara Hydrangea)
Requirements for healthy hydrangeas:


First, I'd like to address the issue of sun versus shade for hydrangeas. While they are known as a "shade" plant, they really should have SUN until about 1:00 or 2:00 pm. (Some types will tolerate a full day of sun and I'll tell more about them later.) The further north you are, the more they can tolerate more sun. If their leaves begin to scorch, they may be getting too much sun. Too little sun and you will end up with a green shrub and very few, if any, blooms. Say you have a mix of sun and shade...provided they get about 4 hours of direct light, you can grow a hydrangea.
(Limelight, PeeGee Hydrangea)
Say you have not a stitch of shade to be found on your can still grow a hydrangea! Pick up a PeeGee hydrangea (known in hoighty-toighty garden circles as Hydrangea Paniculata). Best in zones 3-8. PeeGees are one of my VERY favorite varieties! They NEED full sun, can produce HUGE blooms (which dry exquisitely), are not affected by late frosts, can be pruned to tree form and bloom late in the summer when little else is happening in this southern garden! This is a picture from last summer. This was only it's second year in the ground and it reached about eight feet high. Be prepared to give this big girl some room! Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea Quercifolia, Zones 5-9) also will tolerate and do better with a little more sun.
(Oakleaf Hydrangea)
Here in Georgia I've learned the hard way that amending my soil before planting is a required step - a huge pain in the tush, too! Given the hard clay we naturally have means adding and mixing in some bagged soil and compost. If you have gorgeous, dark, rich soil, I'm SO happy for you. (Dig into some hard clay and heave around some bags of cow manure and you'll realize I'm not being overly dramatic here.) Once your hydrangeas have been in the ground for a year, lay on a couple of inches of manure around the base of your plant. (Around March for Atlanta.)
(Penny Mac Hydrangea)
Sounds like a lot of work? The incredible, late Penny McHenry did this every spring and had over 300 hydrangeas. Penny was the founder of the American Hydrangea Society and a premier stop on the annual Hydrangea Tour here in Atlanta. Her garden was breathtaking and she was generous with her knowledge. Her garden is the reason I introduced Annabelles (a type of Hydrangea Arborescens, Zones 4-8) to my garden. This is also a variety which likes some more sun. (young Annabelle Hydrangea)
If you feel you must fertilize your hydrangea, you need only sprinkle some 10-10-10 at the base after the last freeze and when new green growth has pushed out. You can do the same again in June, but only if you're NOT in the middle of a drought! I've never fertilized my hydrangeas and never really felt the need for this step.

Of course all plants need water, but your hydrangea may need a little more in the first two years of its life, especially if you plant them in the early summer. The ideal (for the plant) time of year to plant a hydrangea is in the fall. (October for Atlanta) There is very little stress through our winters for a hydrangea. However, I know all the nurseries will have these gorgeous plants out now - my Ma-Ma gave me this one (below) while she was visiting - this Matilda Gutges, we both thought belonged in my garden.
Even when your hydrangea has been in the ground a few years, don't be surprised to see it go "limp" around 3:00pm. They will all do it (in the south especially).Here is one which has been in my garden for eight years now. The heat tends to bother it, but it will wake up refreshed the next morning. Of course, if your area is suffering from a drought, hydrangeas will become very stressed. Just try to get them water in the early morning at the base of the plant if possible.

I'll be back in a couple of days to answer FAQ's, so if you have any questions of your own, feel free to leave them in the comment section!
Thanks for visiting and Happy Gardening!


  1. gorgeous and you do make dirt look good. i on the other hand seem to have a black thumb. my dahlias and zinnas are being eaten alive and i don't want to use poison on them. boo. my gardenias on the other hand have been exploring with heady, white blooms.

    i love hydrangeas too.

  2. Funny you should ask - yes, I have been thinking about hydrangeas! we have 3 {dead} shrubs in our front bed, from unknown causes. everything else is thriving. so, i thought about some flowering bushes - but... any that don't get huge? we will talk.

  3. Wow, Traci, you are a real expert on hydrangeas. I don't have any in my garden, but I want to get one. So I read carefully your article and wrote down some hydrangea names. It's always better to learn about a new plant before actually buying and planting it. Thank you.

  4. this is my favorite flower! As a native southerner, I grew up admiring them and mother has about 20-30 scattered around her property. I now live in the Phoenix desert. In an effort to sooth some home sickness, my mother had a hydrangea delivered to me- what a delight, for about a week- before it died. I called local nursery's to ask how to care for it out here and they basically encouraged me to go ahead and plan the funeral service for the plant! I am on such a steep learning curve with how to keep plants (and trees for that matter) alive out here. Do you know that I have to water my pine trees?! Are you aware of any hydrangeas that can endure hell's kitchen...umm, I mean Phoenix?
    posted a question in response to your question over at the blog :)

  5. Oh my goodness!! I am so glad your stopping by my site reminded me to come visit. We were just at the garden center last weekend and I begged again (3x the charm) for another shot at growing a Hydrangea. Now I have learned what I have been doing to kill 2.
    1. we have clay soil (probably not as bad as your area, but still
    2. Full sun backyard so I need the PeeGee variety!!
    3. I have planted the other 2 in the spring/summer

    OK I will let you know come fall if 3x is the real charm! Thanks

  6. Wow, you have a lot of hydrangeas. I have one and it is not blooming right. It use to and then last year nothing and now I have two blooms. It is the big blue mop head bush. It is mostly in the shade. Maybe that is the problem. Did not know about the manure. Next year I will have to remember that. May plant some more this fall.

  7. I love hydrangeas but only see them when I visit Vancouver island. I'm sure those who are lucky enough to be able to grow them would appreciate your advice. Thanks you.

  8. Gorgeous hydrangeas!! I love the favorites! But the wonderful old oakleaf is such a hard one to beat for hardiness! Happy week!...hugs...Debbie

  9. Hello Traci,
    Thanks for visiting my Pink Saturday! I am so glad you did! First of all-you're in Georgia! Yeah! Second of all - another Hydrangea lover! Love your very informative post! I have some dear ones too. Wanting so much more - my friend is rooting some for me now!
    Became a follower so I can hear some more!
    God Bless,

  10. first of all ..i write posts in a notebook ALL the time...2nd your hydrangeas are many different colors!!

  11. they are beautiful...i love how the first one you showed hugs your railing. such a pretty effect.

    i have the oakleaf hydrangea....climbing hydrangea....and a very old fashioned one~ looks like annabelle.

    i have a long way to go to catch you!!

  12. Hello Traci! thanks for stopping by my Mosiac Monday! How are your hydrangeas handling this heat! It is almost too hot to work outdoors!
    Wishing you a great week!

  13. thanks for the info on my favorite garden flower that I so desperately struggle to grow.

  14. Such fabulous photos of your gorgeous bushes! They're beautiful!!! I am seriously jealous! Just planted my first one at this new home but I had lace cap ones in FL.

  15. Thank you for visiting my blog, Traci. I have really found your post interesting as I am in the early stages of thinking I might be able to grow some beautiful blooms. Hydrangea is on my list for fall; any other recommended bulbs? We have a hardy Michigan winter, so should I really wait until spring?-Sandy

  16. Beautiful work you have done with your hydrangeas....they are gorgeous! Love the pink ones!

  17. are an amazing gardener....i have luck with potted plants but everything else....sheesh, what a mess....

  18. missing your photos....
    hope that all is well and that you are enjoying your summer.

  19. My husband and I just moved into a house with tons of hydrangeas. They are so gorgeous! The problem is that neither me nor my husband know anything about gardening. We live in Georgia. When should we prune? And what exactly is the technique for pruning them?? We watched some videos online and got so confused! Thanks!


Thanks for leavin' some love!