Hydrangeas - Bursting with Color

Looking to add a burst of color to your yard this summer? The hydrangea bush produces enormous clusters of summer blossoms in shades of white, pink or blue. The most attractive blossoms are the so-called sterile types-those that are unable to produce seed. They are flat with four petals, which are often more than an inch across. Some hydrangeas have clusters that contain only the sterile types, but most have fertile ones, too. The fertile flowers have tiny, star-like blossoms in the center of the cluster.
Hydrangeas will grow in most locations - from full, hot sun to partial shade. They grow best in soil that is moist, but well drained, with no standing water. Your hydrangeas will benefit from the addition of peat moss or compost to the soil when they are planted. This will help the root system to become established faster. One important thing you must remember about growing hydrangeas is the time of year you should prune the plant.

Small Leaf Varieties The small leaf varieties of hydrangea include the Peegee and the Annabelle. These must be pruned in the spring before the new growth begins. When you do not prune the plant properly, it will produce many small flowers during July and August. It will produce large flowers only if cut back in the spring to 12 inches from the ground. If closely pruned, the plant will grow three feet tall and will develop massive flowers that can become so heavy; the plant will bend to the ground in a rainstorm. To balance the plant so it produces moderate-sized flowers, cut it back to about two feet from the ground. The branches can then support the blossoms.

The small-leaf varieties of hydrangea will grow to good height; the Annabelle to four feet and the Peegee to eight feet tall. Blossoms on the Peegee will turn rose- colored in the fall. Peegee hydrangea flowers can be picked and dried in mid to late August. The small leaf hydrangea will tolerate extremely cold winter temperatures and still flower.

Large Leaf Varieties The large leaf types of hydrangea include the pink or blue ball types, or the flat types often found on Cape Cod. These plants flower from large buds formed on the previous season's growth. Any pruning done to the plant is to control the height of the bush. Pruning should be done immediately after the plant begins flowering in early August. Large leaf varieties include the popular Nikko blue with its rounded heads of deep, blue flowers. They will grow to four feet in height and will also withstand cold winters. The color of the hydrangea is largely determined by the acidity of the soil. This is rare in the flower world.

Soils that are acid to very acid will force the plant to produce blue blossoms. The more acid in the soil, the deeper the blue color. To increase the soil acidity, simply apply a fertilizer that is acid based. This product should be applied in the spring and again, during the summer. Use aluminum sulfate at the rate of one pound to seven gallons of water. Soak the soil around the plant. Two treatments are necessary to lower the pH (or the acidity of the soil) by a half-point, therefore increasing the acidity. Treatments should be ten to twelve days apart.

To grow the best-looking pink hydrangeas, you'll want to raise the pH of the soil, making the soil less acid. Apply ground limestone or palletized lime in the spring and again in the fall. Spread two handfuls around the base of each plant.

One final point to remember: select hydrangeas that are nursery-grown especially for outdoors planting. The lovely hydrangea you may purchase at Easter or Mother's Day is not winter hardy here in New England. They will survive the winter but will not flower the following summer. The new growth is killed to the ground each winter. In the spring, new growth will develop from the roots, but only foliage will develop. The only way this plant will flower is if it is dug up in the fall, stored indoors for the winter, and replanted in the spring.

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