Hydrangea Revival

While hydrangeas seem old-fashioned to some, gardeners have renewed their interest in this versatile plant. It has become so popular that "The American Hydrangea Society" in Atlanta, Georgia was founded in 1994. With many varieties of shrubs and climbers, a hydrangea can be found to suit zones 3-9 and becomes a perfect addition to the shade garden. Hydrangeas offer beautiful foliage, large blooms in many colors, and easy maintenance.

About Hydrangeas

Drive around an established neighborhood in the summer and you're sure to see hydrangeas, some newly planted, some very old. The most common varieties are macrophylla, paniculata grandiflora, and arborescens. You have likely heard them referred to as mop-head, pee gee, and snowball, respectively. While related, they have different characteristics and maintenance needs. However, most varieties do prefer moist soil, morning sun, and afternoon shade.

Hydrangea macrophylla grows as a shrub whose flowers are usually pink or blue, blooming from June to August. The color of the flowers depends on the acidity of the soil. Acidic soil produces blue flowers while basic soil brings forth pink. Sometimes the same bush will have both colors if the soil itself is not consistent. You can change pink flowers to blue by adding 3-4 Tablespoons of aluminum sulfate to every gallon of water and applying it twice, separated by two weeks, four to six months before the plant blooms. To make blue flowers pink, sprinkle 3-8 cups of lime around the base 2-3 times in late fall/early winter. If the blooms become small on an old plant or you want to reduce its size, prune when the flowers begin to fade, but be sure to do so before August 1. This hydrangea will set blooms in late summer for the following season. If you prune too late, you won't see any flowers the next year.

"Pee gee", hydrangea paniculata grandiflora, grows first as a shrub which can become a small tree, depending on pruning practices. It produces creamy-white, somewhat cone-shaped clusters of blooms that turn peach and yellow as they dry. These dried blooms are very popular for fall wreaths and arrangements. This hydrangea produces blooms on new growth every year, so you can prune it in early spring, even completely to the ground if necessary.

Hydrangea arborescens is referred to as "Annabelle" or a "snowball bush". This is a shrub variety which produces large, sometimes soccer-ball size, snow-white blooms. The flowers become so heavy that the limbs topple when laden with rain, so support is sometimes necessary. "Annabelle" blooms on new wood like "pee gee", so after its first few years of growth, it should be pruned in the spring, even cut to the ground to keep it compact.

Out of the Garden

Hydrangeas are quite versatile in floral arrangements, fresh or dried. One cluster of blooms surrounded by the gorgeous large leaves makes a perfect bridesmaid bouquet. A few cut stems in a clear vase or combined with other flowers brighten the table. Dried blooms, in original clusters or as individual flowers, are perfect for dried arrangements and pictures.

To dry whole clusters, cut stems when the flowers become stiff to the touch in late summer. Place in a vase of water. The blooms should maintain their color and be ready when the water has evaporated. If the flowers shrivel, wait a week or two and cut new stems. To dry individual flowers, place between sheets of plain newsprint in a plant press or between the pages of a phone book and then place heavy books on it. Frame groupings of individual flowers or apply to stationery, bookmarks, etc.

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