COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Let’s hear hoorays for the popular hydrangea

The last week of September is still too early to harvest pumpkins but not too late to plant garlic or onion sets. You don’t have to harvest potatoes, carrots or brussels sprouts as these vegetables store better when left outdoors all winter. Swiss chard will also overwinter in well-drained soil and in our climate this vitamin-packed veggie can keep producing for two full years. I grow the beautiful leaves and colorful stems of Swiss chard in container gardens and in front yard beds surrounded by flowers. Growing Swiss chard close to the house makes the leaves easy to harvest all winter long and even the tough stems can be cut up and added to soups, stews and stir fries.

There is still time to replant those summer-weary container gardens with winter-tough herbs and perennials. Just rip out the past-their-prime petunias and sever the tops off seedy snapdragons and wilted coleus. Nurseries are still offering “Fall Magic” plants perfect for perking up containers. Make this the winter you enjoy your patio planters all year long by adding frost-resistant, tri-color sage, hardy dwarf euphorbias, dramatic heucheras, winter-blooming heathers and the well-behaved and long-blooming winter pansies. A fall-planted container garden will make winters in the Northwest bearable and beautiful. Sneak some spring-blooming bulbs into your pots as well. They’ll come up and flower thought the foliage of the perennials.

Let’s hear some hoorays for hydrangeas

Fall is when hydrangeas are still blooming while other flowering shrubs are long past their prime. This is a good time to pick out the perfect hydrangea for the landscape. Hydrangeas love our climate and thrive for years with very little care. There are hundreds of hydrangea varieties including dwarfs that do well in pots and climbing hydrangeas that will cover a garden shed or wall.

Last year I wrote about my newly-planted hydrangea room. This space is still in glorious bloom and you can transform any partly sunny area into an outdoor space enclosed by hydrangea walls. I made compost piles right on top of the lawn then added some topsoil and planted hydrangeas into these new raised beds. The taller varieties go in the back and the dwarf hydrangeas are near the front so even in winter when you enter this garden room you have a vision of living walls.

Here are my favorite hydrangeas for adding carefree color and autumn drama to the landscape:

The Darling Dwarfs: Mini Penny, Buttons and Bows and Pink Elf

These compact hydrangeas are less than 3 feet tall and perfect for pots on the patio or the front of a shrub border. The pink blooming ’’Mini Penny” in my garden flowers from July until October, survives harsh Enumclaw winters in an urn and has been growing happily in the same pot for four years.

The Dramatic Paniculata Hydrangeas: Pee Gee, Angel’s Blush, Pinky Winky and Pink Diamond

These are not your grandmother’s mophead hydrangeas. The hydrangea paniculatas have giant pointed blooms up to 16 inches long in shades of cream, peach and pink. Some, like the “Pee Gee” in my garden, can be trained to a tree shape while the “Pinky Winky” hydrangea makes a tidy 6- to 8-foot hedge. The paniculata hydrangeas bloom on new wood so pruning them back in late fall or early spring will produce armloads of new flowers.

Hot Pink “Invincible Spirit” Hydrangea: This variety was named for and provides money to breast cancer survivors and really does bloom pink even in our naturally acid soil that turns most hydrangeas blue. Unlike the traditional mophead hydrangeas, “Invincible Spirit” can be pruned to the ground every spring as it blooms on new wood. This makes it a great choice for small gardens or large pots.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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