COMPLETE HOMEM GARDENER: Hydrangeas give yard a healthy highlight

The last week of May is a great time to plan a summer garden project, adding a shade garden, planning for more summer color or just indulging your wish to collect beautiful, blooming plants. This week you can fulfill all those wishes by planning to plant more hydrangeas into your landscape. Last year I started a hydrangea garden room, an open area among the trees surrounded by a circle of hydrangeas. The idea is to walk into the opening and be surrounded by walls of blooming hydrangeas. I’ll keep you posted on how it comes out.

Hydrangeas are tough, wind-, cold- and salt-spray resistant shrubs that love to grow in our cool summer climate. They bloom in sun or partial shade and are super easy to start from cuttings made in early summer. So what’s the No. 1 question asked about growing hydrangeas?

How and when do I

prune my hydrangea?

The Answer: It all depends. First, figure out what type of hydrangea you have or what type you need.

There is a hydrangea for every garden.

For classic gardens, old-fashioned borders, flower arrangers: Big-leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

This is the big shrub with the huge spheres of “mop head” midsummer blooms, usually blue or purple in our naturally acid soil. This species can handle salt along the coast but needs water or it will wilt in the summer sun. For a more refined look, grow the lace cap hydrangea, the frilly cousin to the mop head look. New dwarf hydrangea varieties like Pink Elf, Mini Penny and Buttons and Bows make this a shrub that does great in containers and the naturally compact size of these new dwarfs mean they rarely need pruning. A full size but compact-growing hydrangea called Nikko Blue displays the most intense color and numerous blooms on a shrub that can grow to 6 feet. The new Endless Summer hydrangea blooms on new wood, perfect for very cold or small gardens.

How to Prune: Prune big leaf varieties is in February, removing the previous summer’s faded blooms along with a length of stem. Endless Summer hydrangeas can be pruned anytime they need it, as cutting this shrub just encourages more flowers.

For the aristocrat garden or small space landscape: Pee Gee Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)

This cream and peach blooming shrub is best grown as a small tree where it can flower on a 10- to 12-foot tall framework showcasing it’s rich, creamy colors that intensify as autumn arrives. More formal than the big leaf hydrangea, the blooms are large but pointed or cone shaped and the color cannot be changed by the acidity of the soil. My own Pee Gee hydrangea thrives in rather poor soil with no extra summer water and the midsummer blooms last until November. The cream flowers turn pink, then rose then russet as autumn arrives. The colors look spectacular when grown near a brick building.

Look for Pee Gee varieties Pinky Winky with huge blooms, Pink Diamond that survives colder temperatures and the largest of the three, Angel’s Blush.

How to Prune the Pee Gee: Best when pruned in early spring (I get snippy with mine in March) and the more branches you thin out the larger the remaining flowers will be. Shorten the longest branches by one half as this hydrangea flowers on new wood. If you wait and prune too late in the spring you’ll be cutting off buds and miss a year of blooms.

For woodland gardens, pink-theme gardens, hedge plantings: Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit a Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea aborescens)

A breeding break- through, the new Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea stays pink even in our acid soil and some of the profits from this cold-resistant, pink hydrangea will be donated to breast Cancer Research. Give this shade-lover a few years to build up strong stems and shorten the new growth by one half in early spring – or the young stems will flop when they bloom. I’m still experimenting with the best time to prune this new hydrangea, but mine did well in the shade.

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