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CAROL McCRAY: Hydrangeas give gardeners many options

on August 31, 2014 1:50 AM

Hydrangeas are beautiful garden plants in a variety of colors. Many gardeners are confused about the myriad of colored blooms that the plant produces. Determining what type of hydrangea and how to achieve a particular color might clear up the confusion.

On hardy hydrangeas, the blooms will be cone-shaped. Popular hardy hydrangeas are “Limelight” with numerous large, lime-green flowers held up on strong stems. Blooms transform to pink in autumn, and hardy hydrangeas make great flowering hedges.

Other hardy varieties are “Little Lamb,” with full panicles of pure white florets; and “Fire Light,” that starts off with white blooms that darken to deep burgundy-pink in the fall, making an awesome autumn show.

Hardy hydrangeas are quite cold hardy and can tolerate full sun and heat.

Prune them in late winter or early spring. Bigleaf hydrangeas usually have brightly colored mophead (round) or lacecap (flat) flowers.

A variety called “Cityline” should be pruned immediately after they flower. “Cityline” hydrangeas are perfect for smaller gardens and for foundation plantings, great news for gardeners with small yards.

Other popular varieties of Bigleaf hydrangeas are “Let’s Dance,” “Edgy” and “Abracadabra.”

“Let’s Dance” flowers beautifully after harsh winters. “Edgy” has variegated blooms with different colors making the flowers distinctive and adding elegant charm to home gardens. The mysterious black stems and vibrant flowers of “Abracadabra” add drama to gardens and are ideal in mixed border plantings.

For gardeners in cooler climates, the mountain hydrangeas are a lovely choice since they have better bud hardiness than the coastal Bigleaf hydrangeas. Mountain hydrangeas are native to the mountains of Asia and Japan.

They should be pruned immediately after flowering.

North America’s native hydrangea, smooth hydrangea, has matte foliage and typically produces white flowers. The exception is “Invincibelle Spirit,” which is pink. North America’s native hydrangea is adaptable and easy-to-grow. In part sun or full shade, it flowers reliably every year, even in cold climates.

Another wonderful native is the oakleaf hydrangea with leaves that are shaped like those of an oak. It produces white, cone-shaped flowers and should be pruned immediately after flowering.

Flower colors are often what gardeners are interested in when it comes to the color of the blooms. Only bigleaf hydrangea and mountain hydrangea blooms are affected by soil pH. Blue flowers appear in more acidic soils, where aluminum is more available to the plant.

In more basic soils where aluminum is less available, the flowers will be pinker.

You can adjust the color of the blooms by adding aluminum sulfate to the soil for more blue flowers and lime to soils to encourage pink blooms. It may take a couple seasons to see the desired color.

The flowers of other hydrangeas will not change color.

Hydrangeas are among the most popular garden plants. Choose the best ones suited to your climate zone.

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