Those Other Hydrangeas

hydrangea Annabelle (7)My previous post about hydrangeas was narrow in scope.  Annabelle hydrangeas, or hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle” are commonly known as smooth hydrangeas. Their giant spherical flower heads are identifiable from a block away.  They have an annoying tendency to flop over.  Like peonies, their giant flower heads can topple an entire stem in a strong storm. That aside, they are showy. They bloom on new wood. Most encouraging of all for gardeners in my zone? They are both plant and bud hardy to zone 3.

limelight hydrangea hedgeLimelight hydrangea, or hydrangea paniculata “Limelight” is  hardy to zone 4.  The flowers are cone shaped.  The stems are incredibly strong, and upright. The flowers are not truly white-they are a lime green verging on white. They also bloom on new wood.  This means the flowers are set on the current year’s growth. A bad winter will not impact the flowering. The 4-5 foot version, Little Lime, is just as strong and hardy as Limelight.  The diminutive Limelight cousin,  “Bobo”,  grows 2 to 3 feet tall-and is entirely hardy.

all summer beauty hydrangeaThis said, I have had lots of clients express an interest in pink, or blue hydrangeas. Can you hear me sighing?  The All summer Beauty hydrangeas, both in ground and about to be planted,that you see above, is known as a mophead hydrangea. As in hydrangea macrophylla. The mophead hydrangeas are most easily grown in zone 6- 8. Truly. It is easy to see in the above picture that my client’s “All Summer Beauty” hydrangeas died all the way back to the ground as a result of our very cold winter. Hydrangea macrophylla blooms on old wood.  In early May, I could see that these hydrangeas had no live wood above ground, meaning there would be no June bloom on them. It would be a green summer for these hydrangeas- unless the plants would throw a few blooms on the new wood.

endlesssummerShocking this zone 6-8 business. All Summer Beauty hydrangea was introduced with great fanfare. They bloom on the previous year’s wood, but they also bloom on the current year’s wood. This was good news for hydrangea growers in northern climates. We had hopes that pink and blue hydrangeas would work for us.  I find that the bloom on new wood is sparse at best. The heavy bloom is the June bloom.

hydrangea_articleThe reality of the mopheads is that they promise a lot, and deliver not so much. Success with them is varied.  It is not so easy to figure what conditions will produce reliable blooming.The majority of the June  bloom resides in the previous year’s wood – wood that needs to  survive the winter. If you are growing All Summer Beauty, do not prune in the fall. A fall pruning removes flower buds.  Site your mopheads out of the way of the wind.  If you are mophead driven, be prepared to protect your plants over the winter.

July 13, 2012 035I do have a number of clients in Grosse Pointe.  This is a metropolitan Detroit community situated along Lake St. Clair. The mopheads I see on the west side are great once in a great while.  In this community, I see pink and blue hydrangeas blooming profusely every year.  I can only surmise that the water is a mitigating circumstance.  Water side gardens cool off  very slowly in the fall.  Plants enter the dormant stage slowly.  A big lake is slow to warm up in the spring, and protects garden plants from precipitous drops in spring temperatures.  A lake nearby is a blanket, both fall and spring. The big lake side gardens are most surely a zone 6 – maybe warmer. This is my guess.

blue hydrangeas
I have one client whose stand of mophead hydrangeas are gorgeous every year. Only one, I might add.  I really have no idea why they bloom so beautifully. I was advised that this cultivar is Nikko Blue, but this information is anecdotal.  I did not plant these. They were in place when I came to work for her. They are reliable in bloom, every year.  My other clients with mopheads have lots of green years, punctuated by flowering years now and then.  Some repeated successes I ascribe to a serious program of winter protection.

[wallcoo]_hydrangea_picture_4(1)I will say I have never seen hydrangeas other than white bloom like this.  If you have a big love for hydrangeas, research any plant you have a mind to purchase.  You need to know what species of hydrangea is the parent, and how to properly prune it. You need to cast a critical eye towards that place you plan to site them.  Is it near a house wall? Is the intended planting in a windy and exposed location?

July 13, 2012 039When a mophead hydrangea is happy, it is very very happy.

FullSizeRenderA good client emailed me this picture yesterday.  He saw these hydrangeas in bloom in Rhode Island.  Could he grow them in his garden?  This is a lace cap hydrangea which like the mophead, is hydrangea macrophylla.  It will suffer from bud loss from spring frosts, a too late pruning and a too cold winter in the same way as the mopheads. As beautiful as they are, they will not reliably like being planted in a Michigan garden. If they are killed back to the ground over the winter, they can come back-but the bloom will be very sparse. I doubt my client would have much luck with these.

hydrangeas Aug 15 2013 (17)I do not have much experience with hydrangeas other than white. I have a preference for hydrangeas that wholeheartedly like my zone. Were I dead set on having them, I would experiment to see what location in the garden was the most friendly to good flowering.  Some of the newer varieties may be more hardy for you than others. There are so many varieties available to choose from.  Perhaps there is one that will work in your garden.

Comments

  1. I just found your blog and am thrilled! Love your aesthetic! Sitting here in what is supposed to
    be the depths of winter and being thankful ( and a little worried) that there has been no
    cold weather so far. I want to try growing Hydrangea paniculata in one of your large planters
    so everyone in Virginia can see your wonderful work. (let me know if you have a suggestion).
    I grow hydrangea paniculata for cut flowers and talk to many of the breeders and their agents.
    Some of the new paniculatas such as Zinfin Doll are exquisite! By the way; I have about
    one thousand hydrangea paniculatas in various flavors growing in yard and houses. I am looking forward to following your work. Thanks!!!

  2. as a life long southerner, i have loved hydrangeas for as long as i can remember. they are glorious back home. we relocated to the midwest six years ago and i have had to adjust my hydrangea expectations :). quite the learning curve. we are in indiana. 5b/6a and have brutal winters. i have come to adore annabelles and am totally in love with their offspring, incrediball. Invincibelle is lovely too, just don’t totally love the brown after color of the blooms. limelights/little limes are bullet proof. however, i so missed my mopheads that i had to find a substitute. i have had pretty good luck with endless summer. they take a minimum of three years to really get going, at four years they are pretty good. no winter coverage. this year (year six for some of them) they were set to be spectacular. that is until i decided that since the yard crew i have used for the past six years to clean and open the garden in the spring could be trusted without me hovering over them. evidently the foreman (after i had gone through the garden with him as i do every year) told them to cut back everything that looked dead. lost three roses, the endless summer hydrangeas did grow to huge heights (that is my silver lining) but i maybe had five blooms between twenty or so plants. oh well, live and learn.

    i have tried all summer beauty. very disapointing. giving them one more year. the forever and ever hydrangeas seem to be very fragile and break off to the ground easily. not many blooms. mini penny went completely MIA. white out is gorgeous. does not bloom very prolifically, but is so grand that i can tolerate that. took a chance on the lovely sister theresa. she died a very lady like death. of course the oakleafs are fantastic with the bonus of spectacular leaf color in the fall. i put in two paniculata hydrangeas on standard in pots last year. they are breathtaking!! planning to put them in the ground next spring. wish i could remember what they are 🙂

    o.k., my thesis is over:)! thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge with us!!

    • This is the first full season I have had Invincibelle in the ground (planted them
      last fall.). The stems are a little weak. Some are not too bad, others bend to
      the ground. I am just experimenting with cutting the old brown blooms off
      and, Lo and behold, there are new pink flowers coming! I am in Massachusetts,
      zone 6b-7. Wish I’d had the nerve to cut them back a little sooner.
      I’m going to try pruning them only half way next Spring to see if the stems
      are stronger and will also try deadheading some of the older flowers earlier
      (maybe mid August to see if I can get more new blooms for later in the season.
      Those of you with the Invincibelle, have you noticed the scent? It’s absolutely
      beautiful! I forget how nice it is to have something scented in the garden. So
      few plants have a nice fragrance these days…..
      Denise on Cape Cod

  3. I am located outside of Philadelphia and have had a lot of success with the Endless Summer hydrangea. I have about 20 of them on my property planted about 4 years ago in various lighting conditions in clay soil. Based on reading a lot of the responses, it sounds like i am very fortunate because they have bloomed beautifully. The only thing i do is to amend the soil every year with Espoma soil acidifier and on spring nights when there is a frost (usually less than a handful a year), i cover them with old bed sheets to protect the buds.

  4. I am in zone 3a and have a limelight that is doing pretty well now that I moved it away from the lilacs that grew too fast and overshadowed it 🙂

  5. debra phillips says:

    this zone 5 gardener concurs with all of your issues/advice. oh the fanfare indeed for endless summer,,,disappointing here too Deborah. in my home garden they are treated as annuals
    best
    debra

  6. Agree, Endless Summer a big disappointment. Never fails; Little Lamb (not so little), Tar diva also dependable plus the Strawberry Vanilla.
    I also long for the blue but have not found any dependable blues for zone 6b.

  7. I live in north central CT, zone 6a. Last year, due to brutal cold temps early in the season, I had very few blooms on my macrophyllas. This year we had a lot of snow cover before the brutal cold so I now have a lot of blooms. However, my Preziosa has none. The Blue Billow looked beautiful this year (its second year).

    The Invincibelle Spirit was a gift – I would have bought an Annabelle. I moved it last year to full sun, and it has, to me, a more pleasing barely pink color. I found it to be a brash color in the front, and faded to a “nylon stocking” beige color. Out back it’s faded to a greenish tone. I’ve never noticed a scent but will remember to smell it next year when it starts blooming. Mine pretty much flops over after the first hard rainfall.

    I have pictures on my blog if you’d like to look.

    • Deborah Crabtree says:

      In northern virginia, I cut the Annabelle cultivar back to about 2 or 3 buds every year and they are less likely to flop. But I still place a support ring over them. Also if you want to control the height of your limelights, those can be pruned to the ground as well.

  8. DC Shepherd says:

    While attending a MSU Tollgate guided garden walk years ago, the groundskeeper stated he never had any problem with all the Annabelles flopping on the property because he has them all trimmed to 6″ in March/April. So I tried this last year. Amazingly simple fix with excellent results. If you love Annabelles all is not lost.

  9. Traci Retholtz says:

    Such an insightful post! I live in Northwest Ohio, and the two Preziosa’s I planted last year (despite adequate protection) did not bloom. I will try again, but still disappointed. Since reading this, I have noticed Limelights flourishing everywhere in our neighborhood. Do you offer a Limelight hydrangea tree variety at Detroit Garden Works? Many thanks in advance… and thank you for the constant inspiration through your posts!

  10. Deborah, I have had the most luck with ‘Annabelle’ and Tardiva, a panticulata. Tardiva is a specimen plant in our small town garden. We’ ve had it over 10 years. It looks beautiful from early August thru the winter.

  11. Sue Vrooman says:

    I have several fair size plantings of H. arborescens ‘Annabelle. She will go over when in full bloom so I stake the plantings using re-bar, easily gotten at Lowes or Home Depot, I put several re-bar stakes in strategic places and just in from the periphery of the plant group so they are hidden by the foliage. Then I run twine through the clumps like a spider web securing the ends to the stakes. Re-bar is strong and is almost the color of a plant stem as it weathers. Has worked like a charm for me and is virtually invisible. I also grow H. arborescens ‘Ryan Gainey’ which has flower heads slightly smaller than Annabelle’s, looks like her and doesn’t need to be staked. Fabulous doer. I just love them!

    If you keep bees or encourage pollinators in your garden do include H. paniculata ‘Brussels Lace’. Gorgeous plant, nice dark green leaves, a bit later then some of the paniculatas, incredibly graceful with loosely gathered sterile and fertile flowers of creamy white that fade to pink as they age . The pollinators just can’t leave it alone. It dances with them!

    The most unusual H. paniculata I grow or have ever seen is ‘Great Star’. Her sterile flowers are huge, white and gracefully spaced among the fertile ones. They look like clusters of butterflies and are especially striking in the evening dusk. The stems of this one are really dark. Mine seems to have a more open habit than the other H. paniculata cultivars but it is in a bit more shade so that could be the reason. To me it just adds to its grace.

  12. I could not agree more that Endless Summer hydrangea cultivars are a bust. I gardened with great joy some two acres for nearly 30 years in southern Michigan. The most design impact, versatility in all sorts of light and shade, and pure beauty were my 80 some Annabelles. In recent years, however, I added and had terrific success with Incrediball hydrangeas. White is also my favorite. Now that we have moved to northwestern South Carolina, I see that Limelights and Dwarf Limelights are coping beautifully with heat and heavy soil. I they are both showy and classic. And Annabelles protected in shade are even thriving. I knew I would miss the English garden color and composition we enjoyed in MIchigan but am eager to see if I can approximate it. In the meantime, I read and reread every post by Deborah and appreciate so much that she shares all her tips and helpful, stunning garden photos.

  13. All this great discussion about failed hydrangeas prompted me to pull out my journal to see how my plantings compared:
    “Blushing Bride”(Hydrangea macrophylla) Zone 5 -7 – Failed after 1st year 🙁
    Hydrangea, Climbing (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) Zone 4 – 9- unphased by our winters 🙂 A keeper!
    Forever and Ever Peppermint (Hydrangea macrophylla) Z 5 – 9 – 5 planted in 2013, nothing but lots of green leaves this year. :-/ Jury still out, may replace with Little Lime.
    “Pinky Winky” (Hydrangea paniculata) My biggest and most consistent bloomer, every year since 2009. A monster!!! 🙂 Western exposure next to house.
    “Twist –n- Shout” (Hydrangea macrophylla) Great blue blooms every year since 2010 except last year. A keeper

  14. Even the old, old cultivars that have been around for years are not always a sure thing here in the humid south, zone 8b. An unusually cold winter will set them back. Sometimes one or two just get sick and die.

    Some years they are stunning and worth waiting around for. This was not the year.

  15. You completely leave out the lovely Hydrangea serrata lacecaps. They are incredibly hardy and will bloom on new wood. I dug out my old mopheads and replaced with serratas. I am especially enamored of “Tuff Stuff” and “Tiny Tuff Stuff” which have lived up to their names and have beautiful flowers. Woodlanders and Greyswood have also done well for me. They came through our epic Boston winter and are covered with blooms. (Of course, the panicle hydrangeas are also superb for sunnier spots.)

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Kate, I am copying this description of hydrangea serrata “Blue Billow” from the White Flower Farms website. ” ‘Blue Billow’ is a reliable bloomer through Zone 6, and adventurous gardeners in Zone 5, where flowering occurs 3 or 4 years out of 5 may also wish to give it a try.” In my zone we are usually a zone 5, but the past 2 winters have been more like zone 3 or 4. We also can have below freezing temperatures for short periods of time in the spring.
      And this further from the Missouri Botanical Garden on Hydrangea Preziosa: “‘Preziosa’ has better winter hardiness than many of the hydrangeas and is often rated as hardy to USDA Zone 5. However, it is best to grow it with winter protection (e.g., mulch and burlap wrap) in Zones 5 and 6A where plants could still lose significant numbers of flower buds or die to the ground in harsh winters, thus respectively impairing or totally destroying the bloom for the coming year.” The east coast seems to have a climate that is easier on hydrangeas than ours is. thanks for writing, Deborah

      • Anne Riordan says:

        Deborah, really enjoyed your post. Just returned from Cape Cod and the Hydrangea Conference 2015. Many experts attended including Dr Micheal Dirr who developed the Endless Summer series. Breeding for remondancy in Hydragea macrophylla is a big deal now. Two plants, Bloomstruck and Twist-n-Shout seem to have exceptional blooming power.
        As far as the serratas, they are Japanese mountain hydrangea. Their heritage gives them added protection. And of course the paniculatas bloom on new wood. So a haircut before blooming is a boon to their summer show. Even on The Cape, Martha-s Vineyard, and Nantucket gardeners must wrap their plants to protect the following years big show for tourist.

  16. Need to get in on this conversation.
    I’ve planted over 60 endless summer hydrangeas; in 4 different gardens, all zone 6, in full sunlight, in sunlight half day, in bright shade, in clay soil, sandy soil. They have been in the ground for over 4 years. None of them saw flowering on new wood except for a few sad blossoms during that time.
    I am convinced that endless summer is a marketing ploy/promise that was never capable of delivering. If anyone knows of someone coaxing an endless summer hydrangea to endlessly flower on new wood in a zone 6 please: tell me how they/you did it.
    Thanks
    HB

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Howard, do they flower on old wood for you? In my zone,I do not see them flowering very freely on old wood either. best, Deborah

      • Don’t have any old wood that survives the winter; endless summer should flower on new wood but according to my extensive experience has not. The only endless summer flowering I have experienced has been on old wood that made it thru the winter.

        • Deborah Silver says:

          Howard, I have a friend that buries his Endless Summer hydrangeas in oak leaves for the winter. He says he gets good flowering-on the old wood. best, Deborah

  17. In love with all the pictures of these beautiful colored ones, but alas here in zone 4 they wouldn’t stand a chance. I was at a nursery this morning and have quite fallen in love with Phantom hydrangea so I think that may be my next hydrangea purchase.

    I am experimenting with an oakleaf hydrangea (it is a zone 5 and warmer plant) so I would also be interested, like Sydney above, in what you would recommend for winter protection.

    Thanks for sharing!

  18. I have visited the local arboretum and noticed a plant labeled hydrangea paniculata Pee Wee. It is an older planting that is now about 10′ tall. It does not seem to have that same pale green color cast as Limelight. Lovely now in bloom with the large white cone shaped blossoms. Is there a more recent introduction that I should look for that is a white hydrangea paniculata with some size to it, maybe slightly smaller than Pee Wee?

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Charlie, the smaller version of Limelight is Little Lime- 4-5 feet tall. Or you can keep Lime Light at 6-7 feet tall pretty easily. best, Debnorah

      • I’m sorry to have not written my question more clearly.
        I’m looking for something with the Limelight form of dense blossom and cone shape and with the summer through fall flowering period. And one that is actually white and remains white through the bloom season. I’m just not a great fan of the pale green blossom. The several suspects I’ve found all seem to change from white to pink or red later in the season.

        • Deborah Silver says:

          Charley,every hydrangea flower that I know of changes color when the temperatures begin to drop. Oak leaf hydrangeas, and Pee Gees have white flowers, but I believe they pink up when it gets cold. best, Deborah

    • Michaele Anderson says:

      Charley, I have quite a few different varieties of paniculatas and one that blooms very white is called White Diamond. It holds its white color for a long time as opposed to some that take on a pink tinge pretty quickly. The leaves are a deep green and the stems are pretty sturdy.

  19. Sandra Durant says:

    I have had enormous success with Annabelles, but do use strategic supports when the heads get enormous later in the season. Nonetheless, I am in love with the limelight planting you have shown and would love to plant along my shoreline here in MA (full sun). Were the plants staggered? Planted in one line? How close together? This is definitely something I will have dug in either early fall or in the spring with a little more information. I am not a fan of waiting for years for sparsely planted areas to fill in on their own. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dandra, I plant them in straight rows, or blocks for more volume, 30-36″ on center. best. Deborah

  20. Paula Mills says:

    Hi, Deborah. Love your website. I live in Maine, on the coast, but not right on the water. I have a serious love for hydrangeas, any type! Of course, my best luck is with Annabelle, Invinceble Spirit and Lime Light. I have many Spirits but the first one I planted has got to be topping out at 7 feet tall and about 5 feet wide from one plant. It is beautiful and smells lovely. I loved it so much, I have planted another one on the other side of the steps and it is starting to catch up. As for the mophead hydrangeas, I also sigh when I think of them. I have so many planted around the house and this is the first year in five years that most of them have flowered. With the horrible winter we had, I am very surprised. However, the one with flowers all over it is one that I placed pine boughs over. I also do not ever prune any of my hydrangeas, especially Annabelles. I find the older branches help hold the other newer branches up!! I do enjoy your posts!!

  21. Mary Kay Weber says:

    Interesting comments about the Endless Summer cultivar..I’m not having much luck with it either. 3 small buds coming on a profusely stemmed bush. Prior to this posting I was considering a different fertilizing recipe, but perhaps it wouldn’t matter. I’ve had this plant about 5 years, and have had fewer blooms each year, and all on new wood. Disappointing to say the least. However, Limelight is a strong and lovely bloomer.

  22. Shanon Edwards says:

    I think those hydrangeas are actually Nicco Blue. They look like ones I’ve had for years. I bought them specifically to copy ones I saw in a magazine.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Shannon, I find it difficult to identify mop head hydrangea hybrids by sight. I only knew my one client had all summer beauty hydrangeas in the ground, as the tags were still attached. best, Deborah

  23. I love using the lace caps, especially in a shaded woodland setting where the mopheads seem just a bit over the top. They will sometimes, here in the NE, reseed as well, which is a wonderful surprise.

  24. Hi Deborah,
    Love your take on the Hydrangeas. Yes, every site seems to treat Hydrangeas differently and you need to know the site well. Light conditions, soil conditions and, above all, wind conditions.
    Here on Cape Cod, many of my clients live on or near the coast line or near a pond, both of which can and do supply a lot of wind.
    The latest, new hydrangea I am working with is Invincibelle Spirit, a new pink arborescens cultivar from PW. It was planted last fall, and after the winter we had, I decided to do minimal pruning to see how it would do. I know you can prune these to the ground ever spring, which is what I will try next, but i was a little disappointed in them. Some stems stayed up, some flopped and some branches just died. Some stems were thick, some thin…..
    They are a very pretty pink and one of the things I didn’t know about them, but was very pleasantly surprised to learn, is that they smell wonderful! I have not read this or heard about this from anyone, not even PW! Have you had any experience with pruning these?
    Thanks,

    Denise on Cape Cod

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Denise, Invincebelle Spirit is a cultivar of hydrangea arborescens. Like Annabelle. That means they bloom on new wood. I would prune them in the spring, once the new buds swell. How much to prune? You will have to experiment. best, Deborah

    • katie near chicago says:

      Adding my 2 cents: I’ve grown Invincibelle Spirit for three years now. I prune in March to the ground but still have very floppy stems, whereas my Annabelles (also pruned to the ground) have much stronger stems. I love the delicate pink flowers of the Invincibelle Spirit.

      I’ve also been growing ‘Incrediball’, which has huge mophead flowers and very strong stems. Love em!

      • Paula Mills says:

        Katie, try not pruning them next time and see how they do. I just cut the dried flower heads off in the spring and leave the rest. That may help you. I also have the Incrediball. They are unbelievable.

        • katie near chicago says:

          Thanks! I’ll try that next time — if the rabbits will leave them alone during the winter. (I think my hard pruning resulted mostly as an attempt to ‘correct’ the pruning done by Bugs!)

  25. Dear Deborah, Thanks for this helpful information and your beautiful pictures.

    You mentioned the need for winter protection for hydrangeas, and I’d greatly appreciate any advice you can give on how to provide it.

    In my north Michigan 5b garden overlooking Lake Michigan, the Blushing Brides were hard hit this past winter (and the also-brutal winter before). They are all green now, as you said. I’m hoping for better luck next year. Appreciate your help!
    Sydney

  26. Linda Gardner says:

    So true. I have Endless Summer hydrangea on the shady west side of our home. We have had very cold winters these last two years and again only one or two blooms per plant. I am seriously considering replacing them with little lime lights after seeing your posts.

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