Heavenly Hydrangeas

What is it about hydrangeas that makes them such a magnet for gardeners?  No doubt they are one of the showiest shrubs hardy in my zone.  They are fairly easy to care for, providing you stay away from marginally hardy varieties.  They grow fast, have big, clean, and very green foliage.  The massive flower heads speak to summer.  What could be better?  The plant hybridizing industry has focused on producing more reliably blooming “other than white” hydrangeas for the nursery trade geared to produce in cooler climates.  This “All Summer Beauty” hydrangea is more reliably blooming than its predecessors.   

The Annabelle hydrangea has been the mainstay of the summer shrub garden as long as I can remember, though I no longer plant it. Weak stems and overly large flower heads make the shrub a challenge to keep off the ground.  Given heavy rains and mid summer stormy weather, you are likely to wake up with those flowering spheres face down in the mud.  Should you have them, cage or otherwise securely stake at least 40″ tall out of the ground-in the spring.  Othereise, you will be chasing some stop the flopping solution that looks awkward and unnatural.   

This garden no doubt is the one place for 100 miles perfectly suited for Nikko Blue hydrangeas.  Once out of the nursery pot, and in the ground, they are generally known to be stingy with the flowers.  Blue hydrangeas-what midwestern gardener does not long for this plant to perform for them?  I am sure many more get sold, than deliver and please.  As no one grows hydrangeas for their shape and foliage, choose a cultivar known to reliably produce flowers in abundance in your zone. 

Flowers in abundance-perhaps this is what makes hydrangeas so attractive in a landscape.  I favor the Dutch hybrid-known as Limelight.  They are sturdy growers-there is never any need for staking.  Their hydrangea paniculata parentage is responsible for the cone shaped flowers that open green, mature white, and pink with age. The straight species hydrangea paniculata is a very wide and very tall grower.  The flowers are many, but modest, open and subtle in appearance. A hedge of panuiculata 8 feet wide by 40 feet long might make a show.  Limelight produces densely showy flower heads from a vigorous and adaptable shrub-the best of all worlds, should you be talking hydrangeas. 

Densely blooming and showy-see what I mean?  They do not ask for much-this part I am especially fond of.  They handle full sun, given sufficient water, with aplomb.  They will willingly survive part shade, and bloom better than most hydrangeas starved for sun. They grow fast.  They are fine with a serious spring pruning.  I have Limelights I prune down to within 14″ of grade-where it is my idea to keep them in the 4′-5′ tall range.   

Given a space of sufficient size, a hedge of hydrangeas provide no end of a robust visual reference to summer, lots of flowers for bouquets, screening, material for dried arrangements.  What garden shrub do you know of that delivers on this scale, and to this extent?   

Should you be thinking you might plant some limelights, I would make the following suggestions.  Locate them in as much sun as you can muster.  Do not space them any closer than 30″ on center-36″-42″ on center will fill in in no time.  They like regular moisture.  Whatever you have done to enrich your soil with compost, the hydrangeas will appreciate.  Given how fast they grow, a 3 gallon plant will catch up to a five gallon plant in no time at all.  If you plant smaller plants, be sure they get regular water to the rootball.  Potted hydrangeas become rootbound in the blink of an eye.  Lacking the water they need, the foliage will burn and drop-this is not a good look.

My landscape features 2 large blocks of Limelight hydrangeas-25 plants in each block. They are about 7 feet tall, and just coming into bloom.  In full bloom, they are glorious. In late bloom, they are beautifully moody-green, white, and white speckled with rose pink.  The show goes on for a number of months.  The limelights are just now coming on-I am ready.


  1. Thanks for this great and informative post! Last year I planted three little lamb hydrangeas and I am so disappointed…I’m going to have to support them. I love my limelights for all the reasons you listed. Lisa

  2. Perfect timing—I just bought two Limelights and love them. Repotted them and will plant them in the fall.

    Deborah, I love your blog. The recent post about making changes over time gave me an inspirational boost. Thank you for your generosity in sharing so much of your experience and all the great photos!

  3. Thanks for the post on Limelight Hydrangeas. Sadly, none of the nursery catalogs that I read have been that informative.

  4. I have a question on the above picture that has the “hedge” of Limelights. Are they on a raised bed, if so how high and how wide?

    Secondly in terms of pruning I know you advocate down to 14” to yield 4-5′ in height come summer. Whats your methodology or specifically how do you shape in terms of pruning. I have read to shape them like an “egg”. Can you speak to the technique you use?

    Lastly do you ever use fencing to stake them? I would like to incorporate some hosta and like the idea of the hosta “peaking” out at ground level. Ideas?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Matt, none of the Limelights in the posts are in raised beds. They do not need staking of any kind-they stand up on their own. I do not advocate pruning to 14″. The Limelights will tolerate and perform ok if they are cut to that height.
      I prune mine down to 30″ in the spring, as I like mine tall. Prune how you would imagine cutting a shag haircut-short on the top, longer on the sides. The bottom branches should be allowed to grown long, so you have flowers at ground level. If you underplant them with hostas, then the hedge will still be full at the bottom. I recommend a hosta with leaves bigger than the hydrangea leaves-like Sum and Substance, or Blue Moon. Deborah

  5. Thanks for the details Deborah. Can you clarify on the pruning as above in the blog post you stated “I have Limelights I prune down to within 14″ of grade-where it is my idea to keep them in the 4′-5′ tall range”

    What height do you get if you prune down to 30”

    Lastly what type of fertilizer and schedule would you recommend. Monthly and specific recommendations? I’m a fan of Espoma products but I’m sure any brand would suffice

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Matt, I get 7 feet tall, when I prune down to 30 inches. I like Hollytone-for just about everything. I fertilize when I see a need. I feed and water by instinct. Deborah

  6. Thank you so much for this post. I was wondering if you have any photos of what the hedge of limelights looks like in winter? I am thinking of adding them, but am curious what they look like once the leaves fall and you have pruned them down. Thanks!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Kristy, I leave mine tall, with the flowers on them, until spring. I prune them down in spring only. Deborah

  7. I have 3 spireas in the front corner of my house, they are planted 3-3 1/2 feet apart. I don’t really like the looks of these at all. I bought the limelight hydrangea because they are beautiful! Would you recommend just replacing 2 of the spireas with 2 limelight hydrangeas or replacing all 3 spireas with 2 limelight hydrangeas since they get so large fast and will need more room? The ones I bought are 2 galloon buckets, will they fill it pretty fast by next year? I wish I could post a picture of what my corner currently looks like.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jessie, the little lime hydrangea is exactly like limelight-only it grows smaller. It tops out at 5 feet. I would replace 3 spireas with 3 Little Lime hydrangeas.

  8. Sorry posted before I finished since I already bought them would they still work?

  9. Thank you Deborah for all the info. I just tore out all my hydrangeas as they haven’t bloomed in 2 years. Cincinnati has these warm spells in spring then we get a hard freeze and the new buds zap. Off to buy Limelights. Wish me luck.

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