hydrangeas and boltoniaNo discussion of a summer landscape in the mid west is complete without a a discussion about hydrangeas. Simply said, a hydrangea is a large leaved blowsy shrub noted for its spectacularly showy flowers. I should preface my remarks about hydrangeas with my point of view about shrubs in general. I am keen for any shrub that can endow a landscape. I find that shrubs perform year after year, with a minimum of maintenance. Some medium sized shrubs-as in spirea-not only tolerate being cut to the ground in the spring, they spring back and bloom without missing a beat. Other shrubs not only tolerate uninformed pruning, they thrive in spite of it. New cultivars of dwarf shrubs-I am thinking dwarf butterfly bush – amiably adapt to small gardens. Big shrubs can screen an untoward view.  Shrubs have a decently long life span. They ask little, and provide a lot.

limelight hydrangeas They bridge the gap between the perennials that are below eye level, and the trees that are above eye level.  A yearly pruning takes the place of the long list of care requirements that perennials require. Shrubs do take a lot of room, so if you garden is small, be discriminating in your choices. Hydrangeas are as friendly to a perennial garden as they are to a stand of trees. They can add weight to a garden. Lime Light hydrangeas sport greenish white cone shaped flowers that can back up a perennial garden. They have a long season of bloom.  Their twigs are sturdily upright.

hydrangea Annabelle (2)The hydrangea Annabelle has been in bloom since June in my zone.  This is a stellar year for them.  Everywhere I see them, they are standing up fairly straight, and loaded with blooms.  I have never been a big fan of the Annabelles. Their tendency to flop over demands careful staking way in advance of the growing and flowering. What a nuisance.  This year, all those giant white blooms look great wherever I see them.  Staked, and not staked.  In sun, and in shade.  I suspect our heavy and regular rain has been really good for them.

the landscape in July (2)I planted 3 rows of annabelles and 2 rows of Lime lights in this garden this spring-so the hydrangea bloom time will be long.  5 rows of hydrangeas is an embarrassment of riches in hydrangeas.  The Annabelles, to the left, gracefully drooping over a rustic boulder wall, start blooming in June. The taller and more vertical growing back stop of Lime light hydrangeas begin to bloom in late July. This garden is at least 150 feet from a rear terrace.  All of that white will read well from a distance. Unseen in this picture-a perennial garden with a lavish white coat of hydrangeas backing it up.

hydrangea gardenI placed the 3 rows of Annabelle hydrangeas just behind this rock wall.  Their inclination to droop will soften this wall. They will provide a graceful and warm backdrop to the perennials in front of the wall. The Limelights in the rear were invisible when they were planted.  But by next year they will provide another taller layer of white to the perennial garden.

hydrangeas needing waterHydrangeas do not like dry soil. These Annabelles are in sore need of water. They may flower, but the flowers will burn without regular irrigation.  If your hydrangeas have leaves that are turning yellow and dropping on the interior, get out the hose and soak them.

hydrangea BoboI also grow Little Lime hydrangeas, which top out at 4-5 feet, and the shortest of the Limelight series-Bobo.  At 30 inches tall, they are perfect for a small garden. Or for a foreground garden that needs to be low. They are a good choice for those moments in the landscape that asks for a plant that is short and wide. This hydrangea takes to perennial neighbors like a duck to water. The white flowers highlight and set off all of the other colors in a garden.

limelights 2013 (7)I prune my Lime lights in April.  I wait until I see the buds swelling.  I usually prune my 50 plants back to 30″ tall – give or take. Every other year. I do not prune them down near the ground. Really hard pruning results in fewer, and bigger flowers. I am not interested in bigger flowers. I like lots of medium sized flowers. I like my Lime Lights at home very tall-they are faced down by an old hedge of Hicks yews.  Some years I snip the old flower heads off, and leave them be.  Light pruning means you will get long woody legs. The following year, I may take them down to 30″  My yews cover those old legs.  If your hydrangeas are front and center, take them down closer to 30″. Irregularly.  Prune each branch individually, so every branch has its own air and light space. You can prune down to 14″ above ground-if you dare.  Do not go lower than this.  Forcing growth from below ground is hard on a shrub.

August 28 2013 (8)I have had a lot of questions regarding the proper spacing of Lime Light hydrangeas. I would say there is no proper, or right spacing. The spacing chosen has to do with the design intent. I space them at 30″or 36″ on center, if my intent is to create a dense and homogeneous hedge. Close spacing means that the entire length and width of the hedge grows and prospers as one organism.  The individual plants intertwine, and become one. I have never seen a hydrangea hedge that resented this spacing.  A spacing at 6 feet is an option.  But this row will never read as a hedge.  It will read as thick and thin. Wavy. I have had clients space them at 6 feet one year, and add an intervening plant the next year.

September 19 2014 (64)Hedging hydrangeas make a very strong statement.  A lone hydrangea as a foundation planting always looks alone, and gawky.  Great landscapes gracefully integrate individual plants in service of a greater whole. I like to mass hydrangeas. A showy shrub such as this-plant lots of them. Build your gardens around them. Be generous.

hydrangeas in SeptemberIn late September, the Lime Light blooms will begin to pink up. This color is a sign that the season is coming to a close.

Oct 17 2011 001In October, the pink deepens.  This view out from my rose garden is a view I treasure from  July through October.  The dry flower heads stay put all winter long. The list of plants that do well in my zone is long, and varied.  The delight this shrub furnishes to me is very long and varied.  I would not do without them – the hydrangeas.





  1. An lovely ode to Hydrangeas! Such great information for the rest of us. You grow and use hydrangeas expertly and understand all their habits. A pleasure to read!

  2. Should I be feeding my hydrangeas? What and when?

  3. I love hydrangeas, and have many you listed, in addition to many Oak Leaf Hydrangeas. I love, love them. They tolerate the heat, have huge blooms that change color, and in the fall, the leaves turn a bright crimson red. Do they do well your way?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Oakleaf hydrangeas do quite well here, Charisse. I have one in my yard that is 9 feet tall. They are incredibly shade tolerant, as well. best, Deborah

  4. debra phillips says

    agree agree!!
    i will say that i am enjoying the attributes of the incrediballs. your thought deborah?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Debra, I have never grown the Incrediballs. But the people I know who do like them. best, Deborah

  5. Deborah, I think you know you made a believer out of me…and I am thanking you for it every time I look at all my Limelights and Little Limes. Thanks for all you do.

  6. It is because of you that I now have a lovely Limelight hedge! I planted them last fall 30″ apart.
    They are already showy and are about 4 feet tall. I planted them in front of my tall arched dining room window. The hedge is also an arch and repeats the shape of the window. When we are seated we can already see their beautiful heads peaking up from below. Hopefully when they are fully mature we will see the flower heads form a “hedge” in the dining room. I do have a problem though. When it rains the huge flowers become water logged and cause the branches to droop alarmingly. Many of their faces have had a bit if of a mud facial. I’ve gone out to gently shake them
    and they have sprung back a little but not to form. We have dry spells and rainy spells here in the Piedmont region of central Virginia. I keep them hydrated during the dry spells. I give each plant about 2 gallons every other day. Our native soil is red and gray clay and very acidic. The garden has been amended with organic compost and clay breaker. They were thriving but now the poor shrubs look droopy and rain beaten. I have purchased five 3 gallon and two 5 gallon Korean Buxus to plant in front of my five hydrangeas. Hopefully this will help support them in years to come. But I’m a little tentative about how close to plant them to our adolescent flowers. Do you ever stake your hydrangeas? Would you kindly advise me?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Yolie, look up staking hydrangeas on your computer. I am sure you will find lots of ideas. best, Deborah

  7. How much sun do limelight hydrangeas need? I would like to plant them along the east side of my house but it only gets a few hours of early morning sun. Thank you for your time.
    I love your blog.

  8. OH! I adore them too!

    However……they are breaking my heart throughout this drought! I hope they survive at all!!!

    I am a hydrangea fan in Santa Barbara! SOB!!!!

  9. anonymouse says

    I’m not a fan of hydrangeas, though (perhaps because?) they’re ubiquitous here in coastal New England. The shrubs seem so stiff and their flowers so blob-like. I am trying to learn to appreciate the oakleaf ones for their fall leaf color.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear A, I agree with what you say about hydrangeas.That is why I feel the design aspect of planting them is so important. Deborah

  10. I have several Quick Fire Hydrangeas and just love the long lasting blooms – white to darker rose color. I keep them to around 5′ on south and west side of house. No problem with drooping and do normal watering. Thanks for all your info on hydraneas.

  11. Since they love/need water, would they survive around the edges of a rain garden?

  12. Thanks for the very informative post, Deborah. I especially enjoyed seeing the pictures of your Lime Light hydrangeas at different times of the year with their blooms showing different colors. You are so right about masses of hydrangeas having greater impact. I have a grouping of three tall Pinky Winky hydrangeas and they put on quite a show from August through November as their blooms change from white to pink.

  13. Deborah,
    I love your gardening blog. My bird’s nest spruce died over the winter and I am thinking of replacing them with green velvet boxwoods and limelight hydraganeas. My front garden faces east and gets considerable sun. Do you think this is a good combination, or would you recommend another combination?

  14. Bruce Bailey says


    Have always appreciated that I can come to your blog and learn something.

    Thank you,


  15. Tom Krauska says

    How wide do you find your Lime Light Hedge to grow?
    I notice they are growing into the walk way.
    I’m putting in a hedge this spring next to a street and don’t want them growing into the street.
    I will take your advice and plant them at 33 inches. You say 30 to 36″

    Have you noticed pollinators on the blooms?
    I have one PeeGee hydrangea which attracts loads of pollinators during the summer.

    Thanks for your help.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Tom, I would plant your hedge 4′ off the sidewalk. No need to crowd that walk.I have not notices any pollinators on the blooms of Limelight hydrangeas. But I go to work at the crack of dawn and come home late.I am not a good person to ask about pollinators visiting hydrangeas. all the best, Deborah

  16. Gretchen says

    Hi There Deborah,

    I love reading an article written by someone who loves Hdrangeas as much as me. I am absolutely infatuated wth them! :). I am planning a very large hedge of Incrediball Hydrangeas and am wondering about spacing? I read that you recommend 30″-36″ for the Limelights. I certainly want a homogenous hedge so I plan to plant close, I just want to do it right.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Gretchen, I have never grown Incrediball hydrangeas, so I do not know their eventual size. For a dense hedge, plant them a foot closer than their eventual size. Crowd them-a little. best, Deborah

  17. Stephanie says

    I am about to plant 8 Bobo Hydrangeas and nervous to start digging when I’m not entirely confident in the spacing. I hope to create a hedge, I was going to plant them at 36”. The flower bed wraps around a small deck in a “L” shape 7’ x 14’ long and 4’ wide in front of a 24” high deck. Two questions is that spacing ok, or would you plant them closer. And if I have 4 feet would you plant them in the centre or plant another species in front of the bobos?

  18. I live in Ireland where hydrangeas grow huge! I’m not really a fan of white ones, because I just love all the pinks and purples we get over here. I have a huge purple lacecap just outside the cottage that we can see from our kitchen window. And we have 11 mopheads scattered around the grounds as well. I love the idea of a hydrangea hedge!

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