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There are some flowering plants that seem to have been around forever. Plants such as roses, lilacs, lilies, petunias, peonies, snapdragons and hydrangea stand out for me the most. It is the hydrangea that always puts me in awe with its enormous heads of creamy white flowers that seem to bloom in either shade or sun. Just like the lilacs when these plants are in bloom, they take notice in the garden and become quite the focal point. I think the element that causes the most attention would be the large heads of flowers that are beginning to bloom during this time of year. Some heads are the size of a softball, while others can reach the size of a basketball. All are quite incredible to look at and appear to be so fragile, but they are quite durable. Hydrangeas prefer 4 to 6 hours of daylight and like to be shaded during the hot hours of mid to late afternoon. They enjoy organic, moist, well-drained soils that are high in composted peat. They also like a periodic application of an acid-based fertilizer to keep them vigorous and healthy. If a hydrangea is left in a hot and dry environment, it will eventually become stressed and not perform well for the gardener. Planting your hydrangea in the landscape is best done when the plant is in its dormancy of early spring or late fall. If they are planted in the middle of summer when it is hot, they will need constant attention and water to establish themselves in your garden.
Depending on the variety, hydrangeas can grow anywhere from 2 to 6 feet in height and nearly as wide. They have larger elliptical-shaped leaves in shades of dark green to a chartreuse lime color. Most of the varieties in our area come in white and green shades. They either have mop head blooms that are round and full or conical blooms, which are the paniculata varieties. The other type, called lacehead hydrangea, are typically not hardy for our region. The most common of the white varieties are the ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Snowhill’ mop-head strains. Newer varieties over the past 10 years have also hit the market. With the push for pink and blue varieties for our area, there are now some strains that are proven for the area. I still am hesitant of the series that includes the ‘Endless Summer’, ‘Blushing Brides’ and ‘Twist and Shout’ varieties that can be in either pink, lavender or blue depending on the soil pH in which they are growing. The past has shown that unless these varieties are grown in the most optimum locations, they tend to suffer and never grow with any vigor. We must not become discouraged by these new strains, however, as time goes on hardier and more vigorous strains continue to be developed. New pink varieties such as ‘Pinky Winky’, Pink Diamond’, Vanilla Strawberry’, Quick Fire', and Invincibelle’ have proven to be much more hardy in our zone and bloom in either a light or deep shade of pink. They are definitely worth a try if looking for a hydrangea with some color. Blue varieties are difficult to come by in our area, as they need highly acidic soils to obtain that type of coloring. The newer white varieties developed are the ‘Incrediball’, which produces enormous 12-inch blooms, the smaller, greenish blooms of the ‘Limelight’, and the conical-shaped flowers of the creamy white ‘Little Lamb’ hydrangeas. All varieties are quite impressive in the garden setting.
Not only do the flowers look great in the garden, they are also frequently used in fresh floral arrangements, wedding bouquets and for drying. When cutting for a vase the key is to always keep the stems in water after they are cut. Hydrangeas produce a sap that seals the cut quickly, so they can tend to wilt if they are out of water for very long. To prevent wilting, first dip the cut stem in some alum (kitchen spice) and then place it into the vase of water. This typically keeps your hydrangea blooms from wilting within a few hours. Many people enjoy drying the blooms for indoor or outdoor arrangements and decorations. The best way to keep their shape is to allow the blooms to dry on the plant before cutting them. If you cut them in full bloom, they tend to lose their shape and become discolored. If cutting fresh flowers, try drying them in a borox or silica solution. They also look great in decorating for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so don’t let the seed heads go to waste. Regardless of your reason for growing this great plant, you can see that it has many great uses both while it is in bloom or after the flowers are spent. It is not a plant to be absent from your landscape if you have the space for it. Some of the hydrangeas in our area are now are already beginning to bloom. Although they do not contain much of a scent, their massive blooms more than make up for it. You won't have trouble seeking them out as they nearly glow in the evening with their vibrancy. To read more columns written by John Zvirovski, click here.
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