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GardenSMART :: 10 Things Hydrangea Lovers Should Know

10 Things Hydrangea Lovers Should Know

By Kate Karam, Monrovia
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia

You love them. You really love them. So get to know these blooming beauties a bit better with a few fun facts.

1. They have a storied history.

They grow just about everywhere! Native to southern and eastern Asia (from Japan to China, the Himalaya and Indonesia) and North and South America, hydrangeas were first discovered growing wild in marshes. The mophead hydrangea was hidden in the secret gardens of Japan for hundreds of years before it was discovered in 1776 by Swedish botanist Carl Peter Thunberg.

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2. Just six species are commonly grown in American gardens.

Bigleaf (Hydrangea macrophylla

  • Hardy to zone 5.
  • Bloom in summer.
  • Bloom on old wood; prune after flowering; protect in winter.

Panicle (Hydrangea paniculata)

  • Most cold hardy hydrangea (zone 3).
  • Bloom mid-to-late summer.
  • Bloom on new wood: prune in late winter/early spring.

Smooth ('Annabelle') (Hydrangea arborescens

  • Hardy to zone 3.
  • Bloom in summer.
  • Bloom on new wood: prune in late winter/early spring.

Climbing (Hydrangea petiolaris)

  • Hardy to zone 5.
  • Bloom in summer
  • Bloom on old wood; prune in summer after flowering.

Mountain (Hydrangea serrata)

  • Hardy to zone 5.
  • Bloom in summer.
  • Bloom on old wood: prune after flowering.

Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia)

  • Hardy to zone 5.
  • Bloom in summer.
  • Bloom on old wood: prune after flowering, protect in winter.

While answers about the number of species of the genus Hydrangea vary–somewhere between 25 and 100–one thing's clear: In North America we're addicted to these six which are the most beloved and most commonly grown.

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3. What's in a name?

Call them what you will–mophead, French, bigleaf, florist, garden, lacecap, hortensia–they're all Hydrangea macrophylla, American's favorite type of hydrangea. Speaking of names, "hydrangea" stems from two Greek roots, 'hydro' meaning water and 'angeion' meaning vessel. Together, the rough translation is "water vessel," which refers to hydrangeas' thirst for water. (Above is Blue Enchantress® Hydrangea. Check out those black stems!)

4. Some are hardy to -40 degrees F.

While the majority of hydrangeas do their best work in zones 5 to 9, there are quite a few that are perfectly happy in zones 3 and 4. See, there's a hydrangea for just about every garden! (The billowy wonder in the first photo is Seaside Serenade® Bar Harbor Hydrangea).

5. They range in height from 2' tall to 80' high.

Which means from pots to plots to walls, there's a perfect one.

6. Blue to pink, pink to blue, but...

No matter how much you try to change the soil pH, white flowering varieties will always stay white.

7. Pruning is not as complicated as you may think.

Here you go:

  • Prune summer bloomers in late winter.
  • Prune spring bloomers right after flowering.
  • Determine type of hydrangea (see above) before pruning to get timing right.
  • Stray or broken branches can be trimmed back any time.

(More? Read me.)

8. Some can tolerate full shade.

There are hydrangeas for full sun and others for part day sun, but few that bloom with abandon in FULL SHADE. This is Plum Passion® Hydrangea (Hydrangea aspera), all purple leaves and wispy flowers. Hewing back to hydrangea's history of random discovery, it was found in China by plant explorer Dan Hinkley.

9. They're flush with meaning.

As you would expect, anything this magical must have special meaning, right? No surprise, it's the fourth anniversary flower.

10. Only a few are fragrant.

Some say they find hydrangea fragrant, others, not so much. But, about Golden Crane® Hydrangea (Hydrangea angustipetala 'MonLongShou') there is no debate. This rare and precocious shrub, with large lace caps of white and chartreuse not only blooms in late spring – among the earliest of all hydrangeas to bloom – but is sweetly scented, a trait very rare in this genus. The jasmine-like scent will perfume an entire garden!

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3 hydrangeas we love:

Seaside Serenade® Fire Island Hydrangea (above)

A parade of color with long-lasting, bi-color blooms that are white, edged in rich rosy red, and mature to deep pink. Partial shade to filtered sun. 3-1/2′ tall and 3′ wide. Zone: 4 – 9

Seaside Serenade® Cape Cod Hydrangea

A hardy, repeat blooming machine with big, mophead flowers, extra-dark green leaves, and a neat, mounded form. Partial shade to partial sun. Up to 4′ tall and wide. Zone: 4 – 9

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Seaside Serenade® Hamptons Hydrangea (above)

Huge, ball-shaped blooms with thick, intense pink florets on amazingly tough stems. Partial shade to partial sun. Up to 3-1/2′ tall and 3′ wide. Zone: 4 – 9


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