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GardenSMART :: Obsession: Panicle Hydrangea

Obsession: Panicle hydrangea

By Kate Karam for Monrovia
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia

You gotta love a showy, flowering beauty that’s hardy to zone 3 (unlike its mophead, blue-flowered cousin H. macrophylla), looks its best in autumn when the rest of the garden starts to burn up, works in schemes from cottage to formal, adapts to full sun or part shade, some can be trained into a small tree or left as a big, blowsy shrub, is a romantic cut flower, and attracts butterflies.

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While panicle hydrangeas are often lumped generically as “Peegee” hydrangea, that’s not exactly correct—Peegee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora), though the most common variety of panicles, is actually just one of a myriad of exciting cultivars.

Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) can be tall and wide, or compact depending on the variety, which means there’s probably one for most situations. Most have large clusters of white flowers in summer that fade to shades of pink or red before drying to beige. If left to dry on the plant in fall, they’ll stay looking good all winter.

If the only hydrangeas you plant are blue, you’re missing out on one of the late summer garden’s true pleasures.

Here are three must-have varieties (and how to use them):

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Statement Hedge

Whether to separate a property, cover a fence, or line the back of the house, some panicle hydrangeas fill in quickly forming a dense, flowery hedge. Use tall, wide varieties such as Angel’s Blush® Hydrangea and Limelight Hardy Hydrangea and plant a bit closer (about 5 feet on center) to get a tight hedge. As these go dormant in winter, back with an evergreen if privacy is a priority.

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Anchor a Bed

It’s true that many hardy hydrangea including panicles can get very large but no worries–breeders have developed dwarf and more compact varieties that provide a strong vertical shape to mixed borders. Baby Lace® Hydrangea and Bobo® Hardy Hydrangea are just two that won’t overwhelm a border, and when all else fades in winter, the dried blossoms keep it interesting.

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Three Season Spectacle

Here’s where it really gets good. In early fall, blooms change from snowy-white to shades of pink and red, gradually fading to a soft creamy-hue. When the rest of the garden is kaput, panicle hydrangea adds a touch of Indian-summer color. Great choices include Quick Fire® Hardy Hydrangea and Pinky Winky™ Hardy Hydrangea.

Keeping Panicle Hydrangeas Happy

  • Light: Grow best in sun to partial shade. The ideal spot would be one that receives direct morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • Soil: Not as fussy about soil pH as some hydrangeas, but it must be fertile, well-fed, and slow to dry out. Amend with organic planting mix as needed when installing and add several inches of organic compost each spring.
  • Mulch: Add a 2-3 inch layer in spring to preserve precious moisture in summer.
  • Pruning: Blooms on new wood each year, so in late winter or early spring prune to encourage new growth. Larger varieties can be kept compact by pruning; this produces larger, if fewer, flowers.
  • Leave papery, faded flowers on stems in the garden for winter interest.

For more about panicle hydrangeas, other awesome plants and solutions to gardening problems plus many other exciting garden topics, visit our blog, growbeautifully.  To get sneak peeks and insider info on new plants, subscribe to Plant Savvy, our monthly newsletter.


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Photos and story by Monrovia Nursery Company

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