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On Gardening: Hydrangeas wow with beauty, ruggedness

August 4, 2014

Lime hydrangea and the old fashioned crocosmia make for an extraordinary orange and white partnership.

Limelight hydrangea turned the gardening world upside down just a few short years ago as gardeners everywhere became introduced to the panicle hydrangea. Limelight is still in the top five, and is but a trip to the garden center will shock you with all of the other Hydrangea paniculata choices. Just a few steps outside my office at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens I find not only Limelight but Little Lime, Strawberry Vanilla and Baby Lace. How could they all be so beautiful, and yet have such a rugged persevering nature?

Here in Savannah, Ga., the weather has been pretty tough as of late with absolute staggering heat and humidity. Yet out in the garden in full sun, they have been there with glistening white blossoms for weeks with more on the way. If you are a hydrangea lover and lament when they quit blooming for the year, then these are your season extenders yielding blooms from midsummer through fall. They are not the least bit finicky and just about everyone in the country can revel in their beauty as they are cold hardy from zones 3-9.

The Hydrangea paniculata or panicle varieties are different than the mophead or French hydrangea, the leaves are smaller, and the quantity of flowers is incredible. The flowers may be 6- to 15-inches long and most held upright on the plant. You now have choices in the size of your shrubs from the diminutive Little Lime to my favorite large selection called Phantom with its10 foot plus potential.

Many of the paniculata selections tout flowers that age to pink or even red shades as the blooms age or mature, Strawberry Vanilla and Pinky Winky are just a couple of those getting rave reviews. In the Deep South most of us just experience white with an occasional hint of pink, but that that is fine; the white flowers are glorious.

In 2008, the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers named Limelight the Fresh Cut Flower of the Year. Indeed you could not ask for a more exquisite flower for a summer wedding. But whether you choose Limelight or one of the other varieties, they are all great for cutting and drying as well.

Ideal growing conditions are fertile, well-drained soil with morning sun and afternoon shade. In the landscape, plant it among other shrubs 72 to 80 inches apart in odd-numbered clusters for a terrific, eye-catching display. At our gardens, we are growing about a half-dozen varieties in a number of combinations, but the orange and white partnership of Limelight and the old fashioned crocosmia this year was extraordinary. They scream to be combined with shrub roses, buddleia or vitex.

To plant your hydrangea, dig the hole two to three times as wide as the rootball but no deeper so you can plant it at the same depth it is growing in the container. Apply a good layer of mulch to conserve moisture. Once established, youíll find your panicle selection is less dependent on water than its big-leafed cousins.

Soil pH does not affect the color of the flowers like it does with the blue or pink big-leafed hydrangeas. Any flowers left on the plant do provide winter texture and interest. Limelight and the other panicle varieties blooms on new wood, so prune in late fall or early spring. A medium pruning that removes one-third to one-half the plant size gives a better structure for large blossoms and the new season ahead. Feed your hydrangea in early spring as new growth resumes.

From North to South everyone loves hydrangeas, and now with dozens of panicle varieties there is no reason your garden canít show out until frost and the vase on the dining table always stunning.

 

 

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services