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Hydrangeas - Summer's Blue Light Special

Aug 29, 2007
Far and away my hands-down choice for the ornamental garden is the mop-head hydrangea. While I may be slightly biased, there is no denying their beauty and flexibility as a hedge, border or I like them as specimens. They handle center of attention with grace and ease. The Endless Summer variety in particular, a cultivar of the Hydrangea macrophylla carries large blooms on both old and new wood so removing spent blooms on new growth will encourage even more. You'll have a variety of color almost all season, long after other plants have finished their show for the year.

Variety Is The Spice

It's large, distinctive flowers can grow up to 8 inches in diameter and the color can actually be changed by adjusting your soil's pH. If your soil is acidic, you'll be rewarded with a beautiful shade of blue. If you have alkaline soil the blooms will be pink. By adding very small amounts of aluminum sulfate, elemental sulfur or iron sulfate to alkaline soil, you lower its pH making it more acidic and turning your flowers blue - shoot for a range of about 5.2 to 5.5. I'm partial to blue because it's such a rare color in the garden.

A word of caution! Be very careful adding soil amendments such as aluminum sulfate mentioned above. Adding too much or adding it too quickly can kill your plant, then you'll be the one with the blue's.

If you're a fan of pink and you have acidic soil, add some dolomitic lime. Applied several times a year, lime raises the soil's pH and you'll want a range of about 6.0 to 6.2. Soil testing kits are available in garden centers everywhere.

Stay Cool Baby!

Hydrangeas in general like morning sun but need protection from the hot, mid-day sun. An easterly facing location, maybe under a tree, is the best place for these show-offs. I wish I'd known that 3 years ago, before I planted (an re-planted) mine 3 times, finally finding a spot on the southeast side of my house. They're doing splendidly now. Unlike most varieties of macrophylla, they're more resistance to mildew so the extra shade shouldn't cause problems. Aside from evenly moist soil they have very few demands. They are what I call an "easy care" plant. Ron Popeil might say "Set if and forget it." I wouldn't go that far. If anything I tend to overcare for my plants. I'm a hands-on guy and forget that mother nature has it figured out already.

Not Just Another Southern Belle

Endless Summer is hardy to zone 4 so those of us as far north as the southern most parts of Canada can enjoy their beauty. You'll want to stop fertilizing after mid August though to start preparing the plant for winter. Encouraging new growth at the end of the year is a mistake as any new growth probably won't survive the winter. Your soil must be kept moist in the fall up until the weather is cold enough to freeze the ground but don't feed the plant. Do add mulch (I usually put 5 or 6 inches of leaves, lawn waste etc. at the end of November), you'll want to insulate it from harsh winds and ensure the plant stays dormant even if there's a warm spell during the winter months.

Once the snow melts and the ground thaws in spring, uncover the plant, making sure to clear out near the base where leaves or grass may have gotten tangled. It's important to let the air and sunlight get in. It may take a while, you may even think the plant has died. I was sure I'd killed my Nikko Blue Hydrangeas the first year. For the longest time they just sat there looking a lot like dead sticks. Once the days got warmer though the growth began slowly, down at the base. A leaf here, a small branch there... I thought it was weeds. Thank god I didn't pull them!

Just In Case

Propagation of the Endless Summer Hydrangea is prohibited without a license, but nobody's going to blame you from wanting to protect your investment by growing a second plant for insurance. By taking short stem cuttings in the summer and placing them in a mixture of peat moss and sterile sand (play sand found at garden centers is fine), you can easily root a second plant in case your original doesn't survive the winter.

Not That You'd Be Tempted But...

On a side note, if you have dogs like mine (they're puppies, they eat EVERYTHING), Hydrangeas are toxic. The plant contains cyanogenic glycosides. If Fido chews on any part of the plant, Hydrogen cyanide is released and can make for a very sick dog - or worse.

Fresh-Cut, Ready For The Table

Hydrangeas make wonderful dried flower arrangements. The color they bring to your garden can be brought into your home. You'll want to wait and not cut the newly blossomed stems though. The best results come from the blooms that have already started to dry on the stem, once the petals have started to dry and feel papery to the touch. Cut them, strip the leaves, stick them in a vase and bring them into the house. You don't even need to put them in water. You can get more elaborate and use special materials to dry fresher blossoms and retain even more color. Silica Gel can be dusted onto the flower and left to dry for 4 or 5 days. After 5 days, take the flower out shake off the excess silica gel onto a newspaper and save it for another flower. I've even heard of people using kitty litter as a less expensive alternative to the silica gel.

While there are other equally beautiful plants available for your garden, the Hydrangea brings a versatility that few other plants can claim. Their long-lasting blooms in Pinks and blues stand proud long after most others have called it a day. They ask little and reward well.
About the Author
Ron Berry is a freelance journalist who writes for Essay Street - http://essaystreet.com - Home of the No~Label RSS Feed
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