Hydrangeas are a group of herbaceous, perennial shrubs with over 75 species and 600 named cultivars that are native to a wide range of regions and countries, including Japan, Asia, Indonesia, Himalayan mountains, and the Americas. Another common name for hydrangea is hortensia. Hydrangeas can grow as climbing vines and trees, but are most commonly grown as a shrub. The plants can grow from a foot tall, up to the climbers which can cover over 50ft tall.
The beautiful flowers produced by this plant is what makes these so popular and one of my favourites. They can flower from early Spring but most will start to flower in mid to late June through to the Autumn. The large flowers come in a variety of shapes, colours, and sizes, their blooms can be pink, blue, red, white, purple and green and they like partial shade through to full sun, although the climber doesn’t mind a shaded north facing wall.
If you, like me remember hydrangeas from childhood memories it can evoke strong a very romantic vision in the garden and we are falling in love with them all over again with an even wider selection of different hydrangea varieties our grandmothers never even dreamed of. Some of the newer hydrangeas grow in colder climates, some are so small they will fit into the perennial border, and others have amazingly large blooms and deep colours.
Hydrangeas will thrive in most soil types. However, the pH of the soil will change the colour of the flowers of some of the varieties especially the mopheads. Some plants that usually offer pink flowers will appear blue if the soil is acidic. You can change the colour to blue by feeding with a fertiliser low in phosphorous and high in potassium. Alternatively, you can grow your plant in an ericaceous compost in a pot to keep it blue.
To change a plant from blue to pink is trickier. You will need to raise the pH by adding lime. It’s quite common for a plant to produce a few different coloured flowers on one plant in the first year of growth. Few gardeners concern themselves with trying to change the flower colour – but it is interesting to know why plants may vary and how to keep your favourite plants the colours that you wish, should you wish.
Which Hydrangea to pick for the position
A moist, well-drained soil in a position of dappled shaded is ideal. Avoid south-facing positions, especially if the soil if very dry. For a north-facing wall, grow the reliable climber Hydrangea Pietiolaris. If you want to grow your Hydrangeas into more of a hedge like effect then some of the larger flowering mophead varieties like Hydrangea Annabelle work better.
The name hydrangea comes from the Greek words “hydor” meaning water and “angos” meaning vessel which roughly translate to water barrel. This is due to the fact that hydrangeas are notorious for needing lots of water. The name, Hortensia, is a Latin version of the French word Hortense. My memories of Hydrangeas are not from my grandmothers garden, mine lived in the North of England in a row of terraces (yes very akin to Coronation St) with only a cobbled yard and a couple of pots. We did however spend many a holiday in Brittany and down the West coast of France and there was where my love of hydrangeas started.
Their are many customs from around the world surrounding Hydrangeas
In Japan – According to a Japanese legend, the emperor gave hydrangeas to the family of a girl he loved to show how much he cared for her.
In the Victorian era, hydrangeas represent boastfulness, bragging and vanity. Especially white hydrangeas.
United States – Hydrangeas are used for 4th wedding anniversaries beats wood or paper!
My love of Hydrangeas continues and my own garden has a good selection of different ones, although I love the traditional mopeds I am finding the paniculata (cone head) varieties easier to grow and in my own garden I don’t often get the time to treat them quite as they should especially on busy years like this one. I have a climbing Hydrangea on a wall near my front door. I have a row of mixed Hydrangeas which I planted because I couldn’t decide which one I love the most, it includes the trusty and very stylish Annabelle, Sundae Fraise with its confectionary like pink into white reminding me of a Squashy!! It also has the wonderful blue Ayesha, the cool green-white of Limelight and to top it all off one which was I think is just stunning, probably doesn’t go with the rest quite so well but I adore it too much to leave out the Merveille Sanguine with its purple tinged leaves and dark Merlot blooms. Its smaller than the others and a little less reliable but worth all that.
Looking after Your Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas are very easy to grow and there are few pests and diseases that hinder them. Container-grown specimens may be prone to vine weevil attack and some plants will be damaged by frost. To avoid frost damage, leave the faded flowerheads on the plant and prune at the correct time. As there’s such a wide range of hydrangeas, it’s important to note that one pruning technique does not suit all. Climbing types are pruned in summer after flowering. Others are best pruned in spring or late autumn.
The faded blooms of hydrangeas are attractive in the winter months. Ideally, leave them on the plant over winter as on some types this protects the plant from frost damage.
When pruning mophead types it’s vital that you don’t deadhead below the top set of plump buds that are forming under the flower head. This is where the new flowers will form. Cut plants back to just above these fat buds.
Lacecap hydrangeas are tough so can stand deadheading in autumn. Both mophead and lacecap types will benefit if some of the oldest stems are cut back completely at the base of the plant. This will encourage new stems and should be done in February.
Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens flower on the current season’s growth so they should be pruned in spring. Prune old stems back to four buds. If you avoid pruning hydrangeas the flowers will soon get smaller and smaller.
Caring for your plants to keep them looking their best. Although their appearance may seem high maintenance, with the right conditions and care, hydrangeas are actually fairly easy to grow, so grab your gardening gloves.
Hydrangeas are not marginal plants by any means and they do need good drainage but those fleshy stems and large, succulent leaves will tell you that they are heavy drinkers. Dry, sandy soil in full sun is not an option for these water guzzlers. If you are planting a new one, make sure that the soil in which you plant them has been beefed up with a good compost or manure (leave for enough time before planting) , which will act like a sponge and hold on to moisture when the surrounding soil is drying out. Water new hydrangeas copiously during the first weeks of their establishment at this time of year.
They can cope with full sunshine provided that the soil in which they are growing is not likely to dry out, so if you are on lighter stuff give them a spot in dappled shade where they are likely to be less stressed. If you are growing them in pots and tubs, water them every day in summer – morning and evening when it is hot and sunny – adding liquid feed once a week in spring and summer.
Generally, plants require little pruning. As flowers fade, they dry on the stem adding interest to your garden in Autumn and into Winter. Before you do any cutting, it’s important to determine if your plant flowers on new or old wood.
Many varieties of macrophylla and H. quercifolia flower on old wood, typically the classic big leaf, lacecap, and mophead types. These plants form buds in late summer, just as the current year’s flowers are finishing. They require only a light trim immediately after flowering, cutting stems to just above a pair of healthy leaf nodes. Avoid an “overall” pruning in winter or early spring because this removes many of next year’s flowers.
Others, like smooth and panicle species, Hydrangea. arborescens, like the Annabelle and H. paniculata, which covers a lot of the new varieties that becoming really popular like Limelight and Sundae Fraise, flower on new wood. These form sets of buds in spring, these varieties should be cut back in late winter or very early spring and can take a hard pruning when needed.
Cut back liberally to 1 to 2 feet to encourage new growth and flower production. This also produces a full, strong plant that will stay upright under the weight of their profuse summer blooms.
A full bouquet of them cut and arranged on a table is pure bliss! Yes, hydrangeas are one of the best loved flowers around but can be a little tricker as a cut flower so here is my guide to using them as a cut flower. They often wilt as soon as they are cut and brought into the house, there is nothing pretty about droopy hydrangeas! Here’s a few ways to help keep full, long lasting cut hydrangeas, learnt in my floristry days!
Cutting hydrangeas during their growing season is far different than cutting them at the end of their season when they are papery and really don’t need water to stay beautiful. Here are a few great tips for having fresh cut hydrangeas in your home all summer long!
Take a bowl of cool water out with you when cutting the flowers, as soon as hydrangeas are cut the stems should immediately be put into tepid water. Use a sharp knife or clippers to cut each stem on a diagonal and submerge!
When you bring hydrangeas inside make sure you strip off the leaves from each hydrangea stem. I break this rule often and I shouldn’t! The leaves are big water drinkers and will steal it from the blooms. At least, strip off most of the leaves. Those that are below the water line should absolutely be removed!
Cut the hydrangeas stems to the desired length. Smash the very bottom of them to allow more water to travel up the stems and feed the blooms. I use a rolling pin to crush the ends of the hydrangeas I bring inside.
If your Hydrangeas are starting to droop then it’s time to bring out the big guns. Hydrangeas produce a “sap” that clogs their stems and blocks water from traveling up it to those gorgeous blooms, boiling water helps to do away with the sap. Put boiling water into a cup. Dip each stem into the boiling water for 30 seconds and immediately put them into a vase or container filled with room temperature water. Replacing the water in the vase of hydrangeas will keep them fresher longer! Also give hydrangeas a fresh cut and dip them in boiling water before putting them in the fresh water!
For emergency recovery if after a day or two they start to prematurely wilt you can totally submerge them in a “bath” of water for about 45 minutes. Then recut and place the stems into boiling water and then back into a vase of fresh water. They should revive in a couple of hours and live another day or two.
Air-drying is the ideal technique if you want your blooms to take on that faded vintage, dusky hue. The most crucial part of drying hydrangea is choosing the right moment to pick the blossoms from the shrub. Tempting as it might be to pick them at their most lush and vibrant, fresh blooms contain too much water and will only lead to withered petals if picked too soon. Bide your time and wait for the flowers to dry naturally. You’ll know the time is right when their colours start to fade. Once cut, strip off the leaves and arrange your flowers in a vase – or for a simple vintage arrangement, tie a bunch of three or four blooms together with ribbon or twine and hang upside down they look particularly pretty suspended by a windowpane in the bedroom or kitchen.
I would usually create a Christmas wreath of just Hydrangeas to use inside, I wouldn’t normally put this on the front door but you can, I like it where I can see it as they are just so beautiful.
All you need is a willow cane bare wreath and weave the ends of the stems through the wreath so that each bloom is tightly secured , I use floristry wire for the trickier ones. Add the blooms all the way around, choosing different sizes and shapes to make sure that the wreath is even and full throughout the wreath. Keeping it looking like a wreath rather than a huge mound of flowers is the key so work around the outside first then fill in the inside and there you have it Hydrangeas all year long!