10 Neat Things About Hydrangeas
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

July 1, 2018

1. Having big balls.

If you have ever bought a hydrangea, waited a year for those glorious big, fluffy white balls, and then been unrewarded by a flat-topped fizzler with one or two four-petalled excuses for flowers, you will understand the letdown of not having big balls. A warning for all hydrangea lovers of the big ball type: buy them only in bloom so you know what you are getting. The big mophead hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla, also known as bigleafed hydrangea, is a native of China and Japan. It comes in pink and blue ('Endless Summer') and white. It can be a mophead or a lace cap. H. macrophylla has big leaves on short petioles (stems) and the leaves are toothy, somewhat shiny, heart-shaped and rough to the touch.

2. Going native.

Another snowball type of hydrangea is H. Arborescens ('Annabelle' is a good example). It is white with 10-inch blossoms. It is native to the eastern United States (southern New York and further south) and can revert to its wild state, leaving you with a poor example of a lace cap. It, too, is a big-leafed hydrangea, but its leaf petioles are longer, allowing the leaf to look sort of floppy on the stem. The leaves are not as shiny as those of H. macrophylla, so it is also known as smooth leaf hydrangea. Very hardy.

3. Oh ye of little leaf.

H. paniculata is blessed with small leaves and cone-shaped flowers. She can come in white, pink or green, as in 'Limelight'. The pinks can be mixed with white and can occur from the palest shades to almost red, as in 'Pinky Winky'. 'Vanilla Strawberry' (zone 4 to 8) is stunning. These hydrangeas can tolerate heat and drought better than their cousins. This one can grow eight to 10 feet tall.

4. Quirky quercifolia.

While the blossoms are also cone-shaped, the big excitement here is the leaf; it looks like an oak leaf (you knew that's what quercifolia meant, didn't you?) Often white, these blossoms can flare into pink. However, the most colour comes in autumn when the leaves turn a deep scarlet, orange or burgundy. H. quercifolia is native to the U.S. and prefers sandy soils, indicating that it requires good drainage.

5. The climbing imposter.

Schizophragma hydrangeoides, a so-called climbing hydrangea, is not a real hydrangea but the other climber, Hydrangea petiolaris, is. Schizofragma is from Japan. It climbs to about 12 metres in its native habitat but will stop at six metres out of its element. She has pretty flat-topped, lace-cap type flowers bearing a honey scent. The true climbing hydrangea, H. petiolaris, is hardy in zones 4 to 8 and enjoys part to full shade.

6. Bone dry but beautiful.

Cut hydrangeas when they are slightly past their prime and put them in a vase containing water. Leave them to dry out naturally. It is said that they will hold their colour and shape better if dried in this way. If you are a real fuss budget, you can dry them in silicone gel, a painstaking but effective procedure.

7. Sevenbark.

Oh that arborescens; it has so many names and uses. It is often called sevenbark because its thick stems are rough and peeling. Each of the seven layers of bark is a different colour. This is another hydrangea that grows to 10 feet tall and the stems can become quite thick. In fact, arborescens means "becomes like a tree". It was used medicinally to stop vomiting in children and to create poultices for aching muscles and burns, and it was chewed to relieve high blood pressure and stomach problems. It is a diuretic and was used to treat rheumatism, backache and dropsy. Modern science has discovered that one of its constituents is an effective agent against autoimmune disease.

8. H. Quercifolia 'Gatsby's Star'.

This is a beautiful hydrangea marketed by Proven Winners. It has star-shaped, double florets on its cone-shaped corymbs (the proper term for hydrangea panicles) that are star-shaped instead of rounded.

9. Won't you turn my pink flowers blue?

Yes, you can affect the flower colours of H. macrophylla if they start out blue or pink by changing the acidity of the soil. Add 1/2 ounce (1 Tbsp) aluminum sulfate to a gallon of water, using this to turn pink hydrangeas blue. Add dolomitic lime to the soil several times a year to turn blue hydrangeas pink. And, no, you cannot turn white hydrangeas any other colour.

10. What big teeth you have, my deer!

Sadly, deer have a big appetite for hydrangeas. So do rabbits. So do slugs, spider mites, aphids, thrips and rose chafers. Good luck!

Dorothy Dobbie Copyright© Pegasus Publications Inc.

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