CopperTree Designs

22 Jul 2015

Demystifying the Hydrangea by Laurie McWilliams

Demystifying the Hydrangea by Laurie McWilliams

Author: Kellie Schmidt  /  Categories: Plant Care, Gardening  / 
Oh, the timeless and beautiful hydrangea…very few plant species have had so much advice given out to ensure their success as the hydrangea.  And unfortunately, much of that advice is incorrect.  The variety of hydrangea that most people are aware of is the type that blooms with stunning pinks, blues and purples in the spring.  This variety hails from the Macrophylla family of hydrangeas, of which “Endless Summer’ is a member.  Macrophylla hydrangeas bloom on “old wood”. What does this mean?

Think about the growth of your hydrangea in the spring.  Does the shrub push new branches and leaves from the ground or do the leaves push out from the existing wood branches that are still present from last growing season?  If it pushes everything new from ground level, then you are forcing the plant to bloom on “new wood”.  The Macrophylla variety of hydrangea will not set blooms on new wood.  They will set blooms on wood that is at least one year old.  So, if you are forcing the plant to bloom on new wood, the result will be a gorgeous shrub absent of flowers.  

You have also heard many refer to the acidity of the soil affecting the color of the flowers produced by your hydrangea.  For the most part, soil in Central Illinois tends to be more alkaline thus resulting in pink blooms.  There are additives that you can introduce to the soil to ensure a more acidic environment, which would produce blue and purple blooms. Soil tests are the most accurate way of determining the soil needs of your plant. 

If you are interested in adding acidity to your soil, there are a few options:

  • Using sphagnum peat as a top dress or when you plant
  • Add vinegar to water (two tablespoons per gallon) for container plantings
  • Products that contain sulfur coated urea, ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate 
  • Iron sulfate, which is fast-acting but should not be overused because it will create other problems
  • Granular forms of sulfur, which are safer but very slow-acting

Talk to an expert before incorporating sulfur coated urea, ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate into your growing environment.  These are strong solutions that can have negative consequences unless done correctly.

If you are looking for non-stop blooms and major ‘wow’ factor, consider the Paniculata family of hydrangea!  This is the easiest to grow and has the most impact in your landscape beds.  These varieties bloom “new wood” and are not any more particular than any other plant in central Illinois.  The Paniculata family tends to have numerous varieties that have bloom heads ranging from a loose configuration like Lace Caps to pinnacles or rounded heads.  These plants produce colorful blooms that vary from white to shades of pink and rosy reds.  They are in full bloom when we are spending most of our time outdoors, which guarantees a vivid display at the time you want it most.  This family of hydrangeas age and become ‘antique-looking’ in the late summer/fall as they are edged and flushed with pinks.  They can be planted from full sun to part shade.   If the variety you have chosen contains more pink in the flower, that plant will require more sun to be at peak performance.   During the first year, the Paniculata family tends to be very thirsty until they establish a strong foundation to support all the foliage and flowers above ground level.  This plant has been enthusiastically grown and expanded on in the industry.  It ranges in size from 3ft x 3ft to 10ft x 10ft.  Please pay attention to size recommendations and space considerations in your landscape beds!  Soil pH is not a factor for color or bloom in this plant!  Dig away and enjoy!
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