Great sub­sti­tutes for hy­drangea

Home - Santa Fe Real Estate Guide - - THEMASTERGARDENERS - WENDY WILSON

Every­body loves hy­drangeas, and so do I. Th­ese pop­u­lar plants are fea­tured in gar­den mag­a­zines, bou­quets and nurs­eries for Mother’s Day. Un­for­tu­nately, in Santa Fe they are not a good plant to put into our gar­dens. Our soil is too al­ka­line, the spring weather too un­pre­dictable, and wa­ter too scarce. As a sub­sti­tute for hy­drangeas, I sug­gest three shrubs that have multi-sea­sonal in­ter­est; feed birds, but­ter­flies, and bees; and are ap­pro­pri­ate for our cli­mate (all are hardy in Zone 6b) and soil.

First, the red twig dog­wood ( Cor­nus sericea) pro­vides year-round in­ter­est. Th­ese can grow seven feet tall by eight feet wide and should be planted in par­tial shade. Red twig (aka red osier) dog­woods can be kept smaller and more col­or­ful with ju­di­cious thin­ning and trim­ming. They re­quire mod­er­ate, con­sis­tent wa­ter­ing. In spring they have small white flow­ers that form flat clus­ters. The flow­ers are suc­ceeded by white berries that pro­vide food for the birds. “The fall fo­liage can pick up hints of rose or gold,” ac­cord­ing to gar­den writer David Beaulieu. The fo­liage is de­cid­u­ous, giv­ing way to red bark in win­ter.

Sec­ond, the fern­bush ( Chamae­ba­tiaria mille­folium) grows to seven feet tall by seven feet wide. It re­quires full sun and mod­er­ate wa­ter­ing but can be very drought-tol­er­ant when ma­ture. Fern­bush leaves are fern-like, sil­very gray in color, and dis­tinctly aro­matic. The white, 5-petal flower oc­curs on a cone-shaped in­flo­res­cence and blooms from early to mid-sum- mer; th­ese blos­soms are at­trac­tive to bees, wasps, and but­ter­flies. In win­ter “the many branched, red shaggy bark of the fern­bush pro­vides tex­tu­ral in­ter­est for your gar­den. The flower cones can be pruned in au­tumn but are in­ter­est­ing if left to dry in the win­ter,” said Jeanne Gozi­gian of the Santa Fe Botan­i­cal Gar­den.

Fi­nally, the snow­ball vibur­num ( Vibur­num op­u­lus ster­ilis) is vis­ually sim­i­lar to a hy­drangea. In Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs, Michael A. Dirr writes, “The ster­ile, semi-snow­ball two to three-inch di­am­e­ter, white, car­na­tion-like flow­ers last two to three weeks.” It can grow 15 feet tall by nine to 12 feet wide. It can be planted in the sun or par­tial shade and needs mod­er­ate, sup­ple­men­tal wa­ter. The dark green leaves are deeply veined and have wine-red fall color. The dou­ble­file vibur­num ( Vibur­num pli­ca­tum var. to­men­to­sum) is sim­i­lar in size, har­di­ness, and needs. It has two- to six-inch flower cymes (sim­i­lar to lace cap hy­drangea) that re­sult in cherry-red fruits, which are a fa­vorite food of birds in late win­ter.

For­tu­nately, there are many shrubs more ap­pro­pri­ate for Santa Fe than the hy­drangea. They tol­er­ate al­ka­line soil, have multi-sea­son in­ter­est, feed an­i­mals, birds, and in­sects, and are low to mod­er­ate­wa­ter users. With so many op­tions, you may find that you are not yearn­ing for hy­drangeas af­ter all!

WendyWil­son was born and raised in Den­ver. She started gar­den­ing with her fa­ther, who loved to plant in very straight lines. Wendy has been re­belling against straight-line plant­ing for 50 years. She has gar­dened in Den­ver, Al­bu­querque, Chapel Hill, Bloom­ing­ton, and Beth­le­hem. She com­pleted theMaster Gar­dener cer­ti­fi­ca­tion class in 2016 and loves liv­ing and gar­den­ing in Santa Fe.

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