Hydrangeas wow with beauty, rugged­ness

The Progress-Index - At Home - - NEWS - BY NOR­MAN WIN­TER

Lime­light hy­drangea turned the gar­den­ing world up­side down just a few short years ago as gar­den­ers ev­ery­where be­came in­tro­duced to the pan­i­cle hy­drangea. Lime­light is still in the top five, and is but a trip to the gar­den cen­ter will shock you with all of the other Hy­drangea pan­ic­u­lata choices. Just a few steps out­side my of­fice at the Coastal Ge­or­gia Botan­i­cal Gar­dens I find not only Lime­light but Lit­tle Lime, Straw­berry Vanilla and Baby Lace. How could they all be so beau­ti­ful, and yet have such a rugged per­se­ver­ing na­ture?

Here in Sa­van­nah, Ga., the weather has been pretty tough as of late with ab­so­lute stag­ger­ing heat and hu­mid­ity. Yet out in the gar­den in full sun, they have been there with glis­ten­ing white blos­soms for weeks with more on the way. If you are a hy­drangea lover and lament when they quit bloom­ing for the year, then these are your sea­son ex­ten­ders yield­ing blooms from mid­sum­mer through fall. They are not the least bit finicky and just about every­one in the coun­try can revel in their beauty as they are cold hardy from zones 3-9.

The Hy­drangea pan­ic­u­lata or pan­i­cle va­ri­eties are dif­fer­ent than the mop­head or French hy­drangea, the leaves are smaller, and the quan­tity of flow­ers is in­cred­i­ble. The flow­ers may be 6- to 15-inches long and most held up­right on the plant. You now have choices in the size of your shrubs from the diminu­tive Lit­tle Lime to my fa­vorite large se­lec­tion called Phan­tom with its10 foot plus po­ten­tial.

Many of the pan­ic­u­lata se­lec­tions tout flow­ers that age to pink or even red shades as the blooms age or ma­ture, Straw­berry Vanilla and Pinky Winky are just a cou­ple of those get­ting rave re­views. In the Deep South most of us just ex­pe­ri­ence white with an oc­ca­sional hint of pink, but that that is fine; the white flow­ers are glo­ri­ous.

In 2008, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Spe­cialty Cut Flower Grow­ers named Lime­light the Fresh Cut Flower of the Year. In­deed you could not ask for a more ex­quis­ite flower for a summer wed­ding. But whether you choose Lime­light or one of the other va­ri­eties, they are all great for cut­ting and dry­ing as well.

Ideal grow­ing con­di­tions are fer­tile, welldrained soil with morn­ing sun and af­ter­noon shade. In the land­scape, plant it among other shrubs 72 to 80 inches apart in odd-num­bered clus­ters for a ter­rific, eye-catch­ing dis­play. At our gar­dens, we are grow­ing about a half-dozen va­ri­eties in a num­ber of com­bi­na­tions, but the orange and white part­ner­ship of Lime­light and the old fash­ioned cro­cos­mia this year was ex­tra­or­di­nary. They scream to be com­bined with shrub roses, bud­dleia or vi­tex.

To plant your hy­drangea, dig the hole two to three times as wide as the root­ball but no deeper so you can plant it at the same depth it is grow­ing in the con­tainer. Ap­ply a good layer of mulch to con­serve mois­ture. Once es­tab­lished, you’ll find your pan­i­cle se­lec­tion is less de­pen­dent on wa­ter than its big-leafed cousins.

Soil pH does not af­fect the color of the flow­ers like it does with the blue or pink big-leafed hydrangeas. Any flow­ers left on the plant do pro­vide win­ter tex­ture and in­ter­est. Lime­light and the other pan­i­cle va­ri­eties blooms on new wood, so prune in late fall or early spring. A medium prun­ing that re­moves onethird to one-half the plant size gives a bet­ter struc­ture for large blos­soms and the new sea­son ahead. Feed your hy­drangea in early spring as new growth re­sumes.

From North to South every­one loves hydrangeas, and now with dozens of pan­i­cle va­ri­eties there is no rea­son your gar­den can’t show out un­til frost and the vase on the dining ta­ble al­ways stun­ning.

MCT PHOTO

Lime hy­drangea and the old fash­ioned cro­cos­mia make for an ex­tra­or­di­nary orange and white part­ner­ship.

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