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Hydrangea Growing Guide: Tips from the Pros

Hydrangeas are beautiful garden plants known for their big, colorful blooms. This guide will help you learn how to grow hydrangeas confidently, whether you’re just starting or have been gardening for years.

Understanding Hydrangea Varieties

Hydrangeas come in different types, each with its own unique features. Here are the main ones:

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Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

  • Characteristics: Large, round flower heads.
  • Color: Pink, blue, or purple, depending on soil pH.

Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)

  • Characteristics: Cone-shaped flower clusters.
  • Color: White, often aging to pink.

Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)

  • Characteristics: Rounded flower heads, sturdy stems.
  • Color: White, turning greenish with age.

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

  • Characteristics: Oak-shaped leaves, conical flower clusters.
  • Color: White, aging to pink or red.

Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris)

  • Characteristics: Climbing vine, lacecap flowers.
  • Color: White.

Choosing the Right Hydrangea for Your Garden

When picking a hydrangea, consider your climate, garden space, and desired bloom color.

  • Climate: Some hydrangeas handle cold better than others. Panicle Hydrangeas are great for cold areas, while Bigleaf Hydrangeas prefer milder climates.
  • Space: Check the mature size of the hydrangea to ensure it fits in your garden.
  • Soil pH: Bigleaf Hydrangeas change color based on soil pH—blue in acidic soil and pink in alkaline soil.

Planting Hydrangeas

Proper planting is key to healthy hydrangeas. Follow these steps:

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Selecting a Planting Site

  • Sunlight: Hydrangeas like morning sun and afternoon shade. Panicle Hydrangeas can handle more sun.
  • Soil: Use well-drained, fertile soil. Add organic matter to heavy clay or sandy soil.

Planting Steps

  1. Dig a Hole: Make it twice as wide and as deep as the root ball.
  2. Amend the Soil: Mix compost or well-rotted manure into the soil.
  3. Planting: Place the hydrangea in the hole, with the top of the root ball level with the ground.
  4. Backfill: Fill the hole with amended soil, firming it gently around the roots.
  5. Watering: Water thoroughly to settle the soil and remove air pockets.

Watering Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas need consistent moisture, especially in their first year.

  • Frequency: Water deeply once or twice a week, depending on the weather.
  • Mulching: Apply a 2-3 inch layer of mulch around the base to keep moisture and regulate soil temperature.
  • Avoid Overwatering: Ensure the soil is well-drained to prevent root rot.

Fertilizing Hydrangeas

Proper fertilization helps hydrangeas grow well and bloom beautifully.

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Fertilizer Types

  • Balanced Fertilizers: Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer (10-10-10) in early spring.
  • Specialty Fertilizers: Choose fertilizers formulated for hydrangeas to enhance bloom color or promote root growth.

Application Timing

  • Spring: Apply a balanced fertilizer as new growth starts.
  • Mid-Summer: Apply again for extended blooming.

Pruning Hydrangeas

Pruning helps keep hydrangeas in shape, promotes healthy growth, and encourages blooming. The pruning method depends on the hydrangea type.

Bigleaf and Oakleaf Hydrangeas

  • Timing: Prune after flowering, usually in late summer.
  • Method: Remove spent blooms and thin out old stems to encourage new growth.

Panicle and Smooth Hydrangeas

  • Timing: Prune in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.
  • Method: Cut back stems to a healthy bud, leaving a framework of strong stems.

Changing Hydrangea Bloom Color

You can change the bloom color of Bigleaf Hydrangeas by adjusting the soil pH.

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Turning Blooms Blue

  • Method: Add aluminum sulfate to the soil.
  • Frequency: Apply in early spring and throughout the growing season.

Turning Blooms Pink

  • Method: Add lime to the soil to raise the pH.
  • Frequency: Apply in early spring and monitor soil pH.

Common Hydrangea Pests and Diseases

Hydrangeas can be affected by pests and diseases. Here’s how to handle them:

Pests

  • Aphids: Small, green insects that suck sap from new growth. Control with insecticidal soap or neem oil.
  • Spider Mites: Tiny, spider-like pests that cause stippling on leaves. Increase humidity and spray with water or insecticidal soap.
  • Slugs and Snails: Feed on leaves and flowers. Use slug pellets or create barriers with copper tape.

Diseases

  • Powdery Mildew: White, powdery growth on leaves. Improve air circulation and apply fungicides.
  • Leaf Spot: Brown or black spots on leaves. Remove affected leaves and avoid overhead watering.
  • Root Rot: Caused by waterlogged soil. Ensure good drainage and avoid overwatering.

Overwintering Hydrangeas

Protecting hydrangeas in winter ensures their survival.

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Cold-Hardy Varieties

  • Panicle and Smooth Hydrangeas: Generally need minimal protection.

Sensitive Varieties

  • Bigleaf and Oakleaf Hydrangeas: Mulch heavily around the base and cover with burlap or frost cloth in severe cold.

Propagating Hydrangeas

You can propagate hydrangeas to expand your garden or share with friends.

Stem Cuttings

  • Timing: Take cuttings in late spring or early summer.
  • Method: Cut a 4-6 inch stem, remove lower leaves, dip in rooting hormone, and plant in a potting mix.

Layering

  • Timing: Best done in spring or early summer.
  • Method: Bend a low branch to the ground, cover a portion with soil, and secure. Roots will form in a few months.

Designing with Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas can enhance your garden with their stunning blooms.

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Garden Borders

  • Use: Plant hydrangeas along garden borders for a dramatic display.
  • Varieties: Bigleaf and Smooth Hydrangeas are excellent choices.

Mixed Beds

  • Use: Combine hydrangeas with other perennials for a diverse garden bed.
  • Companions: Hostas, ferns, and astilbes pair well with hydrangeas.

Container Gardens

  • Use: Grow hydrangeas in containers for patios or small gardens.
  • Varieties: Choose compact varieties like dwarf Bigleaf or Panicle Hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas in Floral Arrangements

Hydrangeas make beautiful cut flowers.

Fresh Arrangements

  • Cutting: Cut blooms in the morning and place in water immediately.
  • Conditioning: Remove lower leaves and dip stems in boiling water for 30 seconds to extend vase life.

Dried Arrangements

  • Method: Hang blooms upside down in a cool, dark place to dry.
  • Use: Incorporate dried hydrangeas into wreaths, bouquets, or decorations.

Conclusion

Growing hydrangeas can be a fun and rewarding experience. With the right care, you can enjoy healthy, vibrant hydrangeas in your garden. Choose the right variety, plant them properly, and provide consistent care to protect them from pests and diseases. Whether in garden designs or floral arrangements, hydrangeas will bring joy and color to your outdoor space.

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FAQs

  1. How often should I water my hydrangeas? Hydrangeas should be watered deeply once or twice a week, depending on the weather. Ensure the soil is well-drained to prevent root rot.
  2. Can I change the color of my hydrangea blooms? Yes, you can change the color of Bigleaf Hydrangea blooms by adjusting the soil pH. Adding aluminum sulfate turns blooms blue, while adding lime turns them pink.
  3. When is the best time to prune hydrangeas? Pruning time depends on the hydrangea variety. Bigleaf and Oakleaf Hydrangeas should be pruned after flowering, while Panicle and Smooth Hydrangeas are best pruned in late winter or early spring.
  4. What should I do if my hydrangeas get powdery mildew? Improve air circulation around the plants and apply fungicides to control powdery mildew. Avoid overhead watering and remove affected leaves.
  5. Can hydrangeas be grown in containers? Yes, hydrangeas can be grown in containers. Choose compact varieties and ensure the containers have good drainage. Regular watering and fertilizing are essential for container-grown hydrangeas.
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