Hydrangea Care

  1. You Can Change the Color of Some Hydrangeas

    There are many kinds of Hydrangeas available today. Maybe the plant breeders went a little crazy introducing new selections recently. The good news is there are a lot of Hydrangeas with new color options, smaller plants, and more flower power!

    Nature Hills offers many options with some of the newest and the best.

    There is one group of Hydrangeas with pink or red flowers that can be changed to blue or purple flowers by altering the soil pH. This group is called Bigleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) and the flower color can be changed by growing the plants in a lower soil pH.

    There was a breakthrough with this species of Hydrangea that opened the door to growing them in colder regions. Then the plant breeders went to town introducing many new varieties with many new shades of reds, pinks, purples and blues. Some are mop head types with rounded flowers, and others are lace-cap flowers that are flat topped and the flowers open in a circle.

    In general, these hydrangeas really prefer a slightly acidic soil higher in organic matter, mulch over the roots, and protection from the hot afternoon sun. Soil pH is the measure of alkalinity (higher) or acidity (lower) of the soil. You can buy pH test kits, or you can get soil from your local ag extension office to find out the pH and fertility levels - if you are interested in trying to change color at home.

    Most of the production nurseries are growing these plants by treating the soil with aluminum sulfate or soil sulfur. The flowers that are produced in the lower soil pH are lavender, purple, or blue – or even a mix of these colors.

    Some areas of the country naturally have a lower soil pH and those same Bigleaf Hydrangeas exhibit the blue and purple colors naturally. Maybe those same Hydrangeas are more pink and red at your home? If that is the case, then you can change those colors by treating the soil of your Hydrangea macrophylla.

    Have you seen all the amazing selections available today? Smaller plants that re-bloom, and bloom for longer periods of time are leading the pack. Remember that only Hydrangea macrophylla types are the ones that you can change the flower color. In Hydrangea arborescens types (like the old-fashioned Annabelle types), flower color is not affected by the soil it is grown in. The same holds true for Hydrangea paniculata selections that are so popular, as well as Hydrangea quercifolia. These plants are not affected by the soil pH, but the flowers all do a bit of changing as they age and eventually dry and remain on the plants.

    A simple way to change the color of your Hydrangea macrophylla selection is to add 1 tablespoon of aluminum sulfate mixed with a gallon of water and use that to water your plant throughout the growing season - a couple of cups each week or so. This simple method will help keep the soil pH lower and the blue and purple flowers coming on. When watering your plants with this mixture please be sure that your plant is not completely dry when you apply the aluminum sulfate as it could burn the roots. Keep your hydrangea roots watered and then apply the solution the next day to prevent any issues.

    Amazing Hydrangeas! Click here to check out all the incredible selections our production team is pumping out!

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  2. Unraveling Hydrangeas Pt. II: Woody Types

    Pinky Winky

    Let’s look at the three woody types of Hydrangeas, how to best care for them, and what to expect from each.

    Hydrangea paniculata types are the sun loving plants that have woody stems. This group currently up for sale from Nature Hills includes: Fire Light, Quick Fire, Little Lamb, Phantom, Vanilla Strawberry, Pinky Winky, Limelight, Strawberry Sundae, Little Quick Fire, Bobo, Little Lime, Silver Dollar, and Zinfin Doll.

    This group all goes through the same transformation when it comes to the flower colors. Hydrangea paniculata types cannot have their flower changed from pink to blue by growing in acidic soils. No matter what the soils are, they start out with green leaves, flowers form later in June (most areas) and are green to start, open to white. Then as the flowers begin to age, they turn varying colors of pink and will vary wildly depending upon the site, sun exposure, location north and south in the different climates as to the time of year. Some turn very pink like Fire Light, Vanilla Strawberry and Zinfin Doll. The more sun these flowers receive, the more pink and red you will see on the plants. Eventually these flowers will turn brown and this entire transformation of color is normal and will happen each and every year.

    Hydrangea paniculata types should be trimmed back by about one third of the size they are each spring before they start to grow - then leave them alone for the rest of the year. The tree form plants should be pruned back to a rounded form and again removing about one third of the size leaving a neat and uniform head when done. Remember pruning should be done in the spring before they start to grow.

    Hydrangea quercifolia group, or the Oakleaf Hydrangeas, are woody shrubs that have peeling bark on the older stems, and elongated panicle flowers. The three selections that Nature Hills has available now include Gatsby Gal, Gatsby Pink, and Ellen Huff.

    This group is hardy from zones 5-9 and do not perform well in zone 4. The colder zones may see some winter damage in less protected areas. They love full sun to part shade but need to have even moisture throughout the growing season. There is no color changing with this group of Hydrangeas by adjusting the soil pH, just nice pure white, very elongated panicle flowers. The white color fades from white to a light pink as the flowers age - no matter the soil pH. level.

    They bloom on last year’s wood, so if you cut this one down to the ground you will not have any flowers that year. If you selectively remove a few of the older stems every couple of years right down to the ground, you will have flowers each year on the stems that you leave in place. The leaves resemble oak leaves in shape and in the fall, exhibit an incredible purple and red in fall and lasts for a long time. We have seen Oakleaf tolerate a lot of shade quite well, more so than most literature says it will.

    Climbing Hydrangea is included because it is a Hydrangea. This is a climbing, woody vine that sits quietly for the first couple of years and once established then will start to put on some nice size. Hydrangea anomala petiolaris is the Latin name for this hydrangea a beautiful clinging vine that attaches to cement, brick, and wood. This woody vine produces lots of large, flat topped lacecap white flowers in June all over the plant. It is so very elegant and is used to cover unsightly or barren cement walls, and will attach to most any rough surface, including tree trunks where they can grow to be quite large. They like sun or shade and have beautiful shiny deep green foliage.

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  3. Unraveling Hydrangeas Pt. I: Planting, Pruning, and Care

    Grateful Red HydrangeaLet’s look at a couple different kinds of Hydrangeas, how to best care for them, and what to expect from each.

    Hydrangea macrophylla types are a part sun loving group that appreciates some relief from the hot afternoon sun especially in warmer climates. The Hydrangea frenzy started with this group and has grown to include many selections too. This group that Nature Hills currently have up for sale include: Endless summer, Big Daddy, Twist and Shout, Blushing Bride, Let’s Dance Moonlight, Cityline Rio, Grateful Red, Cherry Explosion, Next Generation Pistachio, Nikko Blue, Endless Summer Bloomstruck, Edgy Hearts, Cityline Vienna, Tilt-A-Swirl, Nantucket Blue, Cityline Mars, Tiny Tuff Stuff, Cityline Paris, Everlasting Revolution, Wedding Gown, Let's Dance Starlight, Tuff Stuff Mountain, Tuff Stuff Red Mountain, Everlasting Noblesse, Abracadabra, LA Dreamin, Cityline Venice, Everlasting Jade, Everlasting Garnet, Everlasting Ocean, Abracadabra Star, Everlasting Harmony, and Miss Saori.

    This group of Hydrangeas are a bit more tender with hardiness most zones 5 and higher, and a few that are crown hardy in zone 4. In the colder zones they will die back in winter unlike the paniculata types. They love the east side of a house and a nice, evenly moist soil with lots of organic matter and mulch on top of the soil. This whole group can have the flower color changed by growing the plants in a more acidic soil (with a lower soil pH). Pink flowered ones turn blue and the redder ones turn purple. They can have wildly varying colors (even on the same plant exhibiting blues and pinks and everything in between even on the same flower head!) depending upon the soil pH which will vary be site to site and state to state. Aluminum Sulfate or Soil Sulphur can lower the soil pH for this group of Hydrangeas and Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Blueberries and any other plants that might be showing signs of iron chlorosis.

    Typically, you would wait to trim this group of plants in spring when they start to grow so you know what is alive and what is not. In the warmer states, the stems that bloomed last year should be cut down to the ground and the ones without flowers allowed to remain and they will flower first. Morning sun, even moisture, and 2-3” of mulch along with a lower soil pH is best for this group.

    Hydrangea arborescens group is super hardy and carefree. Most of you know the Annabelle Hydrangea which remains one of the hardiest and so very popular in the group today.

    Of the plants that Nature Hills offers in this group includes: Annabelle, Invincibelle Spirit and all the Invincibelle Spirit series, Incrediball, Smooth or Snowhill (H. arborescens ‘Grandiflora’), Ryan Gainey, Invincibelle Wee White, Invincibelle Ruby, Samantha, Incrediball Blush, and Invincibelle Limetta. This group of Hydrangeas basically all re-grow from the ground up each spring. Every spring, trim each stem down to an inch or two before they start to grow. This group is zone 4 and some zone 3 hardy (and warmer) and represent a super carefree type of Hydrangea for sure. This group used to all only be white in color, but more recently there has been introduced some arborescens types that include pink colors too.

    There is no changing the color of this group no matter what the soil pH is. The white flowered selections first open white, and then fade to a sage green color, and eventually the flower heads turn brown as they dry and remain on the plants. The pink flowered selections used to be quite light pink but more pink color has been bred into the newest ones. These flowers open pink and fade to a pink and eventually they too will turn brown and remain on the plant.

    Some of the newest selections can re-bloom sending up new flowers as the season progresses making them great for cutting. Hydrangea arborescens can be grown in full sun if watered, and part shade and sometimes we have seen them growing in lots of shade. These Hydrangeas will appreciate a couple of inches of shredded mulch over the roots, but not up against the stems. Hardy, sun and shade, and carefree.

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  4. The 4 Main Types Of Hydrangeas

    Hydrangeas! Everybody loves them. They are at home in almost any garden, and gardeners know it. Their lush greenery and long-­lived flowers make them a favorite among landscapers and amateur gardeners alike. Hydrangeas bloom year after year, stay in bloom from early spring to late autumn, and some of them have the ability to change floral color like magic. Because hydrangeas are such a favorite, they tend to be a big seller. Retailers offer a range of different types of hydrangeas. It's important to know what you are getting, because there's a lot of variety. Some are different species, some are merely different cultivars. Cultivars are different ­looking plants of the same species (think: dog breeds.) Gets a little confusing, right? Well, here's a quick guide to the most common types of hydrangeas you can buy for your garden.

    Hydrangea Macrophylla

    Hydrangea macrophylla

    Macrophylla is by far the most widely distributed kind of hydrangea, with many cultivars available. It has triangular leaves and bursts of floral color arranged in either  'mopheads,' which are groups of flowers shaped like pom­poms, or 'lacecap hydrangeas,' which are flat-topped groups of flowers.

    These are the iconic color-­changing hydrangea. They can grow in pink, red, purple, or blue. The color of the flower depends on the acidity of the soil, which the gardener can control with fertilizers.

    Hydrangea Arborescens

    Hydrangea arborescens

    Arborescens is native to the eastern United States, and can be seen growing wild in forested areas. It's commonly known by wilderness enthusiasts as smooth hydrangea or sevenbark. Unlike its foreign relatives, arborescens is on the home team.  As such, it's hardy and cold-resistant and it doesn't deter native wildlife.

    Hydrangea Paniculata

    Hydrangea paniculata

    If you're looking for something a little different, paniculata may be for you. Its flowers are a little more spread out, grouped in cone shapes instead of balls. Paniculata's flowers are small and white, or sometimes light pinkish.

    Hydrangea Quercifolia

    Hydrangea quercifolia

    Also known as oakleaf hydrangea, quercifolia has gorgeous lobed leaves that look like that of an oak tree. Like paniculata, its flowers are arranged on long cone­-shaped structures. Oakleaf hydrangeas makes a nice accent to a woodland-­style garden, but anyone looking for the color-­changing effect would be disappointed. Oakleaf's flowers are white as snow no matter what soil they are planted in.

    So, there you have it. If you are thinking of getting some hydrangeas for your garden, have at it! Just make sure you know what you're getting. For more information, please check out the United States National Arboretum *Pictures taken from Wikipedia

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  5. Pruning Hydrangeas


    Pruning hydrangeas is easy to do, and will help in providing more blooms for the following growing season. Hydrangea pruning varies slightly from species to species, depending on when and where the plant will bloom. After the blooms have finished their season, removing them will allow the plant to focus its energy on storing food for the coming winter. When the winter comes, it is important to not cut off the brown stems. It is on these stems that the plant will bloom the following year. Pruning hydrangeas in the winter can entail topping off the plants in order to shape them. There should only be an inch or so taken off smaller plants and three to five inches taken off larger plants. The cut should be done just above a joint.

    Hydrangea macrophylla flowers

    The following winter, these brown stems will become a whiter color and are ready to be removed. Pruning hydrangeas at this time involves removing these white stems, so new growth will be encouraged. Pulling gently on the white stems should remove them. If not, they may not be ready yet, and will be in a few months.

    Pruning hydrangeas that are large and mature can affect the blooms of the following year. Removing brown stems will result in fewer but larger blooms. Leaving the brown stems will provide more but smaller blooms.

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  6. Planting Hydrangeas


    Planting hydrangea can be a fun and rewarding experience. Once the beautifully bright bloom has emerged, all the work involved in planting hydrangea will pay off. The first step to planting hydrangea is choosing the proper location for best results. The site chosen must have a good deal of direct sunlight daily, but some shade is also preferred. The soil must be dry to moist and have good drainage to prevent root rot. Knowing the pH level of the soil will help to predict the color of the blooms.

    The second step to planting hydrangea is the actual planting. The state the flower was obtained in determines when the planting should take place. Hydrangeas that were container grown should be planted in the spring or fall months. Bare root hydrangea should be planted in early to mid spring. The hole should be large enough to provide enough room for the roots to be spread out.

    Once the roots have been spread, dirt should be applied a little bit at a time and pressed down firmly, both to remove any air pockets and to provide proper support for the plant. The crown of the plant should be only an inch or so beneath the surface of the soil.

    Planting hydrangea is only half of the initial care stage. After planting, mulch should be applied to the hydrangea to help prevent frost heaving. In areas where the temperature drops below zero degrees in the winter, mulching annually in the late autumn should help to protect the plant from becoming too cold in the winter.

    The last step to planting hydrangea is optional, and only works on some of the hydrangea species. This is to fine-tune the bloom color. Adding some lime to the soil will turn the bloom to a pink for the following growing season. Supplying the soil with aluminum sulfate will give the soil a higher alkaline content and make the blooms a blue tint.

    Growing hydrangea is a very rewarding experience, as the blooms are large and very lovely. The best thing you can do for any hydrangea at planting is to incorporate a little peatmoss- but once your plants are in the ground probably the best thing you can do is add about a quarter of a cup of soil sulfur to the top of the soil surface each spring around each plant and then scratch it into the soil. Soil sulfur is very inexpensive and can be purchased at most garden centers or big box stores.

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