For a long time I looked longingly at hydrangeas. Their lush flowers which last for such a long time make such an impact in a garden. Eventually, a so-called big leaf hydrangea, or Hydrangea macrophylla, found its way into my garden. This particular variety, probably Gakuajisai, bloomed with lace-cap flowers in a delicate shade of blue. It grew into a large specimen but if the weather was unkind in late winter there would be very few flowers in late spring, early summer. Some years after that, I came across a nice looking Nikko Blue Hydrangea, which I tucked away in, what I thought would be a protected spot, behind the gazebo. Well, apparently it wasn’t protected enough. Most years it sported a few flowers, but hardly ever was it covered in blooms.
Most of the “old” hydrangeas bloom on what’s called “old wood”. That means the new flower bud is made in the fall, after the hydrangea has bloomed. Winter arrives and if the weather is not too cold and icy, the branches with the potential flowerbuds will not die back. In spring the shrub will grow new leaves and miraculously, the buds will appear and bloom. If you happen to have one of these old hydrangeas and you have wondered why it doesn’t flower for you (even after a mild winter) ask yourself this: do you prune your plant in early spring to make it look good or to make it fit its space? If so, every spring, you pruned off those potential flowers. Instead, prune the shrub immediately after it has bloomed. This way, the plant will continue to grow a bit more and make flowerbuds for you to enjoy the following year. If summer is dry, try to water your shrub regularly. Hydrangeas (hydra/water) are thirsty plants and if they receive adequate amounts of water during the growing season they will set more buds for the following year.
After a cold winter last year, we had a very wet spring and then the summer (if you could call it that) of 2009 arrived. It rained, dried up for a bit, rained much more and never really got warm. That year my hydrangeas were pathetic; big leafy shrubs and three or four flowers. I vowed to dig them up and replace them with the new varieties of hydrangeas called “The Endless Summer Hydrangeas™. These remarkable plants, which come in a variety of colors and flowers, bloom on both the old (last year’s) wood as well as on new wood, or branches that grow that spring and summer. You can cut off as many flowers as you want, and this plant will continue to bloom. I already had a few of these Endless Summer hydrangeas in my garden, and they performed a lot better than the other plants.
When spring arrived this year I looked at my two large hydrangea shrubs and the thought of digging them up was just too much, so they remained in place. But thanks to that very wet summer and a winter which wasn’t too harsh my hydrangeas bloomed. Both shrubs are covered in blooms, while the Endless Summer hydrangeas are doing the same. Large flowers in ranges from deep pink to blue cover the plants and every day more open. Now, in the middle of a heat wave with no rain in sight, the plants wilt slightly in the middle of the day. In the evening they perk up again and after being watered they make it through a few more days of 90+ degree weather.
This hydrangea phase may very well last longer than my rose phase. These plants shrug off bugs and disease and if I add a bit of winter protection to my old fashioned plants, I will have lots of flowers the following year. Then again, I may still shake things up and replace the plants with their hardier Endless Summer cousins. This is a garden close to perfection but growing and changing, keeping me busy. I wouldn’t want it any other way!