Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
October, 2010
Regional Report

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Lacecap, mophead, picote - hydrangeas are beautiful, diverse, and come in enough colors for everyone to enjoy.

Hydrangeas - More Than Your Grandmother's Snowballs

Once upon a time, the language of hydrangeas was pompom, mophead, snowball. The summer colors were pink or blue, or sometimes both on one shrub.

Today- early October 2010- I peek 'round my porch corner to enjoy rich autumn color on my favorite lacecap hydrangea, Lady In Red. Dainty flower clusters dangle upside down around a center of knobby green, faux seed heads. A deep rosy blush looks sponge-painted on the four reversed sepals, now colorfully topsy-turvy. Their underside is pale green.

Lady In Red is a big-leaf Hydrangea macrophylla with three-season interest. A lacecap, it has two flower forms in each flat cluster. In spring and through summer, the upright, four- to five-inch clusters bloom pink and white like a filigree halo. Half-dozen or more showy white to pink sterile ray flowers surround blue-purple fertile centers. Come fall, the green foliage turns red-purple and the sterile flowers droop.

Lacecap hydrangea cultivars are aplenty, with more on the market every year. New Hydrangea paniculata varieties Pinky Winky and Quick Fire are impressive multi-season favorites. This October morning, Pinky Winky's tall, thick stem is tipped with one erect, six- to twelve-inch, cone-shaped flower head with pink to rose to tan sepals. The flower clusters began flat and white in spring. They elongated, the aging flowers turned pink, and new white flowers pushed up to form this bi-color, mini-spire. Quick Fire's spires bloom early and age to deep, rich pink.

Traditional Snowballs
The tried-and-true snowball hydrangeas are sentimental favorites. The white Pee Gee Hydrangea paniculata has large, full, showy snowballs look lovely in a vase, either fresh or dried.

Hydrangea arborescens has classic snowball cultivars, including 'Annabelle' (changes from green to white) and 'Grandiflora,' as well as new varieties with even larger, rounder flower heads such as Incrediball and 'Hayes Starburst.'

Cutting-Edge Hybrid Mopheads
How about a compact hydrangea with bicolor mophead? Blue to purple flowers, red and white, pink to green, fuschia to green. The H. macrophylla CityLine series spans the rainbow. Serrate-petal 'Parzifal,' red-blooming 'Masja,' and pink with white margins Edgy Hearts picotee are also new artful beauties.

Unless I can ID species and cultivar, I can't be sure if it blooms on old or new wood. That distinction is an important. So I often prune conservatively, removing dead stems at the shrub's base, clipping off dead flowers to the first node.

Old-Wood Bloomers
For pruning's sake, hydrangeas fit one of three categories. In general, big leaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla), such as the old-fashioned snowballs and the Lady In Red, bloom on old wood. That is, flower buds take some nine months to form INSIDE the stems. Stems hold those buds from autumn through winter. Cutting off stems removes flower buds.

New-Wood Bloomers
H. arborescens and H. paniculata bloom on new wood. That is, flower buds form in new stems that grow in spring. That's why pruning old stems now won't affect next spring's flowers.

New AND Old Wood Bloomers
The Forever and Ever, CityLine and Let's Dance series are touted as forming flowers on old and new wood. They tend to die back in our winters, so pruning isn't usually necessary.

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