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written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 3/8/2013

Every time you turn around, plant breeders are coming up with new a hydrangea. In the ‘old’ days hydrangeas were beloved, but gardeners had a hard time figuring out how to prune them. That’s because different species are pruned differently. Now with the many new cultivated varieties that breeders are introducing, it’s even more confusing. Thankfully, Tim Wood at Proven Winners has made it much easier.

All you need to know is the size and color of the flowers to know which hydrangea is which species… and then you can figure out how to prune it. If your plant has big pink or blue flowers, it’s a bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). Hydrangeas with round white or pinkish flowers are smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens). Hardy hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) have white, greenish, or pink conical flowers. That makes pruning much easier… if you know what the flowers look like.

According to Wood, bigleaf hydrangeas don’t need much pruning. Prune out a few of the oldest stems down to the ground each year, removing no more than one-third of the total stems in one year. Do this right after they flower in the summer. Don’t prune these in late winter or spring. Bigleaf hydrangeas flower on older wood, so pruning before flowering removes the flower buds.

The smooth hydrangeas bloom on new wood or the wood that will develop in the coming season. These should be pruned back to a height of one to two feet in late winter. This helps encourage stronger stems that are less likely to droop over with the weight of big flower heads.

The hardy hydrangeas are pruned back to the ground or, if you want taller plants, prune back to within one to three feet from the ground.. They also bloom on new wood.

Many of the new hydrangeas on the market originally come from Spring Meadow Nursery that specializes in the propagation of ‘new and superior ornamental flowering shrubs’ and introduces them to gardeners through the Proven Winners marketing program.

To make things even more confusing Spring Meadow Nursery has developed a line of ‘reblooming’ largeleaf hydrangeas. Their line of ‘Let’s Dance’ hydrangeas bloom on both new and old wood. Right after flowering, deadhead spent flowers by cutting back to the first set of leaves beneath the flower head. After bloom, prune out any dead, thin or weak wood down to the ground.

New to the ‘Let’s Dance’ line this year is Let’s Dance Diva. Diva has a huge flower head made up of flowers with baby pink petals (actually sepals) as big as the size of your hand. Another new Spring Meadow rebloomer is Paraplu with large candy pink to hot pink mophead flowers. The individual flowers (called florets) are double, giving it a unique softer look. Paraplu supposedly holds up well in summer heat. It also has a compact habit reaching only two and half to three feet tall and wide, making a neat little hydrangea shrub.

In my landscape I have Incrediball, a Spring Meadow introduction. It’s a smooth hydrangea with gigantic white flower heads that can reach one foot in diameter. One flower looks like an entire bouquet. The round flower heads are definitely incredible. The shrub grows to 48-60 inches tall and wide.

I’m anxious to try some of the reblooming hydrangeas. How about you? Look for these and other great new hydrangeas at your favorite nursery.

Published: 3/8/2013 10:54 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

In the past, many gardeners who fancied hydrangeas were stymied because these flowering shrubs were notoriously unreliable bloomers and not exceptionally winter hardy. Plus, weak stems supporting the large hydrangea flowers often flopped over under their weight.

These hydrangea problems are the type of challenge that motivates plant breeders. Taking up the gauntlet, plant breeders have worked to improve these flowering shrubs for today’s home landscapes. There is now a growing list of hardy hydrangea that bloom reliably and don’t have droopy flowers.

A number of these were developed by Spring Meadow Nursery and are being marketed by Proven Winners. One series are hardy hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata). The hardy hydrangea is not new to American gardens. The ‘Pee Gee’ cultivar has been around since 1867 and is well known for it’s hardiness and its very large flowers. Their biggest selling point was their dependable mid-summer bloom with flowers that develop from buds that were formed in early summer.

Spring Meadow’s newest hardy hydrangea is ‘Bobo’ a compact dwarf shrub (3

tall and 3-4

wide) that produces an abundance of white flowers with a tinge of pink. An early bloomer, ‘Bobo’ is a great addition to today’s home landscapes.

Spring Meadow’s other popular hardy hydrangeas include


, ‘Little Lime’, ‘Little Lamb’, ‘Quick Fire’, and ‘Pinky Winky’ As the name implies, the flowers of ‘Limelight’ flowers are a soft green that change to pink in the fall. Not a dwarf, it can reach a height of eight feet. ‘Limelight’ is adaptable to sun or shade and different soil types. ‘Little Lime’ is a dwarf form that only reaches a height of 3

to 5


‘Pinky Winky’ is a show stopper with its abundant two-toned pink flower heads that reach a size of 12″ to 16″ in length. Not a dwarf, the shrub reaches a height of 6

to 8

. ‘Little Lamb’ has smaller pink-tinged flowers and grows to a height of 4

to 6


Plant breeders didn’t just turn their attention to the hardy hydrangea. They’ve also put considerable effort into making Hydrangea macrophylla more garden friendly. Hydrangea macrophylla (better known as bigleaf, mophead, or lacecap hydrangea) has flowers that range from blue to purple to pink depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. In acid soils, the aluminum in soil is more readily available and the flowers are blue. In alkaline soils, the aluminum is not available and the flowers are pink. The flower form of Hydrangea macrophylla varies from the blowsy mopheads to the lacy flat-topped lacecaps. I personally prefer the lacecaps, but the large mophead flowers can be astounding.

Bailey Nurseries has introduced the ‘Endless Summer’ collection of repeat blooming hydrangeas. One of the newest in the Endless Summer series is Twist-n-Shout with lacecap flowers that will be pink in our local alkaline soils. Not only is it a very reliable repeat bloomer, it’s leaves turn an attractive burgundy red in the fall. While it’s winter hardy in our area, it’s recommended that you plant it in partial shade. It grows 3

to 5

tall and wide.

Proven Winners also has a several lines of Hydrangea macrophylla. Let’s Dance Moonlight is one of their most popular because it’s a strong rebloomer, grows to 2

to 3

tall, and has rich pink (or blue) mophead flowers.

You may have already noticed the proliferation of hydrangea available at local nurseries. I suggest trying a few, especially the compact dwarf forms that can easily be added to your landscape or perennial border.
Published: 12/2/2011 10:02 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and almost anywhere you look you can find pink, from pink ribbons, to pink ties, and even pink football uniforms. With all that, it’s no surprise that the nursery industry has also made efforts to create awareness about breast cancer and raise money for research.

Spring Meadow Nursery has developed the ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ hydrangea which provides a pink twist on the classic ‘Annabelle’ popular since the 1960s because of it’s hardiness and reliability. ‘Annabelle’ is a smooth leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) with large, rounded, white flowers and dark green wide leaves.

‘Invincibelle Spirit’ is the first ever pink smooth leaf hydrangea on the market. The flowers start out as dark pink buds and open to hot pink flowers that fade to soft pink and then green. The shrub grows to height of 3 to 4 feet and a width of 4 to five feet, producing flowers all season long. No matter what the soil, the flowers stay pink.

‘Invincibelle Spirit’ is touted as being both ‘eye-catching and easy-care.’ It isn’t fussy about soil and is more hardy and drought tolerant than most other hydrangeas on the market. It’s rated for partial sun to full sun. In our area I would suggest placing it in a location where it gets some shade in the afternoon.

Pruning is easy. The smooth leaf hydrangeas bloom on new wood, so in early spring cut ‘Invincebelle Spirit’ back to a height of 1 to 2 feet. Pruning it back in this way will lead to a fuller plant with stronger stems that will better support the large flowers so… they won’t be as likely to flop over from their weight.

I was lucky enough to be given a small transplant of ‘’Invincebelle’ two years ago and this summer was the first time it bloomed. I didn’t prune it back in the spring because I wanted to give it a chance to grow and become stronger and better established. Without the pruning, the flowers did indeed flop over. However, the flowers were a lovely pink color and this very hardy hydrangea survived the two surprise cold snaps that injured a number of other ornamental trees and shrubs in our region.

Proven Winners, who markets ‘Invincebelle Spirit,’ is donating $1.00 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for each plant sold and hopes to raise $1 million. Proven Winners are not the first plant lovers to show their support for the fight against breast cancer with a pink flowered plant. In 2009, All-American Rose Selections picked ‘Pink Promise’ to support breast cancer awareness. ‘Pink Promise’ is a beautiful hybrid tea rose with fragrant large pink blooms set against dark green foliage.

Terra Nova Nurseries, perennial plant breeders in Oregon, developed a purple coneflower with large fragrant, soft pink flowers. The plant reaches a height of 20 inches and width of 24 inches. Terra Nova Nurseries donates $.25 from each plant sold to the Oregon & SW Washington affiliate of the Susan G. Komen.

You can show your support for breast cancer awareness and research by planting one of these pink flowered plants or by planting any pink flowers and making a donation to the breast cancer organization of your choice.
Published: 10/28/2011 10:24 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
It’s nice to see a resurgent interest in flowering shrubs. The flowering shrubs in our grandmothers’ gardens were often pretty only for the short time that they were in bloom. The rest of the growing season, at best they provided a backdrop for flowers planted in front of them and at worst they were big, ugly and ungainly.

In recent years, plant breeders have been developing new flowering shrubs that are better behaved and that provide multi-seasonal interest. Last week I talked about big leaf hydrangeas… a plant generally not considered well suited to our hot summers and sometimes severely cold winters. However, gardeners have some viable options with different types of hydrangeas. Plant breeders have been tinkering with these other hydrangeas to develop plants that meet the differing needs of gardeners across the country.

Hardy hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata), also known as panicled hydrangeas, is one of these other types getting attention from plant breeders. These hydrangeas are very winter hardy and have a conical or plume-like flower head that are different than the flat-topped lace-cap or mophead clusters of the big leaf hydrangea. In cold climates the hardy hydrangeas are able to bloom reliably because they form their buds in the early summer right before they bloom in mid-summer.

Our grandmothers grew the standard hardy hydrangea cultivar ‘Grandiflora’ known as Pee Gee. The large flowers of Pee Gee were noteworthy, but the stems weren’t strong enough to support them. Newer cultivars stand on their own, supporting their big flowers without collapsing or bending over. One of these is ‘Limelight.’ The six to twelve inch flower heads are at first a bright green and later turn to white, pink, and then deep pink in the fall. ‘Limelight’ is a bit tougher than the bigleaf hydrangeas and is able to perform better in sun and heat. However, in our region it’s a good idea to protect it from mid-afternoon sun. A mature height of eight to twelve feet is pretty big for many yards, but it can be kept to a shorter height with pruning.

‘Pinky Winky’ is another new hardy hydrangea with exceedingly large two-toned pink and white flower heads. Blooming from mid-summer to fall, the gargantuan 12 to 16 inch long flower heads are held upright on strong stems. This hydrangea isn’t as fussy as most hydrangeas, adapting to different soil types plus they’re somewhat tolerant of drought. The shrub grows to a height of six to eight feet.

‘Little Lamb’ is a smaller version of panicled hydrangea. It only grows to a height of three to four feet and has smaller white flower heads produced from mid-summer to fall. In fall the blooms turn pink. Easy to grow, this is a hydrangea that gardeners with small yards should try.
Another new hydrangea is ‘Quickfire.’ It dependably produces blooms from early summer into fall. The flowers start out white and turn to pinkish red.

Many gardeners aren’t familiar with the climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomal subsp. petiolaris). It’s a native to Japan and the coast of China. The showy six to ten inch diameter flower heads are airy lacecaps. The vine climbs by aerial tendrils and has glossy heart-shaped leaves along with exfoliating brown bark. Renowned and opinionated woody plant expert Dr. Michael Dirr favors it with praise as the ‘best vine.’

Climbing hydrangea is not overly vigorous when young and it’ slow to establish. After several years it will pick up the pace and eventually grow to 50 to 80 feet tall. Since it climbs with aerial rootlets it needs a rough surface to climb on, such as brick and stone walls or tall tree trunks. Two newer climbing hydrangeas are ‘’Skyland’s Giant’, a large flowered selection and ‘Firefly’ with variegated leaves. Climbing hydrangea does best in a well-drained organic soils mulched with an organic mulch.

So if you are a gardener that loves hydrangeas and haven’t been able to successfully grow the bigleaf type, you might find your luck will change if you try one of the hardy hydrangeas.

Published: 11/17/2006 2:28 PM


written by Marianne C. Ophardt WSU Extension Faculty for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA From time to time I get a call from local gardeners about growing hydrangeas. Some gardeners just can’t resist trying to ‘push the envelop.’ Unfortunately, the hydrangea that gardeners crave is the bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), also known as French or garden hydrangea. There are two types of bigleaf hydrangea. There is the lacecap (Hydrangea macrophylla var. normalis) type that have a flower head with a circle of large flowers around the outside edge with smaller flowers at the center forming a ‘lacecap.’ Most popular is the Hortensia type (Hydrangea macrophylla var. macrophylla) with large, showy blowsy mophead flowers in white, pink, or blue. The ‘true’ blue flowers are a color gardeners aren’t often able to achieve in the garden, making them particularly attractive and remarkable. They’re very pretty flowers, but these shrubs don’t fare particularly well in our climate. A Japanese native, it’s rated as winter hardy in USDA zone 6, but is subject to winter injury from severe cold and sudden freezes in the spring. It also isn’t well adapted to our region and becomes very stressed in extremely hot dry summer weather. If gardeners want to attempt to grow bigleaf hydrangea here, they need to select a protected area where the shrubs will be shaded from the hot afternoon sun in the summer, such as the north or northeast side of a house. Like most woody plants, they prefer moist, well drained soil. In our climate it’s advisable to mulch them with an organic material, such as bark or compost, and provide them with enough water to keep them from experiencing drought stress. As noted, some Hortensia flowers can be either pink or blue. The pink to blue shift in the color of some Hortensia cultivars is dependent on the amount of available aluminum in the soil. Aluminum is needed for the plant to create the blue pigment. Without aluminum, the flowers stay pink. In most gardens of the region the soil is quite alkaline, above a pH of 8.0. For aluminum to be readily available to plants, the soil must have a pH of 5.2 to 5.5. While gardeners can add sulfur and organic matter to the soil, it’s likely that they won’t be particularly successful in turning their hydrangea from pink to blue and keeping it there. Area gardeners wanting blue hydrangeas, should consider creating raised beds with amended soil as a way to achieve a more acidic soil. Aluminum can be provided by adding one tablespoon of aluminum sulfate per gallon of water and applying it to the root zone of established (two to three-year-old plants.) One gardener suggests trying to grow them in large pots with an organic, acidic planting mix. Although this could also go awry if the irrigation water is alkaline. Garden Note: Not all bigleaf hydrangeas turn blue. Some cultivars turn a dull red in acid soils and are much more attractive with pink flowers that develop in alkaline soils. Even if you’re not seeking blue flowers on your hydrangea, alkaline soils may cause you problems. Bigleaf hydrangea is subject to iron chlorosis where the youngest leaves turn yellow to white between the veins and fail to grow well. Adding organic matter and sulfur to the soil before planting, mulching with organic mulches, and fertilizing with acidifying fertilizers can help. Another common complaint gardeners have when growing bigleaf hydrangeas is a lack of flowers. This could be due to a lack of adequate light. While they benefit from some shade in our climate, too much shade can lead to a lack of flowers. Injury from severely cold winter weather or late spring freezes can also damage potential flower buds. Yet another reason for a lack of flowers on a big leaf hydrangea may be directly in the gardener’s hands… pruning. Bigleaf hydrangeas flower on the previous year’s growth. There is often a tendency to try to hedge them into submission in the spring, because they can grow quite large. Unfortunately, this removes the parts of the shrub that would have flowered. The recommended way to prune bigleaf hydrangea is to remove 1/3 of the oldest stems at the base each winter. If a shorter shrub is desired, the time to prune for height or flower removal is right after flowering. If you’re a gardener who likes hydrangea flowers but you don’t crave the true blue ones, you might want to consider the newest cultivars of hardy panicled hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)… more about them next time.

Published: 11/10/2007 2:29 PM



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