Grumpy Gardener's Guide to Hydrangeas

Don’t let the Grumpy Gardener scare you away - he really knows how to help you choose the right plants so you can create a beautiful Southern garden. Hydrangeas are one of the most popular plants in Southern gardens, not only for their riotous beautiful blooms but also for their ability to take the Southern heat.  Sure, some mopheads and lace caps will droop in the evening humidity, but keep them watered and they will perk up the next morning.   French hydrangeas are a favorite plant among Southerners. We love to grow, clip and share them with friends and family. In the warm days of summer, big balloons of blues, pink, purple, and white blooms seem to float up like magic from the lush green foliage of these shrubs. French hydrangeas, or mopheads, with their globelike, brightly colored flowers, are what most of us recall growing in our grandmother’s yard. Lace cap hydrangeas, a sister to the mopheads, have flowers that seem to float in flat, delicate looking clusters above the foliage. Their appearance is light and airy, beckoning bees and butterflies to the garden.  Oak leaf hydrangeas are another popular variety of hydrangeas. You might find their cone-shaped blooms growing naturally in the woods of the Deep South. In fact, they’re so naturally prevalent in this part of the country that oakleaf hydrangeas were named the state wildflower of Alabama. Their beautiful, cone shaped flowers, which bloom in late spring and early summer are just the beginning of their beauty. When the weather cools, their leaves add to the fall color by turning rich shades of red, orange, and maroon. Even during the cold days of winter they have something to show off—a cinnamon-colored peeling bark that adds warmth to gardens across the region. Once established, oakleaf hydrangeas can tolerate drought, but try to occasionally give them an extra drink during long dry periods. A layer of peat moss will help it retain moisture and keep the soil acidic, which they prefer. Pine straw or leaves are also good cover options. Their handsome, deeply lobed leaves and elongated clusters of white flowers pair well with almost any landscape. Oakleaf hydrangeas make an ideal companion for iconic Southern plants such as Southern magnolias, camellias, Southern shield fern ground cover, red maples, and sourwoods.


And now, the Grumpy Gardener. Hi, I'm Steve Bender. I'm Southern Living's Grumpy Gardener. Grrr. One of the most popular shrubs that we have in the south, and absolutely essential for your garden, is a hydrangea. Now, when I say the word hydrangea, I'm betting most of you are thinking about a plant that has big, blue or pink flowers, which is the French hydrangea, but actually there's lots of different kinds of hydrangeas, and they all make beautiful plants for your yard. So let's talk about a few of the kinds that you can find out there. One of the types that we like in the southeast so much is a native hydrangea that grows all in our woods. And it's called the oak leaf hydrangea. Why's it called that? Well, the leaves are shaped like oak leaves. This is a very, very easy plant to grow. It takes drought. It'll grow in light shade and it has really pretty bark and the flowers, when they open up, are just absolutely gorgeous. They start off white and then as they age, they kind of turn this kind of dusty rose color. It's a really great plant. It's one that I would highly recommend. It gets maybe six to eight feet tall. Needs hardly any care and is a very tough plant once it's established. Another plant I think you should try, is one called Annabelle. Annabelle is known for having these absolutely gigantic white flowers. They can be about as big as a dinner plate across. The plant usually blooms around June, grows maybe about 3 feet tall, and just covers itself with these huge white flowers. Now, when you're talking about the French hydrangea. Most people are growing that for the blue or the pink. That plant is easy to grow if you give it the right conditions. It has to have a certain amount of sun every day in order to bloom, so plant it in a place where it's gonna get, ideally, get sun in the morning and light shade in the afternoon. Give it good soil. It likes moist soil. It's fertile and has a lot of organic matter in it. According to the pH of the soil, whether your soil is acid or alkaline, changes the color of the flowers. In the southeast, where so many of our soils are acid, you're gonna see French hydrangeas with a lot of blue flowers. If it gets to be alkaline, those flowers will change from blue to pink. The thing about hydrangeas is there's a couple of them and they're native to the south and that's why we think of them as essentially southern. Other ones really come from the other side of the world but we think of them as being southern because they adapt to our climate really, really well. And in the summer time, they give us this absolutely just bounteous color that we can count on for weeks and weeks and weeks. And when you see them in people's gardens, it's just something you associate with summertime in the south. And that's why people love them so much. They're great for having out in the yard, enjoying big sweeps of them. You can mix the colors if you like. You can also cut the flowers and bring them indoors. So if you're going to have an essential southern garden you need to have hydrangeas. For more tips on essenail southern plants, pick up a copy of Southern Living. And go to [NOISE]
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