When you pass along a hydrangea cutting, you are passing along a piece of history.

By Patricia S York

They dot the countryside with giant balloons of blooms in varying shades of blue, pink, and purple. Take a drive down a long, winding country road this summer. I guarantee that in almost every yard you pass there will be a big hydrangea bush, heavy with blossoms. There are certain plants, such as magnolias, azaleas, and camellias, that just have a natural association with Southern gardens. Whether it is because of their beauty or easy growing habits, or the fact that this plant holds nostalgic memories for many people, here are three reasons the hydrangea is one plant that Southerners will always love.

Southerners Love History

If you think your family line goes way back, consider the hydrangea. Even though it is believed this plant was first cultivated in Japan (the mophead hydrangea was hidden in the secret gardens of Japan for hundreds of years before it was discovered in 1776 by Swedish botanist Carl Peter Thunberg), ancient hydrangea fossils dating back to 40-65 million years ago have been discovered in North America. Native Americans used the root and bark of the plant for medicinal purposes. And as for the name? "Hydrangea" stems from two Greek roots, ‘hydro' meaning water and ‘angeion' meaning vessel. Together, the rough translation is "water vessel," which possibly refers to the plant's thirst for water.

There is a Hydrangea for Every Garden

Whether you have a big yard or want to plant container gardens, there is a hydrangea for you. While the majority of hydrangeas do their best work in zones 5 – 9, there are quite a few that are perfectly happy in zones 3 and 4. The classic, French hydrangeas we remember from our childhood will always hold a soft spot in our gardener's heart, but new varieties are being introduced that, when planted in your yard, can better tolerate the heat and drought that would normally wilt a hydrangea. Line your front steps with pots of brightly colored hydrangeas for a cheery welcome or decorate your outdoor living area with a mixture of hydrangea and complementary plants. You can even add them to your window boxes. An advantage to growing hydrangeas in pots is that you don't have to worry about the bad soil in your backyard; you can purchase the best potting soil available so that your hydrangea has a fighting chance. If you have an unsightly wall you want to hide, consider planting a climbing hydrangea, a flowering vine that produces fragrant, lace-cap white flower clusters.

Hydrangea is the Perfect Pass Along Plant

Those gorgeous hydrangeas you see in the countryside didn't all come from big-box nurseries. Chances are, many of them grew from cuttings from established plants, gifted by neighbors or family members. Sharing plants is as common in the South as sharing recipes, and hydrangeas are some of the easiest plants to "pass along."

French hydrangeas are easy to root from cuttings. First, take 6-inch tip cuttings in summer and strip off the lowest pair of leaves on each. Next, wet the cut ends, and dip them in rooting powder. Finally, stick the cuttings into pots filled with moist potting soil, and place them in the shade. They should root in 6 to 8 weeks.