Hydrangeas are a wonderful garden plant: they are easy to grow and bloom through a long season. They're dapper, colorful, and adaptable, suitable for garden beds, flowerpots, and that tricky spot right by the front door. They are also the shrub of the moment: stylish modern hybrids of steady old-fashioned hydrangeas are up to date and fresher than a daisy.
For gardeners looking for pretty, low-maintenance shrubs that bloom reliably and don't need pampering, hydrangeas have instant appeal. They are large enough to make a big impression, but they also fit in where sprawling evergreens and thorny barberries are either too big or just too predictable. Here are some great choices:
Nikko Blue is an all-time favorite mop-head hydrangea with dazzling blue flowers as big as soup bowls. The shimmering White King, the dramatic, dark-flowered Masja, and the double-flowered Expression are others in the long-blooming, large-flowered Hydrangea macrophylla group, sometimes known as big-leaf hydrangeas.
Lace-cap hydrangeas, such as Jogasaki, Vetchii, and Beni are in the macrophylla group, too, but they have flat flower heads, as pretty as a lace doily. Both mop-head and lace-cap hydrangeas flourish in part shade to part sun.
Incrediball and Invincibelle Spirit are in the group known as smooth hydrangeas. These are hybrids of a native North American hydrangea. Annabelle is the old-time standard, but new hybrids are prized for their stronger stems and larger flowers. Incrediball has enormous white blooms; Invincibelle Spirit's pink flowers bloom from summer through frost. These shrubs sparkle in shade gardens.
Pinky Winky is one of the most popular of the panicle hydrangeas. These are late-season bloomers with voluptuous cone-shaped clusters of flowers that change colors subtly, from white to pink, as they mature. Boombshell is a particularly compact but prolifically blooming hybrid with delicate white flowers. Panicle hydrangeas tolerate more sun than mop-head hydrangeas.
True colors: pink or blue?
Mop-head hydrangeas are the garden's chameleons: the flowers may be pink or blue, depending on the acidity of the soil they're growing in. Even Nikko Blue flowers can be pink.
Acidic soil produces blue flowers, and non-acidic soils produce pink flowers. Sometimes a single plant will have both pink and blue flowers.
Aluminum, which makes flowers blue, is more available to plant roots in acidic soils. In the old days, gardeners poured pickle juice around hydrangeas to make the flowers blue. You could also use a light application of an azalea fertilizer.
For pink flowers, scratch lime into the soil around plants. Or just wait for your hydrangeas to bloom and enjoy whatever colors they come up with.