Ten years ago, if you’d asked me to name the one shrub I couldn’t live without, I would’ve instantly answered, “oak-leaf hydrangea.” It was the perfect plant for the acre of woods that surrounded my house – an easy-care shade lover with ever-increasing numbers of new hybrids with large, dramatic blooms.
But now I’ve fallen in love with what I used to consider a hopelessly old-fashioned plant – garden hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), also known as bigleaf or mop-head hydrangea.
I haven't changed my mind about most of them, though – just the new kinds that bloom over and over throughout the summer.
I love having the big, floppy flowers repeatedly from May until October – instead of just once. But the continuous blooming also solves the most common problem of hydrangeas – flower buds getting killed by late-spring frosts so that the bushes don’t produce flowers that year.
Today, I’ll report on Endless Summer, and tomorrow we'll talk about Forever and Ever.
The original offers flowers up to 8 inches across in pink or blue (depending on your soil), grows three to five feet tall and spreads about the same. It’s listed for Zones 4-9, although you may lose flowers to frost in Zone 4. And it may wilt in the heat of the day in Zone 9.
Blushing Bride has white flowers with a pinkish tint. It grows more upright than the rounded original, about three to six feet high and the same width. Blushing Bride’s leaves are a darker green than the original’s, and it doesn't claim to be as cold-hardy: Zones 5-9.
It also seems to need more shade than most hydrangeas, which is actually good news for gardeners with lots of trees.
The reason these hydrangeas bloom more than once and others don't is that traditional hydrangeas produce flower buds over the previous summer. (This is called blooming on "old wood," stems that grew the previous season.)
So if the stems or buds are damaged by winter cold (or improper pruning – a common issue with hydrangeas – no flowers appear.
But the repeat-blooming hydrangeas produce flowers on what's called "new wood," meaning the new growth of the stems, as well as old wood. Since these plants are always growing, they're always developing new flowers.
A great idea, huh?
Care is the same as for other hydrangeas: Plant where the shrub gets morning sun and afternoon shade (more shade in really hot climates); provide well-drained soil; and water copiously.
But with Endless Summer, you're rewarded with many more flowers over a long period of time for the same care and effort. For me, that makes the choice simple.