Plants, like clothes, go in and out of style, says Michael Mauro, curator of the plant family collections at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Old-fashioned pom-pom hydrangeas come to mind.
But new varieties of the plant, bred to bloom all summer long, have helped the grand dowager stage a comeback. “Now there’s a hydrangea for every place and every garden,” says Gloria Ward, president of the American Hydrangea Society.
Ward says she has packed some 250 different hydrangea plants into her own 1/3 acre garden in Atlanta, Georgia–some in sun, some in part sun (in bright light necessary to bloom, but not the direct hot afternoon sun that burns the blooms), and several climbing the walls of her brick house. Hydrangeas thrive in moist soil with good drainage, but beyond that require very little care besides deadheading and pruning, and attract few pests. “They’re just so easy,” says Ward.
We asked experts Mauro and Ward to reveal their favorites (and tips for buying and growing these gorgeous plants). Here’s their list of the 10 best hydrangeas:
Above: Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ in bloom in Ward’s garden in Atlanta; the cultivar likes a bit of shade.
“Fantastic,” says Mauro. “Fabulous,” says Ward. The mopheads of the arborescens species can grow up to 10 inches in diameter, starting out lime green, turning white, and then turning lime green again when dried, which they do very nicely.
“The neat thing about Annabelle,” says Ward, “is that they bloom on new wood, so it’s perfect for us in the South. If you plant different species, it’s like an insurance policy. Even if there’s a late freeze, you still have some blooms on different plants.”
Get it now: Buy this plant in full flower to make sure the blossoms are big and white, not flat and fuzzy. Shipped for fall planting, a Hydrangea Arborescens Annabelle shrub is $22.99 from White Flower Farm.
Above: Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’.
“Today everyone has busy schedules,” says Mauro, “and they want to plant something and see blooms all summer long.” So a few years ago horticulturalists crossed a couple of varieties to come out with this classic “mophead” plant that, yes, blooms during the warm months on both old branches and new.
Blooms can be white, blue, or lavender depending on the acidity of the soil, and can be various colors even on one bush. To change the color of the flowers, see Magic Trick: How to Make Your Hydrangea Change Color.
Get it now: A Hydrangea Endless Summer is $19.95 from Wayside Gardens.
Above: A Hydrangea ‘BloomStruck’. Ward also recommends this long-blooming variety, which she believes has sturdier stems than Endless Summer.
Get it now: A Hydrangea BloomStruck is $31.95 from White Flower Farm.
Twist and Shout
Above: Another adorably named plant, this one produces “lacecap” flowers and is also a remontant, or reblooming variety, that Ward says is her current favorite. It’s critical, though, to deadhead the blooms in order to keep them blooming all season.
From the paniculata species, these have almost cone-shaped flower heads and also bloom on new wood. These bloom in full sun.
Another of Mauro’s favorites is this Japanese cultivar serrata hydrangea (also called ‘Sawtooth’). Photograph via Amazon.
The small double petals look like little stars, and the blooms start out white and turn shades of pink, purple, blue, and even yellow–sometimes all on one plant. While all hydrangeas like lots of water, this breed in particular needs moist soil and afternoon or dappled shade.
Get it now: A four-year-old Hydrangea Serrata ‘Midoriboshi Temari’ plant, cut back to a height of from 4 to 6 inches, is $24 from Amazon.
Above: This is a macrophylla that can grow as tall as 5 feet. Although not a rebloomer, its mopheads are made of little cupped petals and can be pink, blue or lavender, depending on the soil.
Above: A cultivar of oakleaf hydrangea, the blossoms grow on dwarf bushes and turn, yes, a rosy ruby red as they age, while the leaves turn mahogany in the fall.
Get it now: In a 1-gallon pot, a Hydrangea Quercifolia Ruby Slippers ships for fall planting; $24.95 from White Flower Farm.
Above: Photograph by Sara Barrett for Gardenista.
Snowflake is a quercifolia hydrangea that will bloom white and age nicely, turning many different shades, even red and burgundy, says Ward. The exfoliating bark adds another dimension, “interesting to watch throughout the season.” Ward recommends leaving a lot of blossoms on the bush or stem. ‘It’s kind of prettier in the winter to look out and see the old blossoms. With snow and frost they take on a whole different perspective.”
Above: This climbing hydrangea covers the brick walls of Ward’s house, putting forth a lacy white bloom. It’s a self clinger, so needs no extra supports, but Ward cautions that it can take a bit of time for the clingers to develop.
Get it now: Shipped for fall planting, a Hydrangea Anomala Petiolaris in a 1-gallon pot is $29.95 from White Flower Farm.
For more of our favorite hydrangeas, see:
- Magic Trick: How to Make Your Hydrangea Change Color.
- Bouquet of the Week: Hydrangeas Gone Wild.
- DIY: Dried Hydrangea Garlands.
- Landscape Architect Visit: A Very American Garden on Cape Cod.
N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published July 15, 2015.