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What's Up Magazine

Hello Hydrangea!

Jun 01, 2011 02:40PM ● By Anonymous

The beauty of their profuse blooms last from spring to fall. They even make a statement when cut and placed in a vase.

Hydrangea, from Greek word “angeîon,” meaning vessel, are native to North and South America, the Himalayas, and Eastern and Central Asia, and have a lifespan inclusive of the spring, summer, and fall months. In the 18th century, hydrangeas were brought to England, and were soon popular across Europe. Native Americans used hydrangeas for their medicinal properties. For example, the bark of a hydrangea was used to ease muscle sprains and burns.  Today, the hydrangea is still used as a tonic herb.

Planting, Pruning and Changing Colors
Hydrangeas are hardy plants that grow well in many soil types, which makes them even more popular. Varieties that do well in Maryland include the Oakleaf, hydrangea quercifolia and the Bigleaf hydrangea macrophylla.


Lace caps, hydrangeas that have small bud-like blooms in the center with larger florets on the outside, can be easy to place in a landscaped garden because they have looser and subtler blooms than traditional “mopheads.” “Mopheads” are the full balls of blooms you typically see pictured in old fashioned, cottage gardens.

One unique thing about certain hydrangea varieties (for example, Bigleaf and Oakleaf) is that they can change colors based on the soil’s pH. According to local experts, Maryland soil is generally acidic, which means hydrangeas will naturally turn blue. To achieve a deeper blue, they suggest adding one tablespoon of aluminum sulfate to a gallon of water and applying it three times a season. You can also turn your hydrangeas pink by raising the pH. Adding dolomitic lime to the ground three to four times a year can achieve the desired pH level. However, don’t expect these color changes to happen overnight; it can take up to a year.

Annabelles hydrangea arborescens or “snowball” hydrangeas, are also popular, because of their unique color change. When they first flower, they bloom a vibrant shade of green. After a short amount of time they will change into their characteristic white color, and then back to green.

Hydrangeas grow best in areas with access to sun and shade, and they need a good drainage system. They also need regular amounts of watering, but not too much. Overwatering can slow flowering. A good quality, slow-release fertilizer applied once in spring or early summer is sufficient.

While most species of hydrangeas can tolerate pruning, moderation is the key. A local horticulturalist suggests limiting pruning to removing dead stems in the spring before the buds open.  The safest pruning is to simply deadhead the flowers (take off dead flower heads). PeeGees, hydrangea paniculata, are the only form of hydrangeas that can be pruned into tree forms. These are the hydrangeas that many of us remember from our grandmas’ gardens, the large showy blooms that can reach up to 25 feet in height. There are 100s of species of hydrangeas, so it is recommended to buy a plant locally or do your research to find out what types grow well in our area before purchasing.

Hydrangeas can add instant impact to your spring and summer garden, as they are gorgeous flowers with lasting beauty— even after they are cut and placed in water.

Decorating and Drying Hydrangeas
With their delicate color and abundant blooms, hydrangeas can add a look of romance to any indoor or outdoor setting. It only takes a few blooms to fill a crystal vase and the result is breathtaking.

You can also dry hydrangeas to use them all year. Dry them naturally for a muted hue or use silica gel to preserve their vibrant color. To begin drying them naturally, cut your hydrangeas about four to six weeks after they bloom (blossoms will begin to feel papery, but still have their color). One way to dry them naturally is to hang them upside down and air-dry them. However, the preferred method is to “water dry” them because the dried flowers become less brittle and last longer.

To “water dry,” strip the stems of leaves, and cut at various lengths, placing them in a vase about ¾ filled with cool water. Tuck them away from direct sunlight and air conditioning vents, but also make sure they are not sitting in a humid part of your home. To make sure that each flower head gets enough air circulation, place each stem in a separate vase or alternate flower stem heights in a larger vase. Let them sit until water evaporates. They should dry beautifully after a few weeks and will last indefinitely. Use them in baskets, in vases, by themselves or to make wreaths.

To preserve their natural, intense color is a bit more complicated and you need to use silica gel. There are many websites offering tutorials on preserving your hydrangeas with silica gel.

Home & Garden Editor Renee Houston Zemanski has lovely lacecap and bigleaf hydrangeas in her garden. Intern Jenna Jones contributed to this article.