Garden Clippings: Untangling Hydrangeas | Chatham Daily News

ydrangeas, with their big, bold blooms are hard to miss.

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In early July, the hydrangea’s first blooms are traditional smooth hydrangeas, with pure white snowball-type blooms that last through August. The flowers are very abundant, often covering the entire plant, hiding the green leaves inside.

The world of hydrangeas is vast, and the many species of hydrangeas that exist cannot be expected to be identified. But categorizing them can be helpful in determining which species are suitable for your landscape.

Hydrangeas can generally be grouped into four main categories. The first, and perhaps most confusing, is the large hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). Most colored hydrangeas fall into this category. Within the bigleaf hydrangea there are three subclasses: lacecap, mountain and mophead. They are all shade tolerant but will flower best if given half a day or more sun.

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Mopheads feature large, round flowers, often in shades of pink to red to purple. Blooms can be coaxed into turning blue with acidic soil, although in most parts of southwestern Ontario we may find it easier to move to British Columbia than to turn our soil from alkaline to acidic. Mophead hydrangeas are usually smaller than large hydrangeas, which makes them a good choice for small gardens.

Lacecaps are similar to mopheads in all respects, but their interesting flowers close in the center and open around the outer edges.

Mountain hydrangeas are a relatively new variety of hydrangeas that are similar to lacecaps, but are tougher, designed to withstand extreme cold. The flowers are smaller, but just as impressive.

The second category, the flowering hydrangea, is easy to identify because its flowers are conical rather than round. The blooms usually start out white, then slowly turn pink and finally become a tan color. The flowers are long lasting and can be placed indoors for Christmas and winter decoration.

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While other classes of hydrangeas have fleshy stems with rounded, heart-shaped leaves, panicles have woody stems and narrower leaves. Hydrangea can range in size from a few feet to more than two metres. A shrub-shaped hydrangea with a main central stem that opens out into a wider shrub that falls into the paniculate category. Will grow in full sun to partial shade.

Soft hydrangea is the first to bloom in the summer. The original soft hydrangea, Annabelle, with its bold white blooms, has now been largely replaced by Incrediball with stronger stems and more profuse blooms.

Oakleaf hydrangeas are a fourth and smaller category, noted for large leaves, similar to those of red oak. Flowers are less abundant. The leaves are green during the spring and summer, and turn a reddish-bronze in the fall and early winter.

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The smallest, fifth-group of hydrangeas is climbing hydrangea, with white blooms and unique stems that hug a wall or trellis. Climbing hydrangeas are one of the few vines that enjoy growing in full shade.

Hydrangeas of all types are enjoying a tidal wave of popularity. It blooms in summer, long after short-lived spring-flowering shrubs such as lilac, forsythia, and snowball have finished showing their color. Hydrangeas provide a pop of color, even if planted in shade.

Hydrangeas are obedient, in that they range in size from a foot or two in height and width for narrow spots, to over two meters for providing privacy in a shrub border.

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