growing hydrangeas

With their splashy bright colors and big, puffy blooms, hydrangeas are one of summer’s  signature flowers. They are also a low-stress choice for home gardeners looking to embellish their garden next spring. Since they bloom right into the fall, they are an excellent option if you want to hang on to a little bit of summer.

“We sell a lot of hydrangeas,” says Nancy DeCrenza, who owns Pinesbridge Nursery in Ossining with her husband Bobby. There are so many varieties and heights to consider. If you choose the tree form, don’t plant them in an area where they will block your windows as they grow, advises Nancy.

Not sure which variety to plant? “One of the most popular and easiest hydrangeas to grow is Endless Summer,” says Eric Cioffi of Hardscrabble Farms in North Salem. “The traditional older varieties will bloom on old wood,” he explains. “But the Endless Summer has been hybridized so that the previous season’s growth – the old wood – can produce flower buds. It blooms on old and new growth and it blooms right into the fall.”

In terms of color, blue is the most popular, although pink is right up there, according to Nancy. “We carry one that is white and pink, too,” she says. “Then we have another lace cap hydrangea that is almost iridescent. There are lots of choices.”

If you aren’t sure which to plant, check with your local nursery, recommends Amy Albam, a community horticulture educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester County, in Elmsford. “Florist hydrangeas may not be hardy, so check with the nursery,” she cautions. “Hydrangea arborescens (wild hydrangea) and H. quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) are among the many varieties that are available and the color is really a matter of personal choice,” she says.

In terms of hardiness, Eric explains, “Hardiness in horticultural speak means winter survivability: when a plant can survive at an average winter temperature of 10 degrees. Hydrangeas will survive a winter, and they also tend to have a long bloom window.”

Hydrangeas also do very well at the seashore. “They like the ocean and the salt air,” Nancy says.

Spring is a great time to plant hydrangeas, Cioffi says. But be sure to keep up with the watering because as summer grows closer, they can easily dry out. You can also plant them in the fall, but avoid planting hydrangeas in the summer.

When you do plant them, leave enough space between them for adequate air circulation, Eric recommends. Water them every day in the summer, but be careful not to overwater.

The best time to water is between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., says Amy. Evaporation is low during this time so more water is absorbed by the soil. Leaves will dry quickly once the sun rises. Amy further advises, “Try to avoid watering in the afternoon or evening and on cloudy or windy days.”

Take a cutting from a branch of the hydrangea shrub that is five or six inches long, recommends Amy. Many experts agree the cutting will work best if taken from a branch that did not flower during the past year. Remove the lower leaves of the bottom two leaf nodes (the node is where the leaf comes out of the branch), Next, cut the largest leaves down so they are about half their size. Dip the cuttings into rooting hormone (an optional step) and insert them into damp vermiculite. Water the cuttings and let them drain. The soil should be moist but not soggy. Next, cover the cuttings and pot with plastic, making sure to keep the plastic away from the leaves to improve air circulation in the humid chamber. To help with this, you can add stakes.

Wait for dormancy to replant. “Dig it up when it is already asleep,” Nancy recommends. “Start replanting in March or April. Just don’t replant in the summertime when it is hot. June is okay but touchy. Or you could replant in the fall.”

Whenever you choose to plant hydrangeas, this is one gorgeous choice that will provide color and cheer for months at a time.

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