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The Flower Show

The Hydrangea Renaissance

July 14, 2021

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By Will Sulahian

Summertime means you can find hydrangeas everywhere. Known for a kaleidoscope of blooms and robust green foliage, these shrubs with their robust flower heads can be used in landscapes and gardens and are a great addition to a flower arrangement. Here is PHS’s recommended list of the best species and cultivars for these summertime favorites in the region. 

The Best of the Best 

Hydrangeas are unique, as interest in them has exploded. Personalities like Martha Stewart helped hydrangeas gain popularity, and few other plants have had this “renaissance” of interest. Hydrangeas are a versatile group of plants that are grown throughout the U.S and worldwide. In Pennsylvania, there are several selections of hydrangeas that thrive. Here are some that Andrew Bunting, Vice President of Public Horticulture at PHS recommends. 

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ 

Also called smooth hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens is a popular species of hydrangea in Pennsylvania and is currently blooming. This variety features “mophead” flowers which is a clustered sphere of flowers. These specific mopheads have bright, white flowers. ‘Annabelle’ can grow between four and five feet tall, and the species is native to the Pennsylvania woodlands. They can be kept smaller by cutting back the stems to the ground each spring. If you don’t have a lot of space, the smaller Invincibelle Wee White™ or Invincibelle Limetta® varieties are also great picks, as they are like ‘Annabelle’ while only growing two to three feet tall.  

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ 

Unlike Hydrangea arborescens, this species, also known as peegee hydrangea, blooms a bit later in the summer and the blooms take on a cone shape. Hydrangea paniculata and its cultivars can range in height from 3-25 feet tall depending on the cultivar. This variety has been around for decades and is a popular pick among gardeners for its hardiness and its ability to be pruned in a variety of ways.  It can be maintained as a tree or pruned hard in early spring and kept as a shrub. With conical clusters of flowers, other varieties such as ‘Limelight’ and Pinky Winky® can sport light pinks and lime greens, sometimes shifting through multiple colors in a growing season. 

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Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'


Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’ 

Native to the southeastern United States, many varieties of this species are referred to as the oakleaf hydrangea since their leaves are shaped like red oak leaves. These leaves give an extra “wow” effect when they turn brilliant shades of purple and crimson in the fall.  ‘Snowflake’ has white cones of flowers and is unique since it has double flowers, which weigh down and causes them to hang downwards. “This makes it a great candidate for walls since the hydrangea can cascade over a flat surface,” says Bunting. 

Planting and Maintaining 

No matter what hydrangea you choose, it’s important to note some of their special attributes. All three species above can be grown in full sun conditions. Certain species like Hydrangea arborescens can also grow in shade while Hydrangea paniculata is tolerant of drought conditions, which is great for dry summers.  

One thing to keep an eye out for is deer browsing the plants. If you live near a deer population, be sure to put your hydrangeas in a place they can’t reach or consider protecting your garden with fencing or mesh. 

There are plenty of hydrangea varieties beyond the three listed here that can add color to your garden, and with the popularity of hydrangeas being high, they are accessible and easy to find. If you want to learn more about plants like hydrangeas or new gardening skills, become a member!  

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