New varieties, products, know-how alleviate headache of hydrangeas

by Lori Gray

If you’ve ever stared longingly at a line of big bushy hydrangeas full of colorful dramatic flowers thinking you could never duplicate that beauty, you may be wrong.

“Hydrangea care no longer has to be as complicated,” according to Rob Cowie, director of operations at Suncrest Gardens in Peninsula. “There are newer rebloomer varieties that offer options for easier care as they bloom on both new and old wood [i.e. last year’s growth].”

Cowie said buyers should make sure the plant has a tag that notes it is a rebloomer and shows the zone tolerance. Steer clear of the floral hydrangeas, which are available for sale almost everywhere in early spring.  

“Floral hydrangeas are created to bloom in more temperate climates like Georgia,” he said. “These plants are sold with flowering buds. But, once planted, they won’t bloom here. They will grow but never bloom again.” 

When picking color, be aware that “blue or pink hydrangeas require more care,” said Bob Witsaman, founder of Royal Victorian Gardens in North Royalton.

“In order for the colors to remain true, the soil must be treated before the growing season begins,” Witsaman said. “Acid for blue and alkaline for pink blooms.”

The best time to prep the soil is “late winter and again about a month later in early spring,” Crowie advised. “The plant needs to ingest the acid at the root. Once the plant starts to bloom, it will not change color that season,” he said.

Cowie added that there are new products available to ease the maintenance.

“You can simply sprinkle soil sulfur product around the plant, and you will have the color you need. A lot of people think acidic fertilizer will do it, but these fertilizers do not have enough of what the plant needs,” he said.

Also, according to Cowie, most of the colored hydrangeas require sun only in the morning to thrive. These varieties like to be shaded later in the day.


Pruning hydrangeas still can be a sticking point but less so if you know what you’re dealing with.

“There are six species, and all are very different,” Witsaman said.

Mophead, also known as Big Leaf, have oversize blooms and leaves. The plants grow on old wood and offer a wide range of colors. “It will not bloom in the next year if cut back,” Witsaman said. “The stems from 2023 have to survive all the way to the blooming season to create new wood.” Witsaman added, however, that there is a new variety of Mophead, called Endless Summer, that blooms on “both old and new wood.”

Panicles blooms white, turning a little pink as the blooms mature. These plants are very popular, easy to grow and are the most adaptable of all the species. Also known as Peegee, Hardy and Limelight, it gives inexperienced gardeners a lower maintenance feature in gardens. “Panicles grow on new wood, and can be pruned either spring or fall,” according to Witsaman.

Smooth Leaf are native to this region and are great pollinators. They also grow on new wood, meaning they can be pruned whenever needed. Witsaman said, “There are a lot of great Smooth Leaf on the market. Honeybees and all of the pollinators love them. The Anabelle, which blooms in June, is a great example.”

Mountain is a newer variety available in this region. It originates from the mountains of Asia. “Also called the Lacecap with a similar flower to the Mophead but with more lacy petals, this variety offers much more hearty buds,” Witsaman explained. Pruning should be done in the early spring by removing dead branches.

Climbing are also native to Asia. “They are very beautiful, but slow growing as compared to other climbing plants like trumpet clematis or wisteria,” Witsaman said. Also, he added, the climbing hydrangea’s tendrils are aggressive, so it is important to not put this plant against siding as it will grow into the seams and pop the siding off the wall. He suggested it be planted against a rock wall, stone border or tree away from a building.

Oak Leaf thrive in a more natural habitat and are tolerant to shady areas, according to Witsaman. Oak Leaf can be pruned for shape and size before mid-summer. 

As a general rule-of-thumb, Cowie said white hydrangeas are pretty “pruning” tolerant compared to their colorful counterparts. 

“What’s great about the white varieties is that it doesn’t matter how you prune them,” he said. ∞