Hydrangeas, those dramatic flowering shrubs once thought suitable only for more moderate climates, are now a Prairie garden staple.
Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle is an excellent, hardy variety. Its spectacular white drumstick blooms can measure from 10 to 14 inches across and more. Typically, Annabelle grows about three to five feet in height and blooms every year without fail, even after severe pruning or an intensely cold winter. Another plus is the dry-ability of Annabelle’s blooms. Allow the bloom head to dry on the plant for a while, then cut the stem, strip off the leaves and place it in a vase where it can give you ongoing pleasure while completing the drying process.
Hydrangea paniculata Pee Gee is slightly larger than Annabelle and is the hardiest of all hydrangeas, growing three to five feet in height. Its cone-shaped flower heads, which come in mid-to late summer, are generally smaller than other hydrangea blooms, but what they lack in size, they make up for in colour. They start out white, and turn pink as the nights get cooler.
Endless Summer is a macrophylla hydrangea with blue flowers that come on new wood. It is the earliest blooming of the hardy hydrangeas. In order to keep the flowers blue, add aluminum sulphate to the soil. Otherwise, Endless Summer will fade to lighter pink each year. Endless Summer puts on a spectacular show right up to the first heavy frost, but will need heavy mulching to survive the winter.
Pink Diamond is a paniculata hydrangea whose bloom starts out white in midsummer and turns pink with a red edge later on. The flower heads are an open-cone shape. Pink Diamond generally forms a three-to four-foot-wide plant. Once established, it shows good drought tolerance.
Limelight, another new paniculata hydrangea, has been known to grow to six and eight feet high. Flowers appear in late summer and start out as a tight lime-green cone that turns to pink and even burgundy if there is a long-enough autumn.
White Moth is similar to Annabelle in appearance, though not as hardy. It grows about four feet high and four feet wide. Bloom time is from mid-to late summer until the first hard frost.
Kyushu is a paniculata hydrangea with very large, open, lacy cream flowers that come in mid-to late summer. As the days and nights grow cooler, the flowers take on varying shades of pink. Under the right conditions, Kyushu will grow eight feet tall.
Experts advise that all hydrangeas receive some form of winter protection. At the very least, they should be planted in a protected area that gets good snow cover. The worst place for a hydrangea is against a house foundation with a west or south exposure since this is where snow tends to melt first during mid-winter thaws. And without snow cover, the plant will freeze.
Hydrangeas do best planted away from foundations in beds with a sunny to partial shade location.
The heavier the winter mulch, the better. Mulch at least three feet out from the centre of the plant in every direction, and two to three feet up from the ground. Spread on the mulching material as soon as the leaves drop in the fall and the temperature goes down to about -10 C. Piling up snow around the plants in early winter is also a great help.
Darlene Polachic writes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan