I have a love/hate relationship with blue hydrangeas. One has to admit that few sights are as beguiling to gardeners as mature bigleaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) covered with huge clusters of sky blue flowers. Because blue flowers are so rare and beautiful, many of us (including myself) were lured into believing that we could recreate this heavenly vision in our USDA hardiness zone 5 yards. And occasionally, we are rewarded with gorgeous blue flower heads in June and July.

hydrangea LR

Blue hydrangea. Photo by L. Rivers

More often than not come spring and I, along with a fair amount of other gardeners judging from our phone calls, end up with a bunch of dead, leafless stems sticking out of the ground.

hydrangea w dead stems

Hydrangea with dead stems. Photo by dmp.

Because this scenario was repeated time and time again with older bigleaf hydrangea cultivars, excitement mounted when repeat blooming mophead hydrangeas such as ‘Endless Summer’ and the ‘Let’s Dance’ arrived on the scene. These produce flower buds on both the previous season’s growth (old wood) and on current season’s stems (new growth). So supposedly, even if the old wood is injured or killed by harsh winter weather, the plants would flower at the end of the season from buds on new growth.

I thought they would look perfect under my living room windows and brought home a couple of ‘Endless Summers’ a few years ago. Some years they did okay producing midsummer blooms on at least a few older stems that survived the winter while sending up new stems that would bloom later in September.

Front planting

Front planting. Photo by dmp.

As our winters became more unpredictable with fluctuating temperatures, lack of consistent snow cover, sudden periods of bitter cold following a warmer than normal fall and so on, both the leaf buds and flower buds on last year’s stems were killed. The new growth that was pushed out from the roots would easily stretch up 5 feet, covering the front window boxes. And, after waiting all summer, it still did not bloom or if it did, maybe one lonely blossom would tower above the foliage mocking me. I guess I could have paid more attention to winter protection and perhaps siting these plants where they were constantly pelted with hot afternoon sun was not such a wise idea. So, I decided to move them to a shrub border where I gave them 3 more years to strut their stuff with not much better results.

Last year I dug up the hydrangeas and planted some arrowwood viburnums in their place. True, the flowers are not that showy but the birds do enjoy the berries and as wildlife needs our support, I’ve been trying to replace plants that do not make me happy with those that will benefit wildlife. The hydrangea just got tossed into our dump pile and wouldn’t you know it, it has beautiful blue blossoms now! I’m just leaving it there, however.

Hydrangea in dump pile

Hydrangea blooming in dump pile. Photo by dmp.

Hydrangeas are a hot commodity right now with exciting new cultivars like ‘Cherry Explosion’, ‘Seaside Serenade’ and ‘Blue Enchantress’, but I am sticking to just my two tried and true hydrangeas.

Most hydrangeas are not attractive to pollinators but climbing hydrangeas are lacecaps meaning that they have fertile flowers in the center surrounded by sterile ray flowers. This is a wonderful woody, clinging vine that needs a wall or strong tree or other structure to grow on. Plants can reach 75 feet in height so pay attention to where you plant it. Mine is on a cherry tree next to our swing. The creamy white flowers practically glow on cloudy days illuminating this woodland setting.

Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing hydrangea on porch in Barre. Photo by dmp.

There is an oak leaf hydrangea that a friend gave me at the entrance to my white garden. It’s a sizable plant, reaching 6 feet or so, but I hear there are smaller cultivars out now. The huge creamy blossoms look fresh for weeks. Even as they fade to a soft, dusty brown, they remain attractive well into the autumn. The oak-shaped leaves take on a burgundy hue come October. While I have not seen any pollinators on this plant, it is native to southeast U.S. and tolerates the dry, partially shaded spot it got planted in 25 or so years ago so it’s a keeper.

oakleaf hydrangea

Oak leaf hydrangea in white garden. Photo by dmp 2020.

Stay cool!

Dawn P.