How to grow hydrangeas in Southern gardens

How to grow hydrangeas in Southern gardens

The Southeast often faces unpredictable weather. “We don’t have stability when it comes to forecasting rain or temperatures these days,” says Kacey Cloues, the general manager of the highly rated Garden*Hood in Atlanta’s historic Grant Park neighborhood. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons she’s such a fan of oak leaf hydrangeas.

Varieties of this shade-loving, 4- to 6-foot native species are well suited to the dry spells so characteristic of Southern summers.

“They’ll thrive without much care, blooming in May and June,” Cloues says. “Here in town, we have a lot of mature trees and people plant oak leafs under them where it’s dry and shady.” 
She says cultivars “Pee Wee,” “Snow Queen” and “Snowflake” are popular.

Cloues swoons for the 6- to 8-foot-tall paniculata hydrangeas and so do her customers. “These plants are so tough and so forgiving — they can handle part sun and bloom for months,” she says, noting that hers bloomed in June and produced flowers until the first frost.

“Limelight” hydrangea is extremely popular, due in great part to its performance in the garden. Its dwarf form, “Little Lime,” is a new offering. Cloues favors “Vanilla Strawberry,” with its striking white, pink and strawberry red blooms; “Silver Dollar” with blooms opening greenish white and aging to antique pink; and the smaller, more refined “Tardiva” and “Chantilly Lace” with upright, white blooms.

Though native hydrangeas have been in Southern gardens since ornamental plants have been cultivated, the familiar mophead and lacecap species entered late in the 19th century, along with the introduction of the pee gee species.

Each of these names identify specific groups of hydrangeas with varied growing requirements. In fact, site selection is the key to success, according to Andrew Sweeney, a manager at highly rated Andy’s Creekside Nursery in Birmingham, Ala.

“Getting the environmental requirements wrong is where most mistakes are made, [such as] mopheads planted in the sun or paniculatas planted in full shade,” he says.

Cloues echoes this point and is emphatic about soil preparation. “Dig a big enough hole for the plant and buy soil amendments that are appropriate for both the plant and local soil,” she recommends.

Of all the types Creekside offers, by far their most popular is the mophead cultivar “Endless Summer.”

“We sell five to six times more of them than any other,” Sweeney says. “They’ll come into flower three to four times through the growing season, which around here is about eight months long.”

Sweeney has customers who collect hydrangeas in much the same way that hosta enthusiasts seek out the latest varieties. Still, others are searching for older varieties they grew up with.

New or old, to be successful you need to know which species you’re looking for or already have growing in your landscape.

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