- Cullman, Alabama


May 12, 2013

SOUTHERN STYLE: Hydrangeas are ready for their big premiere

Mopheads and Snow Queens — No, that’s not the name of the latest summer blockbuster. Mopheads and Snow Queens are making their annual premier, though. In the garden, that is.

Snow Queen and Snow Flake, two varieties of the Oak Leaf Hydrangea, (H. quercifolia and H. paniculata) – are native to our area. You can spot many of the original plants in the Bankhead Forest. Both boast huge white blossoms. The leaves are shaped much like the leaves of an oak, turning a wonderful maroon-red in the fall.

The bark on all oak leaf hydrangeas peel and is a good winter focal point in the garden, making this a true year-round specimen plant.

 Mopheads, (H. macrophylla and H. macrophylla var. normalis) the colorful “city” cousins of the oak leaf are a different story all together. Sometimes referred to as “big leaf” hydrangeas, the leaves look nothing like the thick, broad, slightly fuzzy leaves of the oak leaf. They are paper thin, of a brighter hue, and clustered together. The blooms are amazing, blue, pink, purple and white.

To top all that off, they are among the few plants that respond to changes in the pH of the soil, turning from blue to pink, or from pink to purple when lime, aluminum or iron is added to the soil.

Flower color in H. macrophylla is dependent on cultivar and aluminum availability. Aluminum is necessary to produce the blue pigment for which bigleaf hydrangea is noted. Most garden soils have adequate aluminum, but the aluminum will not be available to the plant if the soil pH is high.

For most bigleaf hydrangea cultivars, blue flowers will be produced in acidic soil (pH 5.5 and lower), whereas neutral to alkaline soils (pH 6.5 and higher) will usually produce pink flowers. Between pH 5.5 and pH 6.5, the flowers will be purple, or a mixture of blue and pink flowers will be found on the same plant.

People are often confused by hydrangeas and snowball bushes, which are viburnums, not hydrangeas.

Snowball bushes bloom in early spring, and are already gone by the time hydrangeas bud out.

People recognize the mopheads as the Mother’s Day plant because they appear in florists’ windows about that time of year.

They are sometimes finicky, other times they are almost indestructible, living years at the sites of old, abandoned homeplaces with no care at all.

They love loose, loamy, composted soil, but will grow in clay soil. They adore dappled sunlight, but they will grow in full sun — though, sometimes the leaves burn, and plants wilt easily.

They come in such a delightful rainbow of colors, like sherbet on a hot day, they just plain cheer you up.

If you plant florists’ hydrangeas you might have to wait a year or so for blooms, depending on the variety, but it is well worth the wait for the show they will put on for you later. These plants are a staple of the South, graceful, soft and showy. Who could ask for more in a plant?

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