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White Hot

It’s been hot. Not oh-my-god-I’m-gonna-die! hot, but hot. Especially on the more humid days. As long as you have a patch of shade to work in during the afternoon, it is quite bearable. If you can wait til evening to do the gardening chores, there is a bit of a cool down as well.

The same can be said of taking time to enjoy the labors of your gardening. Rarely is it not lovely to stroll through your garden in the morning, the earlier the better some days, I admit. Come afternoon it is much lovelier to stroll through your shaded garden – if you have one. And again, come evening the temperature usually moderates so it can be nice to do the daily inspection or sit out in the garden and just relax.

But you need some plants out there or why bother? Something that does well in the shade. Something that shows well in the evening light. Something not too demanding as it is July and hot and humid and you are a little weary of garden chores. How about a shrub? How about a white flowering shrub? How about a tough shrub? How about a native white-flowering tough shrub for shade that also does well in the sun? How about Hydrangea arborescens, smooth hydrangea?

This plant can be seen back home in southern Indiana growing on the cut bank of the gravel road, clinging to the soil, and live no matter what the weather has been. You gotta be tough to grow along a gravel road. Trust me. That’s the ‘hood I grew up in.

Hydrangea arborescens can grow from three to five feet tall and wide, on average. Unlike the more sought after Hydrangea macrophylla (big blue and pink blooms), this hydrangea blooms on new wood so you can cut it back every year if you want and it still blooms (this also reduces the size somewhat). It will even bloom after one of our vicious winters. And yes, I know many new forms of H. macrophylla claim to bloom wondrously every year, but I have yet to see one truly pull that off. I want them to, yet the performance just doesn’t seem to match the promotional literature in my experience. But I will keep trialing them.

If you are going to grow H. arborescens in the sun, which is fine, make sure your soil is good and be prepared to give it some extra water. Also don’t be surprised if it wilts in the heat of the midday sun. It’ll perk right back up in the evening.

The straight species has a lacecap type of flower.

All those tiny flowers are fertile – they can make seed. The bigger flowers are sterile – they are just for show. Cultivars have been selected that have all sterile flowers.

These are much showier. I won’t say prettier because that may or may not be true. Personally, it depends on my mood of the moment.

You can choose a plant based on the leaves, as well as flowers. H. arborescens subspecies radiata has silvery undersides.

Even light breezes can move the leaves and reveal this hidden beauty.

The cultivar “Samantha” is selected from this form and has large heads of sterile flowers. This is not our finest plant.

We have had some Phytophthora problems with our “Samantha” plants, but I don’t know if that is a culture issue because of where we planted them or a sign of a plant susceptible to this disease. Or did the plants have the disease when we received them? No other H. arborescens plants have had a problem here so I’m not worrying about it just yet.

Another cultivar is “Hayes Starburst.” I am loving the bloom on this selection. The flowers are double and the sepals (not really petals) are just a little more pointed.

I have a clump of five young plants in one of the beds on the Sutphin Mall. They look good so far in this challenging spot.

For those who want a pink hydrangea, there are pink forms of H. arborescens available. The first to hit the market is from Proven Winners.® Invincibelle® Spirit (“NCHA 1”) was developed in a breeding program that used a wild pink form crossed with the old standard “Annabelle” that has giant, white ball-shaped flowers. The pink color is very strong when the bloom begins.

It does fade, as you can see from this photo, but that is to be expected. I bet a little afternoon shade would help hold the color too.

One dollar from each plant sold goes to breast cancer research.

Watch for more pinks to appear soon.

Here is a shot of my new and improved Annabelle, a cultivar called Incrediball® (“Abetwo”).

It has stronger stems, plus more and larger flowers than Annabelle. I have seen the blooms side by side and they are larger. My plant needs another year to prove it doesn’t flop. You can find more about it and Invincibelle® Spirit in this Proven Winners® press release from 2010.

Another very nice cultivar is White Dome (“Dardom”). The name comes from the dome shaped flowers.

It is considered a more vigorous growing selection. Our plants in the Southwest Border Garden have done very well.

The blooms of H. arborescens make good cut flowers and dried flowers as well. I especially like the large ball-types picked when green and dried. They hold that nice green shade for a long, long time.

So there you have it – a tough, easy to grow, long-blooming, reliable-blooming, good foliaged shrub for shade or sun. So smooth…….. hydrangea.

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Horticulture

2 Responses to “White Hot”

  • avatar

    A great recap of hydrangeas. My Invincibelle has gotten stronger every year and the color of the blooms has improved, too. I’ve had White Dome for several years and love it. And the Annabelle, well, she just does a great job no matter what. I agree w/you re: the reblooming hydrangeas (H. macrophylla). They do not perform as promised of expected.

  • avatar
    Heath Says:

    I wandered into your website while looking for a way to spend a morning in Indianapolis. Your blog was a welcome unexpected surprise. I’ve been frusterated with my hydrangeas for years and now I know why. I will be looking for some H. arborescens now! Thank you.

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