KC Gardens

Hydrangeas are having the best show in years. Here’s how to add them to your garden

The Little Lime hydrangea
The Little Lime hydrangea K-State Research and Extension

If you do not know the joys of growing hydrangea paniculata or panicle hydrangea, now is the time to get to know this carefree shrub currently in full bloom.

Panicle hydrangeas were once a forgotten landscape plant until the variety Limelight was released. This plant started the panicle revolution. Prized for its white, large flower head, panicle hydrangea is in bloom from July through fall.

If your idea of growing hydrangea is the common hydrangea macrophylla, a fussy water-hog with pink or blue flowers, you will be happy to know panicles require less water and bloom yearly without fail.

Panicle hydrangea is adaptable to full sun or partial shade. However, the best flowering occurs in a sunny location with ample moisture. Summer rains have resulted in the best show in years.

Unlike the macrophylla, the panicle hydrangea flowers on the new or current season’s growth. The result is a summer filled with the white blossoms occasionally tinted with a hint of pink.

Macrophylla will flower best on old wood and frequently experiences winterkill, resulting in few or no blooms. Pruning is a breeze because of its new wood flowering habit. Depending on the variety, they can get quite large, reaching 6 to 8 feet.

My experience is more pruning results in larger flowers. Our Extension Master Gardeners have had excellent results by pruning heavy in late March through early April as new growth begins.

Prune back vigorously to 1 to 2 feet from the ground depending on the variety. The result is that every new branch terminates in a creamy white flower.

Making a trip to the garden center to pick your plant can be overwhelming. Since the introduction of Limelight, the market has been flooded with choices. Plants are now available in a compact 2 to 3 feet height with others reaching over 6 feet. Our Extension Master Gardener demonstration garden, located at 11811 S. Sunset Drive in Olathe, boasts over 15 varieties.

I am often asked to pick my favorite; however, it is hard to pick just one. The good news is that you cannot go wrong.

Quick Fire, Little Quick Fire and Zinfin Doll are some of the first to flower, opening up in mid-June. Pinky Winky, Tardiva and Vanilla Strawberry are excellent choices while Bobo is petite, around 2 feet. Breeders are working to bring pink into the blossoms with releases such as Strawberry Sunday and Lava Lamp.

Panicle hydrangeas are also found growing as a small tree called a standard. These niche trees are around 6 feet and add interest to the landscape. Prune each spring to renew the miniature tree. Standards are perfect for a little height and pop of color.

Be on the lookout for hydrangea paniculata. You will find them dotting the Kansas City landscape this summer. If your next stop is the garden center, your only problem will be selecting just one.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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