Growing hydrangeas


Pop diva Madonna made world news a few weeks ago when she stated that she hated hydrangeas, thereby breaking the heart of an ardent fan who’d just presented her with a bunch of said blooms.

Fortunately most of us don’t share Madonna’s aversion. Regarded as hopelessly old fashioned a few years back, hydrangeas have come firmly back into favour. And, while there are connoisseur varieties like the oak-leafed Hydrangea quercifolia or the cluster-flowered Hydrangea paniculata, for most of us hydrangea means the large, mop-headed puffs of bloom that brighten up the summer garden.

Hydrangeas grow best in a morning sun position with protection from the hottest part of the day. Improve the soil before planting by adding plenty of compost or organic matter and some water-holding crystals. Keeping the plant well watered is critically important while the blooms are forming. If they dry out at this stage the display will be ruined for much of the season.

Most of a hydrangea’s display is created by the long-lasting bracts that form the backdrop to the tiny, short-lived, true flowers. These bracts can last for months and, as the weather cools, they can take on some fascinating shades of antique green and purple.

Hydrangeas make wonderful pot plants and growing in pots allows the flexibility of being able to move them out of the way when they are looking bare and drab in winter.

As most people know, some hydrangeas have the peculiar characteristic of changing their flower colour according to the acidity or alkalinity (pH) of the soil. Add lime to encourage pinkness and aluminium sulphate to promote blue. Fortunately Yates Hydrangea Blueing Tonic comes in a ready mixed pack. Begin applications in autumn. Even then, the ultimate results will be governed by the basic soil pH. But it’s fun to experiment and there are some fascinating in-between shades. The flowers of white hydrangeas stay white although they can take on a certain amount of pigmentation as they age.

Even if you don’t want to fiddle with the colour of your hydrangea flowers, the plant will need fertilising. Feed regularly throughout the growing season with a liquid like Nitrosol, or once or twice with some slow release Acticote pellets.

Pruning can occur any time after flowering is over, although some leave it until mid winter. Try to only cut back the stems that have produced flowers. The un-flowered shoots will produce next season’s blooms. Hardwood tip cuttings taken in winter will propagate easily, allowing you to share favourite plants with friends.

Pests are usually minimal. The white-coated hydrangea scale can be treated with Yates Bug Oil if hand control (i.e. squashing) is impossible. Hydrangeas are prone to fungal diseases like powdery mildew. Pull off and bag affected leaves. If the problem is severe, spray with a Yates Rose Gun.


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