Jennifer StackhouseHydrangeas offer soothing colours

Hydrangeas provide welcome summer colour in the garden. In my garden that colour extends well into autumn as the flower heads gradually fade from blue and mauve to pink and green. These old-fashioned plants make a splash in the garden but rarely hit the headlines. This year they made international news and also featured in a good news story.

PANTONE Color of the Year 2016

PANTONE Color of the Year 2016


Colour of the year

The US-based colour forecaster Pantone Color Institute releases annual colour predictions. Usually one colour is highlighted, but this year, two have top billing as the colour of 2016. They are Rose Quartz and Serenity. Basically baby pink and baby blue.

When executive director at Pantone, Leatrice Eiseman, was interviewed about her company’s colour predictions she pointed to a mass of hydrangeas growing in her garden as part of the inspiration for the predication. Since Leatrice drew attention to her hydrangeas, images of pink and blue hydrangeas have been pinging around the Internet.

In announcing the colours Pantone said the choices were calm and soothing tones that could combat stress and offer a sense of wellbeing. Check out some hydrangeas and see if they are right! Certainly as many hydrangeas are in shady spot, it is often cool and tranquil near hydrangeas. An oasis of calm in the midst of an often harsh, glary, smoky summer.

Hydrangea 'Rose Quartz' pink and 'Serenity' blue. Photo AlbaRocca

Hydrangea in a ‘Rose Quartz’ pink and also a ‘Serenity’ blue. Photo AlbaRocca


Charity worker

A pink hydrangea is also in the news. A pink Hydrangea arborescens (a pink form of the popular Annabelle hydrangea) called ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ has raised a lot of money for breast cancer research.

The plant was released in the United States under the Proven Winners brand with a dollar from the sale of each plant going to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation in the US. The pretty pink plant has accumulated $US903,000 for the charity since its release in 2009.

Unfortunately it is not yet available in Australia, but there are other plants grown here including Cordyline ‘Passion Pink’ that similarly raise funds for charity.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Spirit'. Photo K M via Flickr

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincibelle Spirit’. Photo K M via Flickr


Growing hydrangeas

When in hydrangeas are full bloom they need regular watering to keep them looking good. They wilt when the weather is hot or if the soil or potting mix dries out. Where soils are hard to wet, apply a wetting agent to improve water penetration into the root zone.

Providing summer shade for hydrangeas reduces their water needs and can stop the flowers becoming brown and burnt by ultraviolet exposure. Their love of summer shade makes the eastern or southern side of buildings or under the shade of deciduous trees good spots to grow hydrangeas. They can also be grown in large containers with good quality potting mix to position where summer colour is needed.

These plants don’t need much in the way of fertiliser. A few spadefuls of aged manure scattered under the bush and slow-release fertiliser in spring as their new growth resumes gives good results.


Hydrangea autumn colour

Hydrangea autumn colour


Pruning hydrangea

Hydrangeas need the correct pruning regime for good flowering. Hydrangea macrophylla produces flowers on old wood in early summer. To keep plants compact and neat prune them in stages. Stems that haven’t flowered and those holding burnt blooms can be pruned in mid or late summer. Leave flowered stems until autumn. Left on the bush these old flowers take on deep shades of pink, purple and green, which add interest to the autumn garden.

If a hard prune is needed, take to the hydrangeas with the secateurs in late winter. A hard prune rejuvenates old, woody plants. Cut flowered stems back to the first pair of live buds. Remove old stems (five to six year old wood with peeling bark) cutting these branches back to ground level. Don’t prune young stems that haven’t flowered.

Some new varieties are repeat flowering (for example Endless Summer forms). They bloom from summer to autumn with flushes of flowers. Deadhead these varieties after each flower flush.

Hydrangeas are easy to propagate in winter from hardwood cuttings taken at pruning.

Hydrangea with blue florets

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Jennifer Stackhouse

About Jennifer Stackhouse

Recently Jennifer Stackhouse made the big move from Kurmond in NSW to a Federation house in the little village of Barrington tucked beneath Mt Roland in northwest Tasmania. With high rainfall, rich, red deep soil and a mild climate she reckons she's won the gardening lottery. She's taken on an acre garden that's been lovingly planted and tended for the past 28 years by a pair of keen gardeners so she is discovering a garden full of horticultural treasures. Jennifer is the author of several gardening books including 'Garden', which won a Book Laurel for 2013, as well as ‘The Organic Guide to Edible Gardens’, ‘Planting Techniques’ and ‘My Gardening Year’, which she wrote with her mother Shirley. She was editor of ABC 'Gardening Australia' magazine and now edits the trade journal 'Greenworld' magazine and writes regularly for the Saturday magazine in 'The Mercury'. She is often heard on radio and at garden shows answering garden queries.

2 thoughts on “Hydrangeas offer soothing colours

  1. Thanks for your posting, Jennifer, and for putting in a good word for these beautiful shrubs. Hydrangeas in all shades from white through pale pink, magenta, lilac and blue are the backbone of my nothern hemisphere (Scottish) garden from high summer until well into the autumn. I thought it might be worth noting that the pruning regime is different at these higher latitudes, perhaps because hydrangeas pruned in late summer or autumn are likely to be vulnerable to frost damage during the winter. Here, the recommendation is to prune in mid-spring. Stems that have flowered are pruned to a healthy bud further down the stem, while those that have not flowered are left untouched. If the shrub is getting congested, some of the older (often highly branched) stems can be pruned to a healthy bud close to the base. An old or neglected shrub can be pruned hard in early spring but will not flower in the same year.

    • Thanks Alison – good feedback especially for cold climates. We have masses of them here but most are growing in sheltered spots and I haven’t found them to be affected by frost (yet). But then Tasmania in winter is probably balmy compared with your Scottish garden. You also highlight the versatility of these amazing shrubs that thrive in so many gardens around the world – they starred in my grandmother’s subtropical Brisbane garden all through summer too.

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