Homegrown: Hydrangeas in Rangely

How well do hydrangeas do in Rangely? Are they easy to care for? Will they last through the minus 20 below weather?

My neighbor got one from a funeral and she planted it this summer in her southern front yard which gets some shade during the day.

— Phyllis

The answer depends on what type of hydrangea your friend has.

There are outdoor type hydrangeas that are planted in the yard and there are “pot” type ones that are usually given as gifts.

I’m assuming that your friend has a pot type she received as a gift. Unfortunately, these rarely make good plants in the landscape in western Colorado.

Pot type hydrangeas are varieties of Big Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). This species has given us literally hundreds of different varieties.

The flower clusters are either large and rounded (called the mop heads or Hortensias) or have a central hub of non-showy flowers and an outer ring of showy flowers that give it a pinwheel effect (called the Lacecaps).

The flowers come in shades of pink, mauve, lavender, blue and white, depending on variety.

The interesting thing about this plant is the color of the flower can be manipulated to an extent by the soil pH. The more acid the soil, the more blue or violet the flowers, and the more alkaline, the pinker they will get.

Actually, what makes the color difference is the amount of aluminum available in the soil. Aluminum becomes soluble and therefore available to the plant in a more acid environment. People will feed their hydrangeas aluminum sulfate (NOT ammonium sulfate!) to turn the flowers blue.

The problem with planting most of these pot types out in the yard is that they’re usually not winter hardy in Grand Junction.

In Rangely, where it gets even colder, I’d bet your friend loses the plant over the winter.

If the variety she has is cold hardy, there’s a second problem with them.

Over the winter, it’s usual for the plant to get frozen back, sometimes to the ground. In and of itself, that’s not a problem. The plant will sprout from the base and quickly grow back.

The problem is that most of these varieties set their flower buds the prior year and those buds are at the ends of the branches. When the plant freezes back, all the flower buds are killed.

The good news for us about hydrangeas is that there are some new varieties coming out that bloom on new growth.

The most common one is called Endless Summer. It can die back a bit over the winter, but it still flowers later on in the season.

I planted three in my yard, and they start blooming in mid-summer and go and go for a good two months.

Around here, hydrangeas need some protection from the hot sun. I have mine on the north side of my house. They get direct sun in the summer during the morning but are pretty well shaded the rest of the day.

Also, hydrangeas love rich, organic, humusy, well-drained soil so do a great job of amending the soil when planting by mixing in good amounts of compost.

There are other types of hydrangeas that we can grow outdoors here, but I think your friend has a Big Leaf type.

She can try to keep it in the house as a houseplant, but that can be touchy sometimes. The plant will need loads of bright indirect light. If it doesn’t get enough light, the plant will get leggy and won’t bloom.

You usually have to supplement light levels by adding some grow lights by the plant.

Honestly, most people enjoy the flowers and dump the plant when it’s done blooming, but if your friend is really devoted to the plant, there is a way.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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