One plant that stands out all summer with vivid color is the Hydrangea. In shaded areas, its large blooms of white, pink, or blue will outshine all others.

The most common variety in our area is the French Hydrangea. Easy to grow in rich, moist soil, it has a large, mounding shape and can achieve heights of four feet in a year. The large foliage is dark green, but being deciduous, is gone in the winter. Blooms appear on previous year’s growth, so prune only the stems that produced this year’s flowers; otherwise you will not have blooms next year.

The color of the bloom can be adjusted. White blooms will always be white, while the blue or pink can be controlled by the pH of the soil (the closer to a balanced pH of 6.5, the lighter the color). Add agricultural lime in the fall for deeper pinks or aluminum sulfate for darker blues.

The Oakleaf Hydrangea grows larger, the flowers are cone-shaped and white, and the foliage turns a eautiful maroon in the fall. The unique tree form, “Peegee”, grows up to 15 feet and blooms later. Your nurseryman can help you choose one for your particular landscape.

Paul Ferguson, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service



Hydrangeas are an important group of hardy and tender shrubs and several woody climbers. Hydrangeas have long been a popular flowering shrub and by many are considered “Grandmother’s” old-time flower.

Hydrangeas produce their main flower clusters from the tips of shoots formed the previous season. If anything destroys the terminal buds of these shoots, the plant usually fails to bloom. The chief causes of destruction of the terminal buds are excessive winter cold and uninformed pruning. In severe cold winter weather they should be covered. Pruning should be done in summer as soon as the flowering season is over. When pruning, all the old flowering shoots should be removed down to the point on the stem where strong new growth is developing. If you want flowers, DO NOT prune in late fall, winter or spring.

Propagation, easily done by cuttings, should be done from April to August. The best cuttings are from the ends of non-flowering shoots with two or three pairs of leaves. It is best to root them in sand in a shaded area.

Only the hydrangeas which naturally have pink flowers will bloom blue, and only if grown in acid soil. These lovely plants grow without difficulty in a wide variety of soils but prefer fairly rich, moist soil. They can grow in full sun if they are watered well, but they will bloom more freely in partial shade.

Linda Whetsell, Smith County Master Gardener

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service



Pruning can help you get the best results from most hydrangeas. Different varieties benefit from different pruning schedules.

Garden or big-leaf hydrangea bears flowers on stems produced the previous year. As flowers fade, pruning back to the strongest pair of buds will produce new growth stems. As the plant matures, you should prune out woody older stems, dead branches, and any stems that cross or are broken.

Oakleaf hydrangea also produces blooms on previous year’s growth. As flowers fade, prune back halfway. Prune any crossing, broken, or dead branches. To grow for foliage only, prune back to the ground each year in early spring.

Smooth hydrangea blooms on new spring growth. Prune back by half in early spring. Pruning back to the ground produces the largest flower clusters but the stems cannot always hold them up. When heading back, cut out dead, crowded, or weak stems.

Climbing hydrangea require little pruning until well established and climbing. At that time, cut back any unwanted stems.

Helen L. Sanders, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service



Most people see large balls of pink or blue flowers when they think of hydrangeas, because Hydrangea macrophylla (or French Hydrangea) is the type most commonly seen. But there are many types of hydrangea, all of which are beautiful.

Oak leaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) is a native plant that has bold white flowers. This hydrangea is beautiful in a wooded setting as an understory shrub. At 6-8 feet tall and wide, it is a knockout in bloom as well as in fall and winter. Its huge oak-shaped leaves turn deep red in fall and drop to reveal a beautiful exfoliating bark.

The Pee Gee hydrangea (H. paniculata) is another large shrub with showy white flowers; there are many cultivars available.

Two other interesting hydrangea are cultivars of H. macrophylla. The lacecup hydrangea looks like a large pink or blue “Queen Ann’s Lace” bloom. And the lovely mini hydrangea has tiny pink or blue pom-pom flowers.

All hydrangea love rich organic soils that is moist but well-drained. The need morning sun or dappled sun; too much sun burns their leaves.

French hydrangea can be pink or blue, though blue is the color most seen in our acidic soils. To get pink blooms, put lime or superphosphate around the base of your plants, several times in the fall and before bloom in spring. To turn pink flowers blue, use aluminum sulfate.

Hydrangeas have a long bloom period, are easy to care for, and make beautiful dried flowers. Try some of all and enjoy them all year.

Dee Bishop, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


OAK LEAF HYDRANGEAS ( H. quercifolia)

Dear Gardener,

Am I fortunate enough to be thriving and sharing my beauty in your yard? If I am two years old or older, please let me give you some great tips. Please do not mow beneath me until you have looked for my young sprouts that may be peeking through the soil. Let them grow to two or three inches tall, and they will be ready to be transplanted. Dig carefully with your trowel around them and place each one in a one-gallon container filled with good planting soil. The Oak Leaf is a very thirsty plant, so be diligent with your watering. Place your new treasures in partial or filtered shade. After sixty days, they are ready to be planted in your yard or a friend’s yard. Now, my sprout’s beauty can be shared with others. Our long-lasting, creamy-white blossoms will fade to a pinkish tint, then to a wine red. When the blooms have dried, they are spectacular in your flower arrangements. Remember, gardener, we like partial or filtered shade and water.

Sincerely yours,
Oak Leaf Hydrangea

Note: These beautiful plants are usually available at the Tyler Men’s Garden Club’s Spring Fling, which is held in April each year.

Y. Rockett, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service



I feel that more deciduous shrubs should be used in both urban and woodland landscapes. Of particular merit are those shrubs that create interest every season. Most people would appreciate a plant that has bold, rough-textured, and handsome leaves that are a deep green in spring and summer and evolve into a rich copper red in the fall. Additionally, the large showy spring blooms are white followed by pink, culminating in a rich brown later in the summer. The cinnamon-colored bark has a striking peeling characteristic.

Hydrangea quercifolia or Oak Leaf Hydrangea has all this and more. Although it is not native to East Texas, it is found in the Deep South, where it is used more extensively. There are some new cultivars that have larger and more profuse flower displays. They include Snow Queen, Snow Flake, Harmony, and Alice. Do not expect to find all of these cultivars or even the straight species in many local nurseries. However, this will change as more gardeners discover just how outstanding this plant truly is. Be aware that this plant needs moist soil to achieve its potential, and it can grow quite large. Small cultivars grow six to eight feet tall, and Alice tops out at twelve feet high. You might want to give one of these a try if you have the right spot, which would include some afternoon shade. Some of these plants are almost always available at the annual Spring Fling, cosponsored by the Tyler Men’s Garden Club and the Smith County Master Gardeners in April.

Merlin Eck, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service



There are many types of hydrangeas, so one must know the identity of the hydrangeas in the landscape in order to use the proper pruning procedure. The florist hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) is the commonly grown hydrangea with large globe-shaped flowers, usually sold as an indoor plant during the spring season. Once it has been moved outdoors, the most desirable time to prune it is when the flowers have faded and strong shoots are forming from the lower parts of the stems and crown. Remove some of the old and new weaker shoots from the base of the plant, but be sure not to cut the plant all the way back to the ground. Always try to keep several stems of old productive wood, with a sufficient number of stout new stems that will flower the following season.

Older hydrangea plants may need a more severe pruning. Once the plant has matured, remove about one-third of the oldest wood each season, allowing light to penetrate to the center of the shrub and encourage replacement limbs. This is done during a mild break in winter weather in January or February when the structure of the plant is quite visible and there is no chance of injury to new shoots.

Roxie Hart, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service



If you have hydrangeas in your garden, you can make beautiful dried flowers from them. The secret to perfectly dried hydrangeas is choosing the right time to harvest them. Although it is tempting to cut the hydrangea blossoms for drying at the height of their color, this seldom works. Fresh, recently opened blooms rarely dry well in the open air. Hydrangeas do best when allowed to dry a bit on the plant before being picked. Experiment with harvesting from August through October. Cut the blooms, strip off the leaves, arrange them in a vase, with or without water, and leave them to dry. It is not necessary to hang hydrangeas upside down to dry unless the stems are very thin and weak.

Thea Runnebaum, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service



Hydrangea macrophylla (big leaf hydrangea) bears its flowers terminally (at the end of the stems) in the summer time. Many cultivars exist. The most common are mop-head hydrangeas and lacecap hydrangeas. Flowers are borne on the previous season’s wood. In warmer climates it is best to prune after flowering in the fall. Cut out weak stems completely to the ground. Shorten the flowered stems to the last pair of healthy, fat buds. These will produce flower shoots. Do not prune shoots that have not flowered, as you may prevent blooming later in the summer. If your plant has been neglected and is overgrown, you can cut it back totally. Prune each stem to the last pair of strong buds. Such pruning will prevent flowering the next summer but will help rejuvenate your plant into a stronger, healthier producer the following year.

Thea Runnebaum, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service



We still have enough warm weather ahead for you to make hydrangea cuttings. The method is simple. Remove mulch and stuff from an area behind or to the side of an existing plant, then gently bend a low branch so that it is in contact with the soil. Set a brick or stone over it to hold it in place, and keep the soil moist. In about two weeks, lift the brick and see whether rooting has taken place. (If not, replace the brick and wait a bit longer.) Cut the rooted branch free from the mother plan and carefully dig up the rooted section, replant it in a shady area, and keep it moist over the fall months. You will have a healthy, blooming plant next year. This method works on many woody plants.

Joan Thorpe, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service



Many people in the Tyler area grow and appreciate hydrangeas for their large, showy flowers that bloom late and last several weeks before beginning to wane. One does not, however, necessarily have to bid farewell to the loveliness of these blue, lavender, or pink displays. On the contrary, if they are cut at just the right time, they will last several years indoors without having to fuss with any preservation techniques at all.

The key to having dried hydrangea arrangements in a home with little or no effort is to pick the blooms at just the point when they first begin to lose some color but before the blooms dry on the bush. They will still appear lush and will show some green within the original color of the blooms.

After they have been cut, just pop them into any decorator container or vase and enjoy. Do not add water or any liquid. As they continue to lose moisture, they will retain their color and shape for a long time. Eventually, the green tones will fade to an antique color and finally turn brown. But by then, you will have produced several more crops of hydrangeas to use as replacements.

Betty Conejo, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service



Adding hardy hydrangeas is a good way to brighten a shady corner. They are very easy to care for and are seldom bothered by insects or disease. Once established, an added bonus is that the blooms last late into the season and dry into beautiful, long-lasting bouquets.

Lovely, low maintenance hydrangeas offer a wide variety of choices. Flower forms vary from large “mopheads” to the more delicate “lace caps.” Blooms range from white to deep pink, and lilac to deep blue.

Certain cultivars will even bloom in different colors depending on the acidity of the soil. H. macrophylla, for instance, will set blue flowers in acidic soil and pink in alkaline. In our typically acidic East Texas soils, you could have contrasting blue and pink plants simply by adding lime to one planting area.

Hydrangeas propagate easily from hardwood cuttings taken in late winter or from softwood cuttings in early summer. They are also grown easily from seed but it may take several years for seed-grown plants to blossom.

Hydrangea branches should be thinned out occasionally. They don’t need a great deal of pruning but most will appreciate a spring clean-up to remove any winter breakage.

Kathy Fiebig, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Posted in Shrubs