Hydrangea bushes, a traditional sight in many backyard flower gardens, are responsible for producing those large, showy blooms that look for all the world like cheerleader pom-poms.
A native of Japan, hydrangeas come in almost two dozen different varieties, although Hydrangea macrophylla (also known as bigleaf, French, garden or florist's hydrangea) is the most widely grown in the United States.
In some species the flowers are pure white, but the common hydrangea can be blue, red, pink, or purple. Interestingly, home gardeners can change the color of hydrangeas by simply changing the pH of the soil. Acidic soils produce blue flowers; alkaline soils result in pink or purple hues; and neutral soils produce delicately-colored cream petals.
Growing, pruning, and fertilizing hydrangeas
Hydrangeas are propagated mainly from stem cuttings and are available fully grown at local nurseries. They can be grown in their original containers, or transplanted directly into the garden.
Pick a partly sunny spot that provides protection from the afternoon sun to encourage flowering, and provide generous amounts of moisture especially if temperatures soar during the height of the summer.
Planted in the ground, hydrangeas can grow into sizable bushes with many large blooms. To avoid your hydrangea bush from becoming 'leggy', prune in spring just as the first buds appear.
Feed hydrangeas with any balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer twice during the growing season, once in the spring and again at mid-summer, and follow directions carefully: overfeeding may result in fertilizer burn resulting in brown or scorched-looking leaves.
Yellow leaves? This condition may signal iron-poor soil, which can be remedied with a carefully applied supplementary dose of chelated iron available at most garden nurseries.
Help! - my hydrangeas won't bloom
Among the several causes of non-blooming hydrangea, one of the major culprits is cold weather - either from sudden spring freezes when budding is underway, or in fall when early frosts occur before the plant is fully dormant.
Extremely cold winter temperatures may also inhibit blooms the following summer. While hydrangeas prefer a partly shady spot in the home garden, too much shade may inhibit budding. If you think this may be the case, simply transplant your hydrangea to a sunnier spot in the garden.
Hydrangea pests and diseases
Hydrangeas are susceptible to leaf spots, powdery mildew, and wilts. Common insect pests include aphids and spider mites which can be usually remedied with a mild insecticide or a good spray of soapy water.
More about growing and caring for hydrangeas around the Web:
All about Hydrangeas - Check out tips on ideal location, transplanting, fertilizing, identifying different types of hydrangea, troubleshooting advice, suggested reading and related resources.
Hydrangea - This is an information-packed guide with advice on planting and propagation, fertilizing, watering and pruning, plus a descriptive list of common species and cultivars.