As spring wraps up and temperatures rise, people are eager to get their summer landscape projects started. Spring blooming shrubs and trees are fairly easy to find; crabapples, ornamental pears, serviceberry and lilacs have all bloomed and filled the air with their fragrance. However, finding a tree or shrub that blooms in summer is a little more difficult. Hydrangeas are always a good place to start. Some are shorter and only reach 3 feet at maturity, while others can get to be as tall as 10 feet if not pruned. Some prefer to brighten up shady areas while others thrive in full sun.
In addition to summer blooms, another nice attribute is being able to leave the dried flowers on for winter interest. An old stand by is ‘Annabelle’, its round white flowers start blooming in June and continue through the heat of summer. It usually gets about 4-5 feet tall and wide at maturity and prefers part to full shade. If you don’t want white blooms for your shade garden, but are hoping for something more colorful, try ‘Endless Summer’, ‘Cherry Bomb’ or ‘Twist N Shout’. All three were bred by Bailey Nursery in Minnesota and will bloom from June to frost. The ‘Endless Summer’ (pictured above left) and ‘Twist N Shout’ varieties blooms will change with soil pH; the higher the pH is, the more pink it’ll be. With lower pH, blue or lavender flowers will bloom.
In this area of Wisconsin, with our clay soils and high pH, we can still get blue flowers if we add aluminum sulfate or straight sulfur to the soil each year. ‘Cherry Bomb’ is a new variety this year that has colorfast blooms starting in June and lasting until fall. This tiny shrub only gets to be about 3 feet tall and wide at maturity, but with its pink blooms, it really packs a punch in a shady bed.
If you have a sunny spot and are looking for a splash of color in the summer, the paniculata species of Hydranges are right up your alley. Instead of the round ball-like flowers, these are more pyramidal, and the mature size is usually at least 5 feet tall, if not more. A popular variety in the garden center is ‘Quick Fire’, because the blooms start in June and continue through August. The flowers emerge white but quickly change to a rose pink. Mature height is between 6 and 8 feet, depending on how much you prune it. ‘Little Lamb’ is an older variety with fluffy blossoms that resemble a lamb’s tail. They emerge in white in July but will fade to a lighter pink as the summer progresses. The mature height is about 5-6 feet tall and wide. ‘Pinky Winky’ is somewhat new to the market but has grown in popularity each year. As with most paniculata varieties, the flowerettes are white when they start blooming in early July, but will fade to rose-pink a lot faster, which gives it a two tone appearance. (pink on the bottom of the flower and still white near the top) This Hydrangea is a taller variety, growing to about 6 or 7 feet tall and wide.
If a small ornamental tree is something you want for your landscape, hydrangeas have been grafted onto stems of trees and sold as hydrangea trees as well. Some varieties available include the late panicle, Pee Gee, Quick Fire and Limelight.
Climbing Hydrangeas are a nice addition to a shady landscape as well. They require help growing up trellises- you’ll need to tie them up- but placed against a brick house, they will grow “feet” and start climbing on their own. The flowers are a beautiful lace cap flower and bloom in mid-June for a couple weeks.
Hydrangeas are a very popular plant with many homeowners today. Each year, there is at least one new variety on the market, so whether you have sun or shade, a small niche or a large area that needs filling, hydrangeas will usually do the trick.