While most hydrangeas do well in shade, panicled hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) prefer sun. The most cold-hardy (Zone 3!) of all hydrangeas, these plants boast distinctive cone-shape blooms and can reach 8 to 10 feet tall.
(‘Grandiflora’ — nicknamed peegee for the initials of its species and cultivar— can double that reach.) Panicle hydrangeas are sometimes pruned into tree form.
Most bloom white, but ‘Limelight’ offers a wonderful, fresh lime green tinge to opening flowers. (Little Lime delivers the same refreshing color in compact form.)
You can introduce more color by trying the white and soft pink of Pinky Winky, the cream-to-pink-to-fuchsia combo of Vanilla Strawberry, and the transformative palettes of white-to-pink Quick Fire and white-to-burgundy-red Mystical Flame.
Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), another native, grows 3 to 8 feet tall and is so named because its leaves are indeed shaped like the leaves on an oak tree.
Bella Anna (top) - photo courtesy Bailey Nurseries (baileynurseries.com)
It has big, showy, creamy, cone-shape flowers, but many gardeners plant this variety just for the rich, red-burgundy foliage in fall and revealed cinnamon-brown peeling bark in winter.
A note of caution to gardeners above Highway 30: The oakleaf hydrangea is not reliable in Zone 4.
Sowing the Blues
And how about those magnificent blue blooms that grace magazine covers? Better known as bigleaf and sometimes referred to as French, Hydrangea macrophylla is the most sought-after hydrangea. It has nice, big green leaves and puffy flowers about the size of softballs.
Gardens with moist settings, acidic soil, and mild winters (conditions usually found along the East Coast) have long produced jaw-dropping showstoppers with large clouds of azure.
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