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The bigleaf hydrangeas, also called French, mophead, or snowball hydrangeas, are the most popular and well-known hydrangeas grown in our area.

The bigleaf hydrangeas, also called French, mophead, or snowball hydrangeas, are the most popular and well-known hydrangeas grown in our area.

They bloom profusely during the early summer months with pink to dark blue globular clusters of flowers and have thick medium to dark green leaves. The plants are attractive in the landscape and can be used as specimens, groups of plants, or containers.

They are also used in flower arrangements. More than 500 varieties are available in the nursery trade, and they can be divided into two types. The hortensia hydrangeas have giant snowball-like blooms. The flat lacecaps have their blooms in an outer ring of large flowers and a mass of tiny fertile ones on the inside.

Bigleaf hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs and have a rapid growth rate reaching several feet in height. Plant them in a partly shaded area. They prefer a couple of hours of the early morning sun but cannot tolerate hot, dry sites that receive the full afternoon sun. However, avoid deep shade since they require at least three to four hours of morning sunlight daily. Excessive shade will reduce their production of flowers.

Hydrangeas do not perform well in our heavy clay soils. Add 50 pounds per 10 square feet of organic matter such as peat moss, topsoil, or compost to the soil in the area where they are to be planted. This action will loosen the clay soil by helping to improve aeration and drainage as well as helping retain nutrients and water.

Dig the hole the depth of the rootball and at least twice as wide. When planting, make sure the plant’s crown is level with the top of the hole and no deeper. Avoid fertilization until the plant is established, around four to eight weeks after transplanting. During the growing season, apply a general-purpose fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, in March, May, and July.

The bigleaf hydrangea has shallow roots and a high-water requirement and should be planted in moderate water-use landscape zones. Excessively dry conditions will cause them to wilt, so the soil needs to be kept evenly moist.

When the flowers begin to turn green or brown, remove them. Prune other shoots as necessary to encourage branching and fullness. Finish any pruning by August 1 as the new buds will begin forming in late summer for the following year. If the plant has sustained winter injury, prune out the dead or damaged branches.

This action will encourage more vegetative growth at the expense of flowers but will be beneficial for the plant’s overall health. Sometimes the plants fail to bloom. The cause is most likely freeze damage, the application of excessive nitrogen fertilizer, or pruning at the wrong time of the year.

The level of aluminum compounds in the plants is the mechanism that determines the flower color. Higher levels of aluminum cause the flowers to be a deep blue. The color is a light blue when only minimal quantities are present.

If aluminum is absent, then flowers are pink. Soil pH has an indirect impact on flower color. It determines the level of aluminum available for plant absorption. At a pH of 5.0 or lower, aluminum is more soluble, and thus the roots can absorb more of it. At a pH of 7.0 or greater, aluminum levels decrease.

If you want blue flowers, you can acidify the soil by adding ½ cup of wettable sulfur per 10 square feet. For pink flowers, apply one cup of dolomitic limestone per 10 square feet to raise the pH. It may take a year or more before color changes are observable.

Bigleaf hydrangeas are a worthy addition to the garden. If given the right growing conditions, the plants will put on a show with their colorful blooms.

For more information, please refer to the website of the American Hydrangea Society at www.americanhydrangeasociety.org.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with UGA Extension Gwinnett.


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