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Don’t forget this old faithful for summer flowers in the semi-shade!
Hydrangeas are amongst the most spectacular of all flowering garden shrubs, the bushes covered in blooms through much of late spring and into summer. They are affectionately referred to by the common names of Christmas rose or mop heads, referring to their flowering season and the shape of inflorescences. The modern garden hybrids are as a result of centuries of breeding and are selected for superior performance and extended flowering periods. They put on a magnificent show in suitable growing conditions, contributing richly to the summer landscape in many parts of the country.
Christmas roses enjoy cool, slightly shaded growing conditions and are usually associated with woodland garden environments, growing in the shade of larger trees and shrubs. They are particularly happy in south-facing aspects where their roots remain moist for longer periods. Full sun often results in scorched leaves and flowers during the heat of summer, while too much shade results in lush green foliage and few blooms, if any. Large or mass plantings of these rewarding shrubs adorn many large estate gardens. On a lesser scale, potted plants add much-needed colour to shaded patios, especially under pergolas and arbours.
Cultivation and Care
These woody, deciduous shrubs are generally easy to grow. Basic requirements include rich, loamy soils that are well aerated and drained, yet don’t dry out too quickly. Lots of well-rotted compost and leaf mould added to the garden soil before planting helps to achieve this. A layer of mulch spread around the root zone of the plants also helps to reduce drying out and keeps the plants cool in summer. Regular applications every 6-8 weeks of a general garden fertiliser from spring through to autumn keeps hydrangeas performing at their best. They are greedy feeders and need to be kept in good health. Prune back spent flower stems immediately after blooming, and top up mulch levels after this has been done.
- Yellowing of the leaves is a condition called chlorosis, usually brought about through alkaline or chalk soil conditions. Hydrangeas enjoy slightly acidic soils. Counteract the chlorotic symptoms by applying iron chelate.
- Red spider mites on the underside of the leaves in mid-summer often cause stunted growth and poor performance. Check for these miniscule pests by shaking foliage over a sheet of white paper. If the tiny specks start moving on the white background then you know mites are a definite problem. Treat the infected plants with a registered miticide.
- Many hydrangeas fail to bloom profusely due to bad pruning. Gardeners incorrectly cut back the dormant plants in winter when they’re doing other winter pruning. This error means that the flower buds for the next summer flowering have been pruned off the plants. They set buds on the new seasons’ hardened growth and this needs to be nurtured for decent flowering.
Changing Flower Colours in a Nutshell
Hydrangea flowers are comprised of many sterile florets. These can change colour depending on the chemical composition of the soil that the plants are growing in. Flowers are naturally pink but turn blue if aluminium is available in a soil with an acidic pH value. Blue hydrangea food helps to intensify the colouration of garden plants if applied at the correct times and intervals. Blooms remain pink in alkaline soils even if bluing agents are applied to the soil. White-flowering hydrangeas generally remain white irrespective of soil conditions. The central pip on each floret sometimes turns pink or blue depending on soils but the overall bloom colour stays white. Get some Starke Ayres Hydrangea Food here.