Lifestyle

This 5-year study found the best wild hydrangeas for sun, small spaces, pollinators and more [photos] | Home & Garden

Big-leaf hydrangeas may have the spotlight with their giant puffs of flowers blooming in pink, blue, purple or white.

Wild hydrangeas, plants native to the U.S., shouldn’t be overlooked.

These native hydrangeas are reliable, tough, beautiful and attract lots of pollinators.

“We just think they’re really a very worthy garden plant,” says Sam Hoadley, manager of horticultural research at the native plant-focused Mount Cuba Center. “We want to take some of the mystery out of this group. Hydrangeas can be confusing if you don’t know what you’re looking at or you’re not sure what to look for.”

Hoadley and his trial garden team spent five years growing plants in three closely related species of wild hydrangea native to the east coast: hydrangea arborescence (smooth hydrangea), hydrangea cinerea (ashy hydrangea) and hydrangea radiata (silverleaf hydrangea).

In the trial garden, the team evaluated 29 hydrangeas. They considered the plants from horticultural standpoint (“Will this plant be a beautiful addition to your home garden?” Hoadley says) and the ecological side (which support wildlife). They looked at new introductions and traditional ones like Grandiflora and Annabelle.

Hoadley shared more about what they learned about hydrangeas.



Wild hydrangeas, plants native to the U.S., shouldn’t be overlooked. Hydrangea arborescens ‘Haas’ Halo’ earned a perfect score in Mt. Cuba’s five-year study.




Top hydrangea

Hydrangea arborescens “Haas’ Halo” earned a perfect score in Mount Cuba’s trials.

This plant produced showy flower heads that were the largest in the trial, even though it’s a lace cap hydrangea. Lace cap flower heads are flat with hundreds of tight fertile flowers in the center packed with nectar and pollen. They’re usually surrounded by showy sterile flowers. Other hydrangeas have mop-head flower heads, with few fertile flowers surrounded by many showy sterile flowers.

“Haas’ Halo” did well in sun and shade. When cut back in the spring, it grew shorter but with more flowers. And it had the fifth highest pollinator visits.

“It’s not sacrificing style for substance. It’s got a perfect blend of both,” Hoadley says. “So when you plant this, you’re going to have a beautiful plant in your home landscape that’s that is also going to be supporting insects in your home garden.”

When “Haas’ Halo” first bloomed in the trials, Hoadley quickly bought one for his own garden.

“It’s a stunning addition,” he says.



'Hydrangea arborescens 'NCHA4' (Incrediball Blush)

Hydrangea arborescence ‘NCHA4’ (Incrediball Blush) was one of the mid-size plants in the trial, with an average height of 4 feet and an average width of 5 feet. This plant did better in sun than the shade.




Hydrangea for a small space

Hydrangea arborescence “NCHA4” (Incrediball Blush) was one of the mid-size plants in the trial, with an average height of 4 feet and an average width of 5 feet. This plant did better in sun than the shade.

Aside from size, Incrediball Blush was one of the top performers overall and had the second-highest number of pollinator visits for mop-head hydrangeas. The flower heads bloom in an intense shade of pink, fading to rose.

Hydrangea arborescens “NCHA5” (Invincibelle Wee White) is even smaller, 2-3 feet tall and wide.

“It really opens up the door for hydrangea arborescens to be used in smaller gardens, even in a patio container,” Hoadley says.

Hydrangea arborescens “NCHA3” (Invincibelle Ruby) is almost as small, with dark pink flowers.



'Hydrangea arborescens 'Dardom' (White Dome)

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Dardom’ (White Dome) was the most popular plant for pollinators in the Mt. Cuba Center trials but it’s difficult to track down.




Hydrangea for pollinators

Plant breeders have tweaked the classic mop-head hydrangeas to make sturdier stems or bigger flower heads. There’s a downside to showier blooms.

“In theory, you’re going to have less pollinator visits and that’s exactly what we saw on our trials,” Hoadley says. “If you want to benefit wildlife, picking a lace cap is highly recommended.”

Hydrangea arborescens “Dardom” (White Dome) was the most popular plant for pollinators, but it’s difficult to track down, Hoadley says.

The No. 2 plant for pollinators was the Hydrangea arborescens, the straight species, followed by Hydrangea arborescens “Total Eclipse.”

There were three exceptions to the theory that pollinators love lace caps. Hydrangea arborescens “Riven Lace,” “Emerald Lace” and “Green Dragon” were the lace cap plants with the fewest pollinator visits. While they have unique serrated foliage, they wouldn’t be the best choices for a pollinator garden, Hoadly says.



'Hydrangea arborescens 'SMNHALR' (Lime Rickey)

Hydrangea ‘SMNHALR’ (Lime Rickey) was the top mophead in the trial.




Best mop-head hydrangea

Hydrangea “SMNHALR” (Lime Rickey) was the top mop-head. It has lime green flowers that fade to ivory plus some raspberry-colored flowers.

Honorable mentions include hydrangea arborescens “NCHA2” (Invincibelle Spirit II), which had the most pollinator visits for a mop-head, and Incrediball Blush.

For fans of Annabelle, hydrangea arborescens “Bounty” is similar but has sturdier stems.



hydrangea arborescens ‘NCHA2’ (Invincibelle Spirit II)

hydrangea arborescens ‘NCHA2’ (Invincibelle Spirit II), had the most pollinator visits for a mophead in Mt. Cuba Center’s hydrangea trial.




Hydrangea for sun

Hydrangeas are often considered a shade plant, but the team found several plants thrived in full sun, performing better than the same cultivars grown in shade.

Incrediball Blush was the top plant for sun with Invincibelle Spirit as a close second. They’re both pink mop-head hydrangeas.

Pay attention to soil moisture for hydrangeas planted in a sunny spot.

“The roots of these plants don’t like to dry out,” Hoadley says. “If you can keep that root zone cool and moist, you’re going to have good success in full sun.”

https://lancasteronline.com/features/home_garden/this-5-year-study-found-the-best-wild-hydrangeas-for-sun-small-spaces-pollinators-and/article_62b37906-d13c-11ec-a98f-cf28288d923b.html

Back to top button