This lovely mophead hydrangea is blooming now in my back garden.

Mophead hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) was part of every garden I remember from childhood.

Usually they were situated on the north side of the house in perpetual shade.

In early summer the huge rounded flower clusters looked like giant scoops of ice cream.

These hydrangeas are native to Japan but probably were first introduced into China before they made it west to Holland.   The Dutch grew them in greenhouses and introduced new varieties into other European countries.

The mopheads are cold hardy only to Zone 6.  In the U. S. they are strictly a southern thing and southern gardeners have truly embraced then.

The sterile flowers of this lacecap hydrangea look like paper cutouts. The tiny fertile flowers are in a cluster toward the inflorescence center.

Most hydrangea bloom clusters are a combination of showy sterile flowers that look like paper cutouts and tiny fertile flowers that can actually produce seed.   It is easy to see both these flower types in a lacecap hydrangea inflorescence. The mophead cousins have only sterile flowers and are not capable of producing fruit capsules or setting seed.

The hydrangeas of my childhood were usually pink.  I grew up in a town that was situated on Blackbelt prairie soil.   The soil was derived from limestone and so pH was high or alkaline.  In this type soil there is little free aluminum and mophead hydrangea blooms are often pink.

As a result, the blue flower clusters were more exotic to local gardeners and many resorted to chemistry to obtain the desired hue.   Iron sulfate, aluminum sulfate or ground sulfur were used to lower the pH.  The resulting acid soil contained more free aluminum and flowers were blue.

Creative gardeners sometimes even put sulfur compounds only on one side of the shrub resulting in a half pink / half blue / purple in the middle blooming shrub.  It was also common practice to bury rusty nails when planting one of these hydrangeas.  As the nails continued to rust in the soil they served as a timed release source of iron and the blooms remained blue.

During the years that I worked as a retail garden center salesperson, I sold lots of mophead hydrangeas.  They were also called bigleaf hydrangeas, garden hydrangeas, French hydrangeas or even “high geraniums”.

I advised my customers that no matter what they called the plant, it should be sited in an irrigated bed or in a situation where water could be supplied during drought.

Maybell and Joe Bob are quite taken with this mophead hydrangea flower.

The most common cultural question that customers asked me was about the pruning needs of the plant.  This hydrangea blooms on old wood.  In other words, if the shrub was cut to the ground or burned back during a hard winter it would skip a year of bloom.    So old established plants can be pruned like any old fashioned shrub – by cutting one third of the oldest stems to the ground.  Two-thirds of the stems remain and are capable of flowering.  This pruning method also will stimulate new growth from the shrub’s base and enhance the natural mounding growth habit.

Younger plants without so many stems can be shaped by cutting stems that flowered in the current season back to the desired height.  This is best done in summer after flowering when dried blooms are still present.  So a few of the stems with dried flowers can be headed back  and the remaining stems will surely bloom the following season.

The mopheads are not what I would call a subtle plant.  They are startling in full bloom with huge leaves and many rounded unusually colored flowers.

I think their main claim to fame is their usefulness in floral design.  Fresh flower stems will last for days.  They can then gradually dehydrate in the vase or hanging in a dark well ventilated area.  They retain their color and are popular in wreaths and dried flower arrangements.

Most old varieties bloom for about a month in late spring and early summer.   A few cultivars do bloom on new wood and so can rebloom through the summer whenever new stems are produced.  Penny McHenry, a hydrangea expert in the Atlanta area, discovered a reblooming variety that is called ‘Penny Mac’ in the trade.

A similar reblooming variety was patented and given the name ‘Endless Summer’.

I don’t much care for the concept of  an “Endless Summer”.  Here in Mississippi most of us are well over our romance with summer by the middle of July.   The thought of an endless Mississippi summer makes my head hurt.

So… I usually spec ‘Penny Mac’ on my landscape drawings.  It does rebloom and is cheaper because it is not a patented plant.





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9 Responses to“High-Geraniums!”

  1. yardflow says:

    Happy to hear of your success, Kc. My oakleafs are really pretty too. They will probably be the subject of my next blog post!

  2. Kc says:

    Glory be to the hydrangea. I am here to testify that the two pups that I gathered from Bab’s plant (it had become a giant after you gave it to her and it grew fOr seven years) planted six years ago, one on the north side, one on the shady south, are kicking it now, full of blooms and are about six times the size they were for five years. These tenacious oak leaf hydrangeas should surely be left in place for at least seven years to see if they are gonna do anything. These surprised me and stock from Flowerplace Plants lives on forever.

  3. yardflow says:

    The little dogs have been surprisingly tolerant of the kitties, Rebecca. B is afraid of them. Junebug bares her teeth if they get in her space. Dotsey snaps at them if they get close to her food. No one has made a real threat to them though – lucky!

  4. Rebecca says:

    I want to know what the little dogs think about Maybell and Joebob…little kitten faces are so cute

  5. good ‘un! growing up in ville platte, la. (where the blooms of most plants encountered were multicolored[?]…i seem to recall talk about sticking nails around the bases) the blooms reminded me of cotton candy……….re: ‘endless summer’ yeah….agreed…..ain’t in the market for no stinkin’ endless summer down here in south louisiana….

  6. yardflow says:

    Marc, Couldn’t resist the comments about the concept of an endless summer. I’m guessing that name was conceived by a Yankee! The desire for an endless summer is foreign to any rational southerner.

  7. yardflow says:

    Deer do love hydrangeas, I think that as long as they just ate the leaves and not the twigs you might get a few flowers next year. However the plant will be weak from all the meals it missed so I wouldn’t count on a stellar floral display.

  8. marc says:

    good job. of course, love the comments on endless summer

  9. fhpmas says:

    My hydrangea has bloomed beautifully, but hungry deer have now stripped the leaves off of most of the plant. Will that affect its blooming next season?

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