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(HOST)Commentator Charlie Nardozzi reports that lots of northern gardeners are getting the blues again – but they’re happy about it, because along with the blues come the reds, the whites and the pinks. Here’s the story.

Blue hydrangeas are back. Growing up in Connecticut I often thought of hydrangeas as “old lady” flowers because it seemed as if they were the only people growing them. It’s true this shrub was popular
in the early 1900’s, but it’s been out of vogue for the last thirty years. However, this Japanese native is back in full force. With new varieties adapted to the cold and an increased appreciation for hydrangea’s free flowering nature, they’re enjoying a renewed popularity.

It was the Europeans and Japanese who started to hybridize these plants. Specifically it was the French we can thank for creating the highly desired large-flowered, blue hydrangeas, also known as the mophead or bigleaf hydrangea. The flowers are six to eight inches in diameter and ruffled. They remind me of the bathing cap my mother wore swimming when I was young, only much more attractive. The French had a thing for big, gaudy colors and the blue hydrangea fit the bill.

So what’s new in mophead hydrangeas? For the longest time, Vermonters couldn’t grow these shrubs because of our cold winters. Most mophead hydrangeas flower only on old growth that has survived the winter. Usually Vermont winters are too cold for this growth so the plant dies back to the ground each year. The result is a leafy plant next summer, but no flowers. That all changed a few years ago with the introduction of ‘Endless Summer’ from Bailey Nursery in Minnesota. ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea blooms on old and new wood. So even if the shrub dies back to the ground, the new growth will produce vibrant, blue flowers. I’ve grown this plant for three years and can attest to its toughness and floriferous nature.

Now there are some new mophead hydrangeas that expand the potential flower color range and can thrive here. ‘Blushing Bride’ is a new variety that features white flowers with just a hint of pink or blue blush when mature. The flower color contrasts well with Endless Summer’ and it blooms sooner. ‘Red Sensation’ is part of the new Forever & Ever line of hydrangeas. It produces large red flowers in midsummer on two to three-foot tall and wide shrubs. The flowers mature to a dark purple color. All of these hydrangeas bloom from mid summer until frost. So this summer you can plant a patriotic red, white and blue hydrangea garden.

Here’s how to grow your hydrangeas to get the most colorful flowers. Hydrangeas grow best in a full to part sun location on moist, well-drained soil. They do like a little afternoon shade. To get blue flowers just lower the pH by adding aluminum sulfate or some other acidifying fertilizer so the pH is below six. To get pink flowers, raise the alkalinity by adding lime until the pH is around seven. In my experience it takes awhile to get the color to change so think ahead by applying these amendments in fall or early spring.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.

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