Talking Hydrangea, the Hamptons’ Signature Flower

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By Dawn Watson

If there were ever a signature flower of the Hamptons, it would be the hydrangea.

But even as ever-present as the showy bloom is, there are still plenty of mysteries about it. Chief among them are to cut or not to cut, how to encourage new flower growth, and what to do to change or maintain bloom hue.

It’s exactly because of the plant’s profusion that many are afraid to ask questions about it, for fear of appearing less than knowledgeable about such a common East End grower. It doesn’t help that there seem to be as many theories on hydrangea care as there are species of it.

Sharing some of her expertise about the Japan-native deciduous shrub, Paige Patterson will give a talk on “The World of Hydrangeas” at Marders in Bridgehampton on Sunday, July 17, at 10 a.m.

One of the topics that will most certainly comes up during any lecture and question-and-answer session on the topic is when to prune. The answer, unfortunately, is not one that people expect or want to hear.

For the big, beautiful macrophylla hydrangea, it’s definitely not now, writes Ms. Patterson. Pruning that Nikko Blue or Forever Pink variety, which bloom on old wood, at the wrong time will ultimately cause a little- or no-flower yield next summer, she says.

For old-growth hydrangeas, the best time to introduce the clipper is in the spring—not the summer or fall—she reports. That way, it’s easier to tell which of the leaf buds will open and bloom and which ones need a bit of shaping or can be completely removed to make room for new growth.

463-1222864966V5i1If the plant is just too big and unwieldy, with giant blue or pink flower heads dipping the branches under their weight, it is possible to do some rejuvenation pruning, according to the plants woman. That technique, where you cut back the plant down to the ground, will return with full leaf next year, though without flower growth.

Other questions that will most likely be asked and answered during Ms. Patterson’s talk will involve different varieties, such as the macrophylla (big-leaf mopheads and lacecaps are the most popular cultivars) and the paniculata (the pee gee is also the most cold-hardy) and which of the five most popular of the 23 different species are right for your landscape. Other popular topics for query usually include the hydrangea’s reaction to weather, protection for future blooms, and, of course, the age-old asks about pH balance and how to alter the hue of the plant sometimes called “change rose.” Hint: it’s mostly about the soil acidity, the species type and the pigments of the flowers to begin with.

Gardeners and hydrangea lovers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that just because they’ve read a smattering of information here, or that because they’ve had some decent luck in the past with flowering shrub that there’s nothing new to learn. There’s much more to the ornamental plant’s story than meets the eye, and that’s why attending the talk in-person at Marders is a good idea.

As part of the Garden Series lectures, Paige Patterson will give a The World of Hydrangeas talk at Marders in Bridgehampton on Sunday, July 17, at 10 a.m. Learn more at marders.com.

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