Almost everyone instantly recognizes the Mophead Hydrangea, with its large, rounded flower heads in pink or blue, and its big green leaves. There are other types of hydrangeas, but for something truly unique, striking and beautiful, look no further than the Lemon Wave Hydrangea. It is so eye-catching you won’t be able to shift your gaze to look further at all, because this unique variety has the showiest foliage of any hydrangea, with each leaf splashed with lemon, cream, white and green, and no two leaves are the same. To top it off it has the rare and fashionable ‘lace-cap’ type of flower, which makes a great break from those big, fat balls, and is much more weather-resistant too.
The Lemon Wave Hydrangea grows between 3 and 6 feet tall and wide, depending on climate and how it is pruned. It forms a rounded bush, with leaves almost to the ground. Most mophead hydrangeas have rounded green leaves – attractive enough but nothing special or very interesting. The Lemon Wave Hydrangea is radically different. It has variegated leaves – something that is very rare in hydrangeas – and each leaf is a unique work of abstract art. The leaves are large, about 6½ inches long and 3½ inches across, with serrated edges. Their background color is mid-green, but there is an irregular border of lemon yellow, with transitional white, cream and lime-green zones patterning each leaf. Some leaves are almost completely yellow, others are mostly green, but each and every one is unique and different. Even without the flowers this plant would be a welcome shrub for partial shade, where its bright variegation stands out well, brightening a shady corner, or adding a colorful sparkle to an area beneath trees or on the shady side of your house. From spring when the leaves begin, to fall when they yellow and drop to the ground, the foliage coloring guarantees an interesting and colorful display from this unique plant.
The blooms too are novel and striking. They are not the traditional big balls of packed blooms, but instead they are more open, in the style called ‘lace-cap’. Each stem ends in a flat head of many flowers, showing the two flower types that hydrangeas have. In the center of the head are fertile flowers. These are very numerous, but tiny, with very small petals but with prominent stamens colored blue or pink. Around that center is a circle of sterile flowers. These are a little over 2 inches across, with four flat petals with wavy edges. The flowers are white flushed blue or pink. Some flower heads have a lot of the larger flowers throughout the flower head, others have fewer, scattered just around the edge of it. These more open flowers do not flop, and they resist rain and wind much better than mopheads do, making this plant much more suitable for low-maintenance gardening.
The Lemon Wave Hydrangea is fully hardy from zone 6 to zone 9. It will also grow in zone 5, but there the branches may be killed back in winter, preventing flowering, which only takes place on older branches. Winter protection is possible, using a chicken-wire cage filled with dry peat moss to cover the lower 12 inches of the branches, but of course this plant is so lovely even without blooms that it can be grown in zone 5 without special protection, as a foliage plant, with the chance of some bonus flowers after an unusually mild winter. Like all mophead hydrangeas the flower color is affected by the pH of the soil – its acid/alkaline balance. Soils with a pH of 5.5 or less with always produce clear blue flowers. Soils that are neutral or alkaline (pH 7.0 or higher) will produce lovely bright pink blossoms. Soils in between will lean towards blue or pink unpredictably, and purple colors are also possible. Whatever color the flowers end up they are beautiful, so why worry? Simply take what nature and your garden offers you. If you do want blue, but you don’t have suitable soil, then the best and easiest solution is to put your bush in a large planter or tub, in soil blended for acid-loving plants, and feed it regularly with fertilizer designed to make hydrangeas blue.
The soil for your Lemon Wave Hydrangea should be rich and moist, but well-drained. Hydrangeas need a regular supply of water, and they will quickly wilt and fail to bloom in dry soils. Partial shade is best, but too much shade will reduce flowering. Morning sun and afternoon shade are ideal, especially in warmer zones. Pests and diseases are rare. In spring, when the buds are visible, prune out any weak or dead branches, and reduce the main stems back to a pair of good buds between one-third and one-half, to keep the plant compact. It can also be grown without pruning, and then it will develop into a tall, more open shrub. If you see any branches growing with plain green leaves, remove them at the stem they are growing from as soon as they are seen.
The mophead hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla, is native to the woods of Japan, and selected varieties were grown by Japanese gardeners for centuries before being introduced into the West, where they were an instant hit. Since then many varieties have been created, and the one called ‘Lemon Wave’ was developed by an unknown nursery in New Zealand. It is close to an older variety called ‘Quadricolor’, but that variety is tricky and difficult to grow, whereas ‘Lemon Wave’ is tough, easy and reliable. This unique plant is always in high demand, but supply is scarce and very limited. We have found a batch of great specimens, but they will be sold very quickly, so order now while we still have plants available to send you. You won’t regret growing this fabulous plant.