Hydrangeas are one of the most popular shrubs, growing in shady areas in many gardens and bringing color and interest late in the season, when most other plants have finished flowering. However the popular mop-head hydrangeas, with their pink or blue flowers, are only hardy to zone 5, so northern gardeners have for a long time relied on the panicle hydrangea instead. This hardy plant has two problems – it grows into a large shrub, sometimes too big for modern gardens, and it only comes in white.
The challenge of producing more color choices in panicle hydrangeas was taken up by plant breeders and now we can offer gardeners in the north the Limelight Hydrangea. This is a great, hardy hydrangea which goes through a kaleidoscope of colors as the seasons come and go. It begins in early summer with creamy-white flowers, which then turn a delicious shade of chartreuse-green – a real ‘flower-arrangers’ color adored by decorators too. As the cooler nights of fall begin it turns wonderful shades of pinks and rose tones, before becoming wintry beige, just as the leaves join the party with a great fall display in many shades of red.
The Limelight Hydrangea grows into a bushy shrub 6 to 8 feet tall and as much across. The oval green leaves are 4 inches long, or sometimes more, with soft teeth along the edges. In fall they turn beautiful shades of red before falling for the winter. The flower heads are large, between 6 and 18 inches long, depending on how you prune your plant. They open a cream color, but turn chartreuse-green in later summer, before turning pink and rose in fall. Once the flowers have turned pink they can be cut and hung up to dry. They make wonderful winter decorations for the house, and will stay attractive for months and months.
The panicle hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata is a shrub native to China and Japan, which can grow into a small tree as much as 20 feet tall, although it is usually smaller. The wild plant has flowers which are not very conspicuous, but a form that originated in Japan was introduced into Europe and North America in the 1870’s. Hydrangeas have two kinds of flowers – small, fertile ones that make seeds but have no petals, and large, sterile ones that make petals but no seeds. These are mixed together in the flower heads and wild flowers mostly have the small fertile flowers, so they are not very showy. However this new Japanese form had mostly sterile flowers, making large flower heads. This is the common PG hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’) which is often seen in older gardens and parks. The flowers are plain white and the plant grows large.
The Limelight Hydrangea is a much-improved form of this plant which was developed in Holland and introduced into North America in 2002. Not only does it grow into a much more compact bush, reaching perhaps 8 feet in height, but the flowers go through great color changes as they develop, so that your bush will look different almost every day you look at it. It is easy to control the form and height of this plant with pruning. You can develop one or a few main stems, with branches higher up, like a small tree, or keep it bushier and shorter by encouraging new growth from lower down on the plant. You should give you plant a couple of seasons to become established, but once it begins to produce strong, thick stems, then you can begin to prune it to your personal taste.
Plant your Limelight Hydrangea in a sunny or partially shaded spot. It will grow in most kinds of soil, and benefits from lots of organic material dug into the soil when planting, as well as added each spring as mulch. This plant enjoys plenty of water and is not very drought-resistant, but do not plant it in a spot where the soil is constantly wet.
So special is this plant that it is protected by plant patent, so only certain growers can reproduce it. They take stems from correctly named plants and root them, to produce top grade plants. The Limelight Hydrangea is nothing like the common PG Hydrangea, so avoid cheaper substitutes, which in no way match the great features of this plant.
Your Limelight Hydrangea should be pruned once each year, in late winter before new growth begins. Some people like to produce very large flower heads, up to 18 inches in length. To do this remove all the thinner stems, leaving just a framework of a few thick stems. Cut these back to 12 – 18 inches long. Strong new shoots will appear, each one topped with a large flower head. Once the stems become older and thicker, continue to remove any weak growth, but now the thick shoots produced in the previous year should be cut back to about 6 inches long. Plants that are pruned less will produce more flowers, but the heads will be smaller. Do not trim new shoots during the summer when they have leaves, as you will cut off the developing flowers.
The Limelight Hydrangea has taken the gardening world by storm, so although we have a large stock, we expect equally large orders. So to ensure you can enjoy this plant for years in your garden, order now to avoid disappointment.