If anyone is looking for reliable bloomers when it comes to Hydrangeas, one good choice is the Smoothleaf Hydrangea. Hydrangea arborescens is found in moist areas, wooded slopes and stream banks from New York to Florida and west to Oklahoma. The species typically has a lace-cap flower with a center of fertile flowers (non-showy) ringed with sterile flowers (showy). Cultivars like the traditional ‘Annabelle’, the pink ‘Invincible Spirit’ and the white, super-sized ‘Incrediball’ all have large clusters of sterile (showy) flowers. They bloom on new wood so Peter recommends prunning them back 6-12″ from the ground in early March. Fertilize in spring with a balanced fertilizer like Woodace 14-14-14 or Espoma Plant-tone. Concerned about heavy flower heads in the rain? Give them a little support – they’re fantastic poking through an old fence or over a stone wall. You can also plant in a group – they’ll help support each other. And don’t worry about cold winters taking them out – they’re hardy to Zone 4!
A simple mass of Annabelle Hydrangeas is an impressive site, but planting them with Astilbe, Hostas, Heucheras or Hakonechloa can be interesting, too. Want another idea for reliable bloom? Hydrangea paniculata (Panicle Hydrangea)! They also bloom on new wood and can be pruned in March with no worries about sacrificing their showy summer flowers!