Fall Flowers: Hydrangea

Almost everyone loves hydrangeas. They add a beautiful presence to our gardens, are stunning as cut flowers in bouquets and are relatively easy to grow and maintain. Hydrangeas also have one of the longest growth cycles of almost anything in the flower garden,  blooming from early Spring through late Fall depending on where you live.

The name hydrangea comes from the Greek “hydro,” for water and “angelon,” which means cask or jug. Combined, the names refer to the shape and size of the hydrangea’s large, oval flower head. One of a genus of 75-ish flowering plants, hydrangea are native to eastern and southern parts of Asia as well as both North and South America.

They come in a variety of colors, ranging from white to shades of pink, lavender, blue, red and purple. The flowers on an individual plant can be made to change colors by adjusting the pH of the soil. (Acidic soil usually produces blue colored flowers, neutral soil produces soft whites and cream colors, and alkaline soils produce pinks and purples.) And the flowers on most hydrangea varieties will actually move through an abbreviated range of those colors depending on the season.

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Hydrangea, mophead, flowers, garden

Summer Mophead Hydrangea

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Hydrangea flower heads are made up of a grouping of smaller flowers (a characteristic called “inflorescence”) and come in two shapes – the sort of full, balloon shape of large showy blossoms, like the photograph above, (called “mopheads”) and a flattened dinner plate shape (called “lacecaps”) which have large blossoms encircling a core of smaller blossoms.

The hydrangea plants themselves can be of a smaller shrub (3-6 feet in height) varieties referred to as mountain and big leaf hydrangea, or a a taller small tree-like version (10-15 feet in height) called panicle hydrangea, or of a potentially much taller variety  (over 75 feet) of climbing hydrangea.

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Fall Hydrangea, mophead, gardens

Fall Hydrangea Blossoms

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As temperatures get colder in the Fall many hydrangea varieties will continue to blossom right up until the ground freezes and they move into dormancy. The older flowers will remain on the plant throughout the season, slowly losing color and fading to a soft golden tan, until they are worn away by Winter’s snow and wind or until they are pruned.

Although there’s noting quite so lush and beautiful as a freshly opened stem of mophead hydrangeas, there is something equally lovely about those same blossoms as they begin to fade in the Fall. The flowers become more and more translucent and take on a sort of ethereal quality. Sunlight passes through the heads and seems to wrap them in a soft glow.

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Hydrangea foliage

Fall Hydrangea Foliage

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The leaves and stems of several varieties of hydrangea also take on Fall colors – turning shades of gold and dark magenta – which adds to the beautiful and dramatic presence hydrangea create in the garden.

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