HELEN LANG: Caring for a strong and healthy hydrangea

A very satisfactory shrub with few enemies and lots of flowers held in big trusses

  • Aug. 14, 2013 3:00 p.m.

I’d like to talk to you a bit about hydrangeas. This is a very satisfactory shrub with few enemies and lots of flowers held in big trusses. I was introduced by Edna and her nice husband, to a whopper whose huge leaves and enormous blossom clusters had been fed only on compost. It was interesting to find flowers that were pink, red, pale blue and mauve, all on the same shrub.

I gather a grapefruit’s acidic peelings accounted for the various shades of blue and things such as banana peels produced the shades of pink. Years ago my mother used iron filings to get a sharp blue and lime to achieve the pink. Now garden centres have chemicals to provide the different colours.

Mother had a huge, lovely hydrangea on the east side of the house, under the living room window. This was in Qualicum Beach. In the spring following one severe winter, her big, beautiful hydrangea appeared to have been killed. My Mother, ever the optimist, said, “Lets leave it and see what happens.”

In late June, lo and behold, shoots appeared on the frozen branches and before long we had a smaller, but strong, healthy hydrangea.

In Sidney hydrangeas have been used to good effect, planted along some downtown streets. They grow in both sun and shade, receive little water aside from rain but I imagine are pruned in spring by municipal staff. Aside from removing dead blossoms and thinning out some branches to allow light to penetrate, these handsome shrubs need little care.

One year, Mother gave me a large bouquet of hydrangea blossoms, which I hoped to keep as dried flowers during winter. No such luck! By the time we reached Prince George the blossoms had shrivelled. Since living here I’ve had better luck.

If you want to try, pick blooms on stems about 18 inches long, about noon on a dry day. Put these stems in about an inch of water in a jar that holds them upright. Place this out of the sun, in a cool place, possibly in a garage, until the water has dried up.

If they still look presentable, hang them upsidedown from an overhead nail until thoroughly dry.

Sometimes it works beautifully.

I haven’t been able to come up with a more logical answer!

Good luck!