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(ARA) - Hydrangeas are among the most popular flowering garden plants. Prized for their huge, dramatic flowers, they can literally stop traffic. Yet cold winters and late frosts often damage the flower buds and prevent blooming. Fear of losing the flowers has kept many gardeners from enjoying these beautiful plants. This need not be the case, because with careful selection all gardeners can enjoy hydrangeas and their remarkable flower displays.

When choosing a hydrangea it is very important to pay attention to the type of species or variety. Big leaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) are very popular for their large colorful flowers but unfortunately they are the least hardy. Lush green plants that do not bloom every year may disappoint gardeners. The blooms often fail because their flower buds are formed in fall of the previous year; a hard winter, an untimely frost or inappropriate pruning may damage the buds and the flowers will be lost.

Native to the mild coastal regions of Japan, big leaf hydrangeas are not well suited to the dramatic temperature swings of continental North America. These hydrangeas are best reserved for gardeners on the East and West Coast who have a milder maritime climate similar to Japan. Care must also be taken to prune at the proper time. Prune only lightly, while the plants are blooming in June.

The flower color of big leaf hydrangea ranges from white to deep pink to rich blue depending upon the variety selected and your soil type. Soil pH and aluminum content affect the flower color, with acid soils producing blue flowers, and alkaline soils producing pink blooms. Even in acidic soils low levels of aluminum or high levels of phosphorous may result in pink flowers. Spring and autumn treatment with aluminum sulfate will solve this and help produce blue flowers.

Most gardeners will find greater success with panicle hydrangeas (hydrangea paniculata). These plants are very hardy and bloom reliably no matter where you live. Pruning is not complicated so you will be rewarded with plenty of dramatic summer flowers. The difference is that panicle hydrangea flower buds are formed in late spring. The flower buds will never be damaged by frost or freeze, so they bloom reliably every year. Pruning is much easier as well. Simply prune them from late fall to spring. If you want larger flowers, cut them back extra hard. It's that easy.

One of the best panicle varieties is 'Limelight.' It's a beautiful new selection with remarkable soft green flowers. It is a very strong bloomer with loads of flowers from July until frost. It's unique because its large, full blooms change to shades of pink and burgundy as summer runs into fall. The result is a dramatic combination of green, pink and burgundy flowers on the same plant. Limelight is very easy to grow, can be planted in full sun or partial shade, and is unaffected by soil pH. This 6- to 8-foot tall beauty is a great addition to existing shrub borders, the back of the perennial bed, or it can be used as a dramatic low-maintenance hedge. The flowers are perfect for cutting, and will retain their green color if placed in a vase for drying. Limelight is a gardener's dream.

If you are lucky enough to find it, 'Little Lamb' is an excellent new selection of panicle hydrangea. Noted for its semi-dwarf habit, its delicate white flower heads look like little lambs dancing across the plant. Children especially will enjoy Little Lamb and like picking flowers for mother all summer long! It too is easy to grow and blooms reliably every year. Gardening doesn't get any easier than this.

White Dome hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is another easy to grow selection. Hardy as far north as Minnesota, White Dome rewards gardeners with blooms every year. In mid-summer White Dome is a cloud of large, lacy white flowers. Its 4- to 5-foot height makes it the perfect plant for the back of the perennial garden or a foundation planting. Like Limelight and Little Lamb, it is very easy to grow, a reliable bloomer and adaptable any decent garden soil. It can be planted in full sun or partial shade. Strong stems make it a great choice for gardeners and flower arrangers.

Hydrangeas are wonderful plants that add excitement to the home garden from mid-summer through fall. Many varieties are also good for cutting bouquets or for drying, and so provide year-round enjoyment. If you've been afraid to try hydrangeas because they seem too complicated, then reconsider. Just ask at your local garden center for hardy, reliable varieties like White Dome, Limelight and Little Lamb and you'll be successful. No matter where you garden, there's a hydrangea for you.

For more information about these hydrangea and other varieties, visit

Courtesy of ARA Content