Where Can I Plant Hydrangeas, They Died at My Last House

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A great question came in this week that led back to my personal and professional modus operandi, “Right Plant, Right Place.” In order to ensure that a plant thrives, we must first examine what we have to offer the plant. We can sometimes push the limits of what a plant can take and achieve mediocre results but often this mantra does not produce good fruit. We need to research a specific plant’s needs or culture before we waste our money and have that defeated feeling of killing our plants!

What do I mean by plant culture? These are the attributes, such as site conditions, that the plant needs in order to thrive. For example, warm-season turfgrass needs to be in an area that receives a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight. If there is heavy shade, warm-season turf will not thrive and in most cases will not survive. In fact, Bermudagrass is so sensitive to shade that it will compete with itself when allowed to grow too high. If you were to get on your hands and knees to inspect the grass, you would see that it resembles a tree with the stem being brown and the only green being on the tips. This causes the grass to look as though it has been scalped after every mowing event. To fix this situation you need to bite the bullet and cut it low. This should be done in stages, taking a third of the overall length off every 2 days until only approximately an inch to an inch and a half is left of the grass blade. Strive to mow often enough to maintain the grass between one to two inches. The warm-season grasses (Bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, and centipedegrass) should be maintained between one and two inches throughout the summer. St. Augustinegrass is the only warm-season grass we grow that should be kept longer, with the best results achieved mowing between two and half and four inches.

However, this was not the question of the week! The question was from a homeowner who is new to the area. He asked, “Where can I plant hydrangeas in my new yard?” This is a bit of a loaded question, by that I mean what type of hydrangea do you want to grow?

To answer the question, first think about what you have to offer the plant. Consider the characteristics of your particular site. Most of us have more than one zone in our residential properties. For example, this property has a home that faces North.

  • North-facing sides of a home will receive the least amount of sunlight.
  • South-facing sides will receive the most.
  • East-facing sides of the home will receive morning light which tends to be gentle on plants.
  • West-facing sides of a building will receive the harsh late afternoon sun.

Afternoon sun should be reserved for the toughest of plants. In the same way, those plants whose hardiness zone is 8a or higher might do better on the west-facing side of a structure. The structure will protect the plant from wind and earlier morning sun on the coldest of days preventing desiccation and/or splitting from freeze damage. These are all just considerations for sunshine! We need to think about the soil too! Clay soils tend to be heavier and wetter by nature whereas sandy soils tend to be droughty and less fertile.

Now let’s think about what we want the plant to offer us. By this I mean what are we expecting out of the plant? In the case of Hydrangea, do we want the plant to be in full sun, partial sun, or mostly shade? If we want to plant on the south-side of the structure, we need a full sun plant (unless there are a considerable number of trees overhead). Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata), love full sun. They will flourish in that environment! There are several cultivars to choose from with lime-green to white to pink to purple flowers. These are later bloomers, being one of the few hydrangea to flower on the current season’s growth. Oak leaf hydrangeas (H. quercifolia) draw their name from the oak-shaped leaves which will persist into the fall displaying beautiful shades of red and purple. The beautiful white flowers are in-bloom now on most of these deciduous shrubs. This is also a native hydrangea for those of you who are purists! The oak leaf hydrangeas will flourish in full to part sun and moist, but well-drained soils.

A Washington County homeowner's prized blue mop-head hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) on the North-facing wall of the home. Photo by Gene Fox.

A Washington County homeowner’s prized blue mop-head hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) on the North-facing wall of the home. Photo by Gene Fox.

Most of us are much more familiar with Bigleaf or Mop-head hydrangeas (H. macrophylla). These are the hydrangeas that display the massive blue to purple (sometimes pink) flowers in late spring to early summer. The sought-after deep blue flowers found in most Southern Gardens are a result of acidic soil (low pH) and the addition of aluminum sulfate fertilizer. The mop-heads do not respond well to sun, they prefer dappled sunlight to deep shade. The afternoon sun is particularly harsh on them causing stress and often the development of leaf spots. Plant these hydrangeas on the north-facing side of your home for lasting beauty. All hydrangeas like water but do not like wet feet.

The last thing I would like to discuss is how to find information on plant culture. Remember, Extension is here to be an unbiased third-party resource! Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteers are great resources with a wide variety of horticulture experience. If you just really want to research in your pajamas at home, another great Extension resource is the “Find a Plant” function on NC State University’s Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox This feature will allow you to use filters to build a list of plants that will fit your site conditions while selecting the attributes important to your design. This list is printable as a shopping list! Individual links will take you to very informative literature on each plant complete with pros and cons and even a video.

If you are having trouble with growing in your home landscape, call the Extension office to talk to a Master Gardener Volunteer on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:00 to 12:00 at (252)946-0111. Check out the Beaufort County Master Gardener Facebook page to see helpful gardening tips and see the plant of the week. Until then, Happy Gardening!

Written By

Gene Fox, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionGene FoxArea Agent, Agriculture - Consumer Horticulture Call Gene Email Gene N.C. Cooperative Extension, Beaufort County Center

Contributing Author

Karan Marslender, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionKaran MarslenderCounty Extension Support Specialist Call Karan Email Karan N.C. Cooperative Extension, Beaufort County Center
Updated on May 28, 2024
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