Hydrangeas, with their large, brightly colored blooms, are a favorite among home gardeners, especially in the South. The climate in the southern United States is perfect for hydrangeas, which cannot always weather the conditions in areas where winters are cold and snowy. In fact, two types of hydrangeas--the Oakleaf hydrangea and Smoothleaf hydrangea--are native to Alabama. These cultivars continue to be a popular choice throughout the state.
Hydrangeas are a shrub. Each of the hundreds of varieties is unique, but in general the plants can grow to as tall as 6 feet and produce large groups of small flowers that give the appearance of one large blossom. In Alabama, the shrubs typically blossom at the height of summer, between late June and early August. Blossoms can be white, pink and blue.
If you want to plant hydrangeas, it's important to consider their growing needs before selecting a site. Hydrangeas will thrive in a rich, well-draining soil. They need sun, but do best with some shade in the afternoon, which is the hottest part of the day. It's best to look for a location that gets a good amount of sun in the morning and early afternoon, but gets some protection from the sun in the late afternoon.
Hydrangeas should be planted in the fall. If you miss the window of opportunity for fall planting, plant the shrubs in early spring. When planting, dig a hole as deep as the root structure is tall. The hole will need to be about 2 feet wider than the roots so they can spread naturally when placed in the hole.
As a general guideline, hydrangeas need about 1 inch of water each week. If your area is experiencing a dry spell, water the shrubs at least once a week. How often to fertilize your plants depends on what type of hydrangea you have. Oakleaf and Panicle hydrangeas should be fertilized twice a year, in April and June. Bigleaf varieties can withstand several light fertilizer applications throughout the growing season, such as every other month. Smooth hydrangeas should be fertilized only once a year, in late winter.
Before pruning your hydrangea, it's important to know what type of plant you have and how it grows. Some hydrangeas bloom on new wood; others bloom on old wood. With new wood hydrangeas, it's best to prune in late fall or early spring to help encourage new growth for the next growing season. For hydrangeas that bloom on old wood, pruning is recommended immediately after the flowering period so the new buds are not damaged.