An Endless Summer

An Endless Summer


Annuals such as impatiens, begonias and marigolds have always had bragging rights for repeat blooms throughout the summer. Perennials like hemerocallis (daylilies) have stretched the bounds of summer’s distant end providing drifts of colorful borders in the landscape in the heat of summer. Until recently, the thought of a deciduous ornamental providing blooms all through a growing season, seemed as improbable as the Boston Redsox winning a world series over the Yankees. Well, that happened and along came Hydrangea “ENDLESS SUMMER”.

Endless Summer hydrangea is a Hydrangea macrophylla (bigleaf hydrangea) that was discovered by Vern Black of Bailey Nurseries in 1983. Impressed by its blooms and hardiness, even in zone 4(-20 fahrenheit), this hydrangea performed well when most others did not. In 1988, plants of Endless Summer were being observed by Dr. Michael Dirr, a demigod in the horticultural world. Flowering on new and old wood, flowers will appear despite freezing temperatures killing the stems to the ground.  This garden gem is a mop-head type that is PH sensitive. Pink blooms in alkaline soils and blue flowers in acidic soils with sufficient aluminum. Blue flowers can be achieved however, by adding aluminum sulfate to alkaline soils. And yes, rusty nails still work at the base of hydrangea too. Endless Summer’s biggest claim to fame is that it blooms on new wood. Many times hydrangea is cut back at the wrong time, sacrificing blooms. Endless Summer spits flowers all season long (from May to October/November) regardless of new or old wood cutting. In fact it performs better when new growth is cut in half. Deadheading flowers will also increase its flower production. The foliage is medium to deep green and is mildew resistant. While it is more mildew resistant than Nikko Blue it is not as stem hardy. Mature plant size is only 3 to 5 feet tall and wide assuring that even the smallest garden footprint can afford one.

Other repeat blooming hydrangea becoming available are Hydrangea macrophylla “Lady in Red” and Hydrangea “PennyMac”. These two varieties offer improved garden interest from an already exciting deciduous family. Lady in Red, developed by Dr. Michael Dirr, has red stems, red veined leaves, and lacecap blooms. These blooms open in late spring as either pink or blue but eventually mature to a burgundy rose, complimenting the other prominent red markings. Lady in Red’s blooms are about 4-5 inches across at maturity and the sepals fold down showing off its wonderful burgundy back side. Mildew resistant foliage turns from green to a rich purple in the fall. PennyMac, named for one of the founders of the American Hydrangea Society, Penny MacHenry, is the hydrangea answer for the north. Reblooming heavily on new wood, PennyMac offers huge 7 inch flower clusters of blue and lush green foliage. Consider cutting some of the blooms for flower arrangements or drying them so as to enjoy during your winter doldrums.  PennyMac tops out at about 4-5 feet tall and wide. Remember when planting your favorite hydrangea to site them in partial shade and moist, well drained soil is important. While some are tolerant to heat and humidity, they would prefer to be well irrigated in such a surrounding. Avoid hot western exposures whenever possible to ensure that those big leaves don’t get crunchy, crinkled and burnt.

All three hydrangeas are ideal for foundation planting, specimens, mass plantings or container plants. Container gardening with hydrangea can now be as rewarding as annuals overflowing their pottery boundaries. The next time you visit your local garden center and are tempted by all the annual color out front, consider strolling through the deciduous, evergreen and coniferous materials as well.  What lies ahead in the horticultural field may just be a fragrant, repeat blooming, flowering conifer that changes color throughout the seasons and is totally deer resistant. Probably not, but its fun to dream. Enjoy your “Endless Summer”.

Robert LaHoff

Hall’s Garden Center