Easy Way To Tell Adapted Hydrangeas From Non-Adapted

Hydrangea shrubs have been around a long time, but the past decade has brought exciting new types. Unfortunately some types don’t grow well in the Northern Plains, but others do. Which are which, when shopping garden centers that sell Endless Summer, Twist ‘n Shout, Annabelle, Incrediball, Vanilla Strawberry, Bloomstruck, Quickfire, and dozens more?

Luckily there’s a very easy way to quickly separate beautiful, adapted types from those that struggle in our climate.

Investigating the botanical name reveals this variety as a type of Hydrangea macrophylla, not well-suited to our climate.

It’s a great example of the importance of botanical names, which are the official, world-wide unique designation for every plant type. That name is like a plant’s social security number. The botanical name is often inconspicuous on a plant tag, hidden somewhere below the prominent brand, or marketing name of the plant.

Examining the botanical name quickly separates well-adapted hydrangea species from hydrangea types that struggle.

There are two species of hydrangea that grow beautifully in our region of North Dakota and northern Minnesota:

  1. Hydrangea arborescens varieties. This is the most common hydrangea with it’s very large, round white flower clusters. ‘Annabelle’ is a great variety (botanical name Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’.) Others of the arborescens species include ‘Incrediball’ and ‘Invicibelle Spirit’.
  2. Hydrangea paniculata varieties. These are recognized by their pyramid-shaped flower clusters (panicles, like the species name.) Varieties include PeeGee, Vanilla Strawberry, Quickfire, Little Lime, Little Lamb, Pink Diamond, Strawberry Sundae, and more. Paniculata types make great landscape shrubs.

The species of hydrangea that is commonly sold in our area that struggles greatly and is not nearly as well-adapted as the above two species is:

  • Hydrangea macrophylla varieties. This species is related to the florist hydrangea. It includes the commonly sold Endless Summer (original blue), Blushing Bride Endless Summer, Twist ‘n Shout Endless Summer, and Bloomstruck Endless Summer.
  • We did extensive interviews of local gardeners last year to learn what their experience had been with these. Most gardeners met with failure after the first season. A small minority were successful if they planted them in a sheltered shaded location, kept them very moist, mulched them with shredded wood and gave protection over winter.
  • Difficulties experienced by homeowners with H. macrophylla hydrangea types reinforces past recommendations by horticulturists that the species and its varieties are not well-suited to our soils and weather conditions.

Bottom line: Hydrangea arborescens and Hydrangea paniculata varieties are well-adapted for our region’s landscapes. Hydrangea macrophylla varieties are not as well-suited and require special care that removes them from recommendations for widespread planting in the Northern Plains, even though they may be well-adapted in other regions. Check the botanical name on the plant tag to see which species the type belongs.

A quick look at the plant tag for hydrangea botanical names quickly separates the wheat from the chaff. Happy Gardening!