Summer Beauty

    • Roses need water and fertilizer to keep blooming through the summer. Watch for pests and diseases and treat as soon as you see trouble.
    • Birdbaths will attract our feathered friends to your backyard so you can enjoy them close-up. Place them a few feet from a bushy shrub to give the birds protection.
    • Zinnias love the heat and will add a rainbow of color to your garden and the deer don’t like them.
    • Fragrant star jasmine is in full bloom right now. Plant one in a semi-shaded spot where you can enjoy its lovely perfume.
    • Prune camellias and azaleas to shape them now. If you wait much longer, you will be cutting off next year’s flowers.

Summer Beauty in the Shade

The big, round, pink flower clusters of the well-known hydrangea have decorated summer gardens in California for decades. These long-blooming bushes are ideal for shady areas of the garden, as they bloom for most of the summer.

From their home along the rivers of China and Japan, hydrangeas were brought to Europe by plant collectors in the 1800s and now are popular in many parts of the world.

The name Hydrangea gives us a clue to the main needs of this plant. It comes from the Greek word Hydro, meaning water, indicating its need for plenty of water in the summertime. Hydrangeas prefer moist, humus-rich soil with good drainage. So when planting, add peat moss and compost to the soil.

Hydrangeas cannot tolerate hot sun. It will burn their leaves quickly. Plant them where they receive only early morning sun. The north side of a building is usually a good location. They need regular watering and should not be allowed to dry out. Plants wilt if they get too dry but will recover soon with a thorough watering.

Pink hydrangeas can be made to turn blue by making the soil more acid. This is done by working aluminum sulfate into the soil around the plants in March. Flowers may turn blue naturally here where the soils are acidic under conifers. It you want to keep the flowers pink, apply lime around the plants in the springtime.

Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs which lose their leaves in the winter. They can be pruned when dormant by removing spent flowers down to a healthy pair of buds. This should be done in spring when they first start to show new growth.  

There are many kinds of hydrangeas besides the common one. The lace-cap hydrangea has flower heads that are made up of a cluster of small flowers surrounded by a ring of large ones. They may be white, pink or blue and add a dramatic touch to the shade garden. Some have variegated leaves which add color in shady areas.

There are several new cultivars including ‘Endless Summer’, ‘All Summer Beauty’, and ‘Glowing Embers’. They add some variety to the sizes and colors of standard hydrangeas.

Few vines have as much to offer as the Climbing Hydrangea. They provide interest year ’round: cinnamon-colored, bark and dried blooms in winter; fragrant, ivory colored flowers like those of lace-cap hydrangea in early summer; lush, shiny green foliage through the growing season that turn golden yellow in the fall. This vine is the clinging type, so a trellis is not necessary.

Hydrangeas grow quite large on the coast, but usually stay under five feet here. They give us some of our best summer color. Good companion plants include hostas, astilbe, columbines and bleeding hearts. Planted with pink, lavender or white impatiens around their base, they will bring life and color to your yard all summer.

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