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Water Loving Hydrangea

Some plants get used over and over again. Some plants are easier to grow than others. Other plants are versatile in so many different situations and environments. Then there are those stunningly eye-catching ones everyone must have. Surprisingly, there is a plant that meets all of these criteria.

Smooth hydrangea
Hydrangea arborescens, ‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea, is a plant that is used frequently, readily available, relatively easy to grow, useful in a variety of situations, and stunningly eye-catching. Yet you don’t see it as much as you would think.

Annabelle hydrangea has amazingly beautiful white, 8- to 12-inch wide symmetrical flowers or balls of pure white flowers. Annabelle hydrangea was actually discovered growing naturally not far from Kentucky in Anna, Illinois.

It begins blooming in June in our area and continues to bloom for about a month. Gradually the flowers begin to fade, but then they metamorphose into a beautiful, dried flower arrangement on the plant. In a good year, you will sometimes get a second flush of a few flowers in late summer.

Annabelles are picky
Unlike many popular hydrangeas, Annabelle blooms on new wood, so if you happen to prune it back without thinking in fall or late winter, don’t worry, it will still bloom in June. In fact, we recommend pruning this type of hydrangea regularly each March to encourage plant vigor, creating a stronger branching to hold the large and heavy flowers and a better overall shape.

When deciding if this plant will win a spot in your garden, there are two things to consider before you buy. Do you have a well-drained yet consistently moist spot, preferably in part sun? Or do you have part shade with an irrigation system or you’re willing to water frequently during a dry spell? If you answer yes to one of these questions, then you are ready to buy and plant Annabelle hydrangea in the garden. Unfortunately, this beautiful plant is not very forgiving under drought conditions. If it is planted in a consistently dry spot, whether it’s in the sun or the shade, by mid-summer it will look awful.

I have a notoriously dry urban garden, and although I do water during summer, it is just enough to keep things alive, and not enough to keep Annabelle hydrangea beautiful. For me, Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea, is the only hydrangea that is tolerant of my dry garden and slim watering.

As with most hydrangeas, a mature planting of 6 to 8 years of age or more is the most beautiful. Once planted, hydrangeas as a general group need some time to become established and fill out so that the full effect of flower quantity and quality can be achieved.

Naturally beautiful groupings
Annabelle grows about 3 to 5 feet tall and equally wide. When planted in large groups or masses, it tends to colonize and look like one big plant. Once you see a grouping in full flower, it will be hard to forget its beauty. Most people after seeing it still unknowingly buy only one or two plants in the beginning, but in following years they buy several more to fill out their grouping. To save time in the future, start out with a minimum of three plants, and if you have room, starting with five would be even better.

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