Hydrangeas for Oklahoma’s finicky climate

Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Overdam' in front of Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

Do you like hydrangeas, but despair of growing them in hot and sunny Oklahoma? Here are several hydrangeas for Oklahoma’s finicky climate. Choose wisely because hydrangeas live for a very long time, and many of them take up a lot of gardening room. If your garden is small, but mighty, choose one of the dwarf types I feature in this post.

There are old favorites and new ones to love. As you know, I lost many roses to Rose Rosette Disease, and I used hydrangeas and native shrubs to replace roses in my garden. These young plants are now growing into good anchor plants for herbaceous beds and borders. Plus, they’re easy care. Note: click on the photos in the galleries to make them larger.

H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’

First up, of course, is H. arborescens ‘Annabelle.’ The beautiful ‘Annabelle’ has lived in my garden for many years and grew from two small cuttings rooted by my friend, Wanda Faller. Hi Wanda!

For those of us worried about pollinators, it’s also the hydrangea that pollinators love. In fact, it is covered with many different creatures all summer long. ‘Annabelle’ was found in Anna, Illinois, and it’s native to southern Missouri, Oklahoma and even Louisiana. We need to plant more native plants in our gardens. Hybridizers have tried to improve upon ‘Annabelle,’ but for my money, they haven’t yet.

Hydrangeas for Oklahoma's finicky climate. Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' with pollinators drunk with joy
H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and pollinators drunk with nectar joy

‘Annabelle’ just gets better and better each year. I’ve rooted many cuttings for friends, and I think I’ll root more for overwintering in the greenhouse. Note: if you ever get a greenhouse, build it twice the size you think you need. You’ll find uses for it, I promise. Mine is much too small to do everything I want.

‘Annabelle’ is hardy to USDA Zone 3, and it gets 4 to 5 ft tall by 6 ft wide.

‘Annabelle’ holds onto her blooms throughout most of winter, and since she blooms on new wood, there’s no worry–cutting them off in spring won’t lessen her impact come summer. Not so with some of older H. macrophylla cultivars. To be honest, I’ve never had much luck with any of the traditional big-leaf hydrangeas in this garden. New and old cultivars live here just fine, but even the newer ones don’t bloom with any consistency. A non-performing hydrangea is a boring plant.

‘Annabelle’ can take some sun in Oklahoma, but not as much as some of the other hydrangeas I’ll feature in this post. She needs plenty of water as do most hydrangeas to look their best. Remember the word hydrangea starts with the Greek prefix “hydro” meaning water. All of mine are on drip irrigation to conserve as much water as possible.

H. quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’

My second-favorite hydrangeas are in a tie. I really love H. quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ and H. paniculata ‘Limelight.’ The paniculata (panicle) group can take a lot of sun as can some quercifolia (oakleaf) hydrangeas. However, ‘Ruby Slippers’ wins for dealing best with intense sunllight. ‘Ruby Slippers’ resides at the end of the garden where she took over for my ‘New Dawn’ roses, the first to succumb to Rose Rosette back when I barely knew what was happening.

No, hydrangeas aren’t roses, but they provide three beautiful seasons of interest, and compared to roses, hydrangeas are so easy care it’s hard to believe. ‘Ruby Slippers‘ came out of breeding at the U.S. National Arboretum. It blooms on old wood so remove the blooms after they fade. ‘Ruby Slippers’ is hardy to USDA Zone 5. It’s also a small, compact shrub–3 1/2 ft. tall and 4 to 5 ft. wide–so not much pruning is necessary.

See? Easy.

H. paniculata ‘Limelight’ and H. paniculata Little Lime®

Limelight,’ took the garden world by storm when it was introduced, and it’s a very forgiving plant. With water, it can take a lot of sun. I’ve seen it growing as a standard–small tree–making an exclamation point in garden beds. Or, you can let it spread out and become a great backdrop for other plants.

Like ‘Annabelle,’ ‘Limelight’s’ pointed blooms start out green, turn to white and then back to green by end of summer. Eventually, they turn a rosy, light brown. It blooms on new wood so there’s no worry of cutting off the next season’s blooms. In fact, it’s such an easy plant to grow throughout much of the country that I see it everywhere I travel. It’s also hardy to USDA Zone 3a, but doesn’t mind heat either. Mine is planted at the end of a rose border where I lost a Knock Out® rose to Rose Rosette. ‘Limelight’ does get big: 5 ft. to 6 ft tall and wide so give it some room.

If you have a smaller garden, there’s now a newer and smaller version of ‘Limelight’ called H. paniculata Little Lime®. This is a dwarf variety of panicle hydrangea and grows 3 ft. to 5 ft. wide and tall. I planted three next to my deck behind some daylilies and Tightwad Red crapemyrtles. Last summer, I grew Senorita Rosalita cleome in front too, and the purple and green made quite an impact for the fall garden tour. These small beauties also work well in containers with drip irrigation.

H. paniculata Quick Fire® and Little Quick Fire®

At each end of the same border, I planted H. paniculata Quick Fire®. These shrubs grow larger, and their blooms have more visual interest as they fade than Little Lime. Just one of the prettiest hydrangeas in production, and they can handle at least half a day of morning sun. As you can see from the photo below, they also have red stems. Quick Fire grows six to seven feet tall and wide, and it’s hardy to USDA Zone 3.


If you don’t have that kind of space, there’s a Little Quick Fire® too. Up until now, I bought all of the shrubs I’ve discussed. Proven Winners sent me Little Quick Fire and H. serrata Tuff Stuff™ to try out last summer. Little Quick Fire settled right in and is growing great guns. It is hardy to Zone 3 and grows from 3 ft to 6 ft. Tuff Stuff is taking longer to settle in, but even though it’s a mountain hydrangea, I have high hopes for it. Tuff Stuff grows 2 ft to 3 ft wide and 3 ft to 4 ft tall. It is hardy to Zone 5a.

H. paniculata Pinky Winky®

Years and years ago, I received Pinky Winky at a Garden Writers Association annual meeting. It grew from a one gallon pot to a nice-sized shrub about 3 ft tall by 3 ft wide. It’s supposed to grow larger, but some plants in Oklahoma are more stunted. Mine grows in full sun all day. It is hardy to Zone 3. I love the long pointed blooms and its small size, but I hate the name. I’d really like to try H. paniculata ‘Renhy’ Vanilla Strawberry, but Pinky Winky has grown so well in this spot I don’t have the heart to remove it. Maybe I can find another spot for Vanilla Strawberry. It grows much larger–6 ft to 8 ft tall and 4 ft to 5 ft wide. It is hardy to Zone 3.

Now, most of these hydrangeas bloom white and then fade to either pink, red or brown. I know how much people love blue hydrangeas, but in my part of Oklahoma, they require very specific conditions. Conditions I’m not willing to provide. Why should I when all of these others are so happy here?

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, June 2015

Triangle bed on the left side

Welcome to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, June 2015, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. If it’s June in Oklahoma, then you must know it’s all about the daylilies, or hemerocallis, if we’re being botanically literate. Here are my bloom day posts for 2014 and 2013. Daylilies are always the stars of my June garden, but sometimes the roses join the party too.

Tiered borders with green smoketree.
Tiered borders with green smoketree. ‘Ogon’ spirea is on the right.

Hemerocallis, as many of you know, means “beauty for a day,” so this botanical name makes perfect sense for a flower that only blooms for twenty-four hours and then is gone never to be seen again. Luckily clumps produce many, many flowers so we can enjoy them for two months or so, if we grow cultivars that bloom extra early and late. The latest daylily in my garden every year is ‘Autumn Minaret’ (Stout 1951.) It’s a worthy plant in any garden. Place it at the back of the border because it gets so tall. Because I have so many photos this time, I’m putting the daylilies in galleries. Just click on the smaller photos, and you can view them in a larger format.

Fortunately, we’re a week or so behind schedule, which will be good for the daylily show at Will Rogers Park Exhibition Center next weekend. I plan to be there and show off some of my plants. Daylily season should peak at the end of this week or the beginning of the next. When the daylilies are in bloom, my garden always reminds me of brightly-colored clown pants. It is a garden of many colors, varied shapes and heights. It’s crazy and joyful. I love it so.

Before we launch into total daylily addiction, I want to show you a few of my hydrangeas. They are peaking right now too. Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is clearly not intimidated by all of the hydrangea newcomers added to the garden this year. Instead, she is strutting her stuff for all to see. I am ever grateful for this beautiful plant, and I’ve added starts to other parts of the garden so that her beauty will ever shine.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' from the side. You can see her in many other poses on this blog.
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ from the side. You can see her in many other poses on this blog.

‘Annabelle’ is native to the U.S. and must have tons of nectar because she is a pollinator favorite. I just love those large, puffy white blooms. Don’t you? I don’t have good luck with the macrophylla hydrangeas. I know many people in Oklahoma do, but it just gets too hot and dry in my garden. H. paniculata, H. quercifolia and H. arborescens are more forgiving. As I wrote in an earlier post on perennial gardens, I’ve planted several new ones this year. They are just beginning to have their moment in the sun’s warm rays. I’m grateful for all the rain this spring and summer because it’s made transplanting easier.

Back garden with Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers' and my purple chairs. The crapemyrtles are 'Pink Velour.'
Back garden with Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Ruby Slippers’ and my purple chairs. The dark-leafed crapemyrtles are ‘Pink Velour.’

On GBBD, it’s easy to just show beauty shots of individual plants, but that doesn’t give you an overall picture of how the plants relate to each other in the garden. This month, I’m trying for a mixture of each. Let me know if you like it.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. There are four long beds at the end of the back garden. I once grew veggies in them. We moved the veggie garden to another spot on the hill. This is the second long bed
There are four long beds at the end of the back garden. I once grew veggies in them. We moved the veggie garden to another spot on the hill. This is the second long bed

Now, for more daylilies…. Would you like a few growing tips too?

Daylilies are shallow-rooted creatures so it’s not a good idea to plant them when temperatures are over ninety degrees. Still, one plantsman sent me three or four last week when we’d had our hottest weather yet. I planted them in the shade of other plants and watched them closely for rot. If you get a double or single fan of a particular plant, watch it closely. When you move a clump, it’s easy to keep alive, but small divisions are harder, especially when the mercury climbs. You can place a child’s umbrella over new plantings too. I’ve done that many times over the years. As for care, they don’t ask for much. Once established, they are fairly drought tolerant, but they also love water. The number of blooms you get is all determined by clump size. Fertilize with an idea of creating larger clumps. Daylilies love nitrogen. They also love shredded leaf mulch. I use both. This year, I fertilized with Back to Nature. All that manure helps increase clump size. However, I don’t do that every year because it might cause them to be over-fertilized. Aphids are attracted to clumps especially in the spring. Lady beetles will take care of some of the problem, but a blast of water from the hose end sprayer helps too. I also fertilize my daylilies at the same time I do my roses. They respond well to rose fertilizer too. I use Jobe’s All-Purpose Organic granular fertilizer for my roses. I also like Mills Magic Rose Mix. If I’m only doing the daylilies, I use a lot of Milorganite. I’ll be honest. There are a lot of good organic fertilizers out there, but I like the granulated ones and Moo Poo Tea the best.The others with chopped alfalfa blow in the wind. Plus, they mess with my asthma. I usually make the manure tea and use it in a hose end sprayer when summer has sapped the garden’s strength.

Here is another post on growing daylilies that breaks down the Four B’s to Daylily Garden Zen.

Those are my pretties for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. I can’t wait to go around and see what’s blooming elsewhere in the world. Thank you Carol for continuing this meme year after year.