Heavenly hydrangeas for the hot sun

Steve Smith, the Whistling Gardener, talks about sun loving hydrangeas that are easy to grow and in stock now.
The Whistling Gardener talks about sun loving hydrangeas that are easy to grow and in stock now. Photo credit: Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Okay, maybe “hot” sun is a bit of a stretch for the northwest but it is very much true that there are forms of hydrangeas that grow just fine in our full sun gardens and when they come into bloom they remind me of puffy clouds hence the “heavenly” part. They fall into three categories.

By far the largest group is the PeeGee hydrangea which sports a cone shaped flower (or panicle as we call it in our trade) for several months in the summer starting as early as June. They usually start out white and mature to various shades of pink. There seems to be no end to the new introductions that can vary in their height and to a lesser extent degree of “pinkness."

Here are some new ones to consider:

Lime Light: Still my favorite, Lime Light has very large panicles of delicate chartreuse to white petals that will cover the entire plant this time of year.

Quickfire: The absolute earliest to bloom for us, Quickfire has been on fire for 4 weeks already. White flowers mature quickly to dark red and can remain for several more months.

Pinky Winky: Like Quickfire but a few weeks later and with stronger tones of pink and teeny tiny flowers, this is a real keeper.

Vanilla Strawberry: pretty much the same as Pinky Winky but with a more appetizing name.

Bobo: a new dwarf form that only gets 3-4 feet tall.

Little Lamb: Delicate flowers like Lime Light only no hints of green in the flowers, just pure white like a herd of little lambs.

All of these PeeGee hybrids generally grow 3-6 feet tall and once established are fairly drought tolerant. And here is the best part about PeeGee hydrangeas: they bloom on new wood which means you can treat them like a rose or butterfly bush and cut them back hard in March and then watch them grow and bloom in July. They are totally idiot proof.

Another hydrangea that loves the sun is the Oakleaf Hydrangea. The flowers are very similar to the PeeGee types but the leaves look just like an oak leaf and the fall color is fabulous. Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on last year’s growth so be careful not to prune them too hard in the spring or you won’t see any blooms. Generally, Oakleaf hydrangeas can be rangy growers and will benefit from some snipping now and then to help shape them.

If you are tight on space then try “Peewee” on for size, it only gets 3-4 feet tall. And for the biggest and fluffiest flowers you simply can’t beat Vaughn’s Lilly.

The third group is a north American native of which Annabelle has been the standard bearer for years. But now we have “Incrediball” which boasts white flowers a full one foot across on sturdy stems that can be cut to the ground every winter much like a perennial and return the following spring twice the size. It is perfect to work into our mixed sun borders and will never disappoint.

“Incredibelle” is an antique pink form if you are looking for something different.

So there you have it, three different groups of sun loving hydrangeas that for the most part are fool proof and easy to grow and in stock now at the nursery. Come check them out and take a couple home for your gardening pleasure.

Educational opportunity: our class for July 20th is an unusual one. We will be discussing creating an allergy free garden. Class starts at 10am and usually runs an hour. RSVP is appreciated.

Garden tours: two tours are on the horizon. This Saturday and Sunday, the 20th and 21st is the Mukilteo Garden and Quilt tour and the following Sunday is the Snohomish Garden tour. You can go to their respective websites to learn more and you can purchase tickets here at the nursery up to the day before the tours.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at


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