Hydrangeas welcome the heat of summer in order to make new growth. The big-leafed hydrangeas produce big, blue, mop-headed flowers that command attention. The large mounds of foliage support multitudes of flowers, usually mop heads. But occasionally we see a lace-cap plant or two. Those are my favorites because the blues are often intense, cobalt colors. The flowers are generally some shade of blue in our acid soils, but if you lime the soil, the flowers will turn pink or purple. There is even a beautiful red hydrangea, called, appropriately, “Lady in Red”!
Two selections are available that keep blooming all summer. ‘Endless Summer’, a relative newcomer and ‘Penny Mac’ keep producing new flowers until frost. Both do best with afternoon shade and a steady supply of moisture. Our native oakleaf hydrangea forms 6- to 10-foot mounds of foliage from top to bottom. It produces long panicles of white, sterile flowers just above the foliage. These panicles are eight to twelve inches long and fade to a burgundy red as they age. The foliage looks like an enlarged oak leaf. The plants’ fall foliage turns a blazing crimson. Plants do well in partial shade but require well-drained soils. A great place to plant is on the edge of the woods, where the plants are shaded from the hot afternoon sun. Horticulturists call these plants ‘understory trees” because they prefer the microenvironment created on the fringe of the forest canopy.
The peegee hydrangea develops into a large, upright shrub or small tree. The big, white flowers open on new growth in July and August. The selections ‘Tardiva’ and ‘Chantilly Lace’ flower a little later and hold flowers on strong, upright stems. These plants will grow in sun or shade on well-drained soils. The blue flowers of the chaste tree (Vitex) in July remind us that the flowering season isn’t yet over. The 10- to 12-inch spikes nearly cover the plants. There’s a buzz of excitement, too, as the bees visit each flower. In my opinion, they are more beautiful and longer blooming than the butterfly bush, and they attract both bees and butterflies like no other. The chaste tree is a fast grower. It reaches 12 to 15 feet tall. The gray-green foliage is usually pest-free. Plants do best in full sun. Flowers develop on new growth, so you need to prune in early spring before growth begins. This is a great choice for your gardens if deer are frequent visitors — they hate this tree.
Summersweet clethra blooms late, in July and August. This native produces a sweet fragrance that permeates the garden. The spiked clusters of white flowers are 4 to 6 inches long and last three to four weeks. The plants grow 4 to 6 feet tall. They adapt to sun or shade and tolerate heat and drought. The shiny, dark green leaves turn yellow in the fall. Summersweet clethra is a great choice for the shrub border, along lakes and streams or on the edge of the woods.
One of my personal favorites is the smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria. In part because the Latin name is so much fun to say but mostly because of the unusual froth of summer blooms that crown the borders of the shrub. The flowers are small and numerous, and give the distinct impression that the bush is shrouded in pink or burgundy smoke!
Be sure to include some flowers and fragrance in your summer landscape. These shrubs make great additions to any landscape. You could even remove an overgrown azalea or two and replace it with some summer excitement to extend your flowering season.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.