Limelight Hydrangea a winner for every garden

By Norman Winter

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Published: Friday, May 15 2009 12:29 p.m. MDT

The Limelight hydrangea has an extended season of incredible blooms from mid-summer through fall. It has small leaves and an incredible quantity of flowers that start off chartreuse that is almost white, then change to bright, light lime and finally pink as fall approaches.

Norman Winter/MSU Extension Service

If you love hydrangeas and lament when they quit blooming for the year, then you need to put the award-winning Limelight hydrangea on the list of your must have plants. This hydrangea gives an extended season of incredible blooms from midsummer through fall.

The hydrangeas you may be most familiar with are Bigleafed hydrangeas known botanically as Hydrangea macrophylla. We sometimes call them mophead, lacecap or even French hydrangea, although they are native to Japan. Or you may know the native oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia.

The Limelight is a different species called Hydrangea paniculata. The leaves are smaller, but the quantity of flowers is incredible. The 6- to 12-inch-long flower heads are held upright on the plant. The flowers start off a chartreuse lime then change to bright, light lime that is almost white. As fall approaches, the flowers start turning pink.

It is a special hydrangea that can garner awards from Mississippi to Georgia, north to Pennsylvania and across the Atlantic to Great Britain. In 2007, the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers named it the Fresh Cut Flower of the Year.

Dr. Guihong Bi, a research horticulturist at Mississippi State University's Truck Crops Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, has been working on cut flower hydrangeas of all types. She says the Limelight can be harvested at any stage for the perfect centerpiece and is also great for drying. Do you have a summer wedding planned? You could not ask for a more exquisite flower producing a bounty of cuts.

Limelight grows upright and reaches 8 feet tall, putting out attractive blooms until frost. It is cold hardy from zones 3 to 9, meaning it has a very wide range of adaptability. It is unbeatable in the landscape and works superbly as the thriller plant in mixed containers.

Ideal growing conditions are fertile, well-drained soil with morning sun and afternoon shade. In the landscape, plant it among other shrubs 72 to 80 inches apart in odd-numbered clusters for a terrific, eye-catching display.

To plant your hydrangea, dig the hole two to three times as wide as the rootball but no deeper so you can plant it at the same depth it is growing in the container. Apply a good layer of mulch to conserve moisture. Once established, you'll find the Limelight is less dependent on water than its big-leafed cousins.

Soil pH does not affect the color of the flowers like it does with the blue or pink big-leafed hydrangeas. Any flowers left on the plant do provide winter texture and interest. Limelight blooms on new wood, so prune in late fall or early spring. A medium pruning that removes one-third to one-half the plant size gives a better structure for large blossoms and the new season ahead. Feed your hydrangea in early spring as new growth resumes.

Most gardeners love hydrangeas, and the Limelight, will ensure you have blossoms until fall. Look for them when spring arrives in your region.

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(Norman Winter is a garden lecturer and author of "Mississippi Gardener's Guide," "Paradise Found: Growing Tropicals In Your Own Backyard" and the highly acclaimed "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South." Watch for Norman's new book "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden" in early 2009.)

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