Dwarf hydrangeas bring European accent to your garden

Picture this: It's next summer and you're proudly taking a friend for a stroll around your landscape. "Here's Vienna," you say, "And there's Berlin. That's Venice over there. Oh, and here's Paris." Ooh la-la!
Not bad for a half-acre lot somewhere in America. Before you start humming "It's a Small World After All," I should explain that I'm talking about four varieties of hydrangea, each with unique characteristics that you might want to add to your garden next spring.
Ah, spring! It might seem a long way away right now, but it will be here before you know it. That means that now is the perfect time to be planning (and even pre-ordering) the plants that will grace your landscape next season.
Let's start with those four Euro-centric hydrangeas.
All four varieties were developed by the German plant breeders Franz- Xaver and Konrad Rampp. Their objective was to create tight, full plants without chemicals that need no pruning and little or no special care.
They are considered "dwarf" hydrangeas as they top out between 12 and 36 inches tall at maturity. They prefer moist but well-drained soil and are hardy to USDA zone 5, thriving in full sun in northern climes and in afternoon shade further south. They look good as groupings, in a perennial border or even as a colorful low hedge. They are also compact enough for containers and are well suited for fresh or dried indoor flower arrangements.
Although all of these varieties have flowers in the pink to red range, the pH value of the soil will affect the color of the blooms. A more alkaline soil will produce blooms of a deeper pink, whereas a more acidic soil tips the color scale towards blue. If you prefer to see blue flowers, here's a grower's trick: add a tablespoon of aluminum sulfate to a gallon of water and soak the roots in early spring. You'll need two applications.
Hydrangea Cityline Paris The Paris is the most mildew-resistant of the Cityline series, worth noting if mildew seems to be a problem in your garden. In a fairly alkaline soil, Paris will produce blooms of a deep, rich red that is unusual for a hydrangea. As it matures, it will turn a pleasant shade of green.
Hydrangea Cityline Vienna Although Vienna is a dwarf variety, the flowers are unusually large in proportion to the plant, making them appear much larger when in bloom. It's a real eye-catcher with giant pink blooms that start out with cream-colored centers gradually maturing to solid pink (or blue... see above!)
Hydrangea Cityline Berlin Berlin is the most robust and colorful of the Cityline series with large rosy-pink flowerheads on a plant topping out between 2 and 3 feet high and spreading to maybe 3 or 4 feet wide. The large blooms look as if they'd be too heavy for such a small plant, but all these varieties are bred for stronger stems that hold the flowerheads upright.
Hydrangea Cityline Venice The blooms of the Venice tend towards a fuchsia color that makes a delightful contrast to the glossy green foliage. Again, abundant blooms that are surprising on such a compact plant. If you plant it beneath deciduous trees, check the first year to be sure it isn't receiving too much sunlight during winter months, particularly in more temperate climates.
I've said that none of these hydrangea varieties need pruning and indeed that's a fact. However, if you want to build a tighter plant or maintain a shorter size, you can take some simple shaping steps.
If the plant seems "leggy" when you buy it, you can shear it back to a half or even a third of its size. Once it puts on an inch or two of growth, pinch the branch tips to remove just the growing tips. Because this tip controls branching, the buds below it will turn into stems. Once these new branches grow an inch or two, repeat the pinching process. You'll sacrifice a year's blooms, but will have a tighter plant with even more flowers in the future.
But even without pruning these Euro-hydrangeas bring a world of color to your garden.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org
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