We were walking through the nursery with a couple of friends, observing which plants displayed the most exciting autumn color, when this Hydrangea stopped us in our tracks. The fall foliage on the panicle Hydrangea, ‘Quickfire’, was spectacular! Its chunky lacecap type blossoms were fading to a lovely shade of mauve rose, but it was the warm red to amber coloring of the leaves that stopped us in our tracks. Interestingly, blocks of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’were grouped nearby, and their foliage was just an ordinary shade of green. We checked online, but the literature on ‘Quickfire’ didn’t glorify its fall color. Hmm…was this due to the weather this season, or perhaps our magic touch? Upon further investigation we learned that indeed this selection was an autumn star.
‘Quickfire’blooms on new wood, so there is little danger that you will be without blossoms after a severe winter. The large panicles (to 12′) of white sterile and fertile flowers form early in the season, and will develop rosy red tones as they age. The stems have a dark red tint, which further accentuates the blossoms. Plants grow 6-8′ tall and 8-10′ wide. Pruning can be done in late winter or early spring. ‘Quickfire’ prefers full sun or partial shade and is not fussy about soil or moisture, although plants will be happier if irrigated during dry spells. Hardy in zones 3-9.
Gardeners in northern climates have been disappointed by Hydrangea macrophylla in the past….lots of healthy foliage, but few or no blossoms. This recent introduction of Mophead Hydrangea truly blooms on both old and new wood, and is being marketed as ‘Forever and Ever Red Sensation’ ( Tra-la-la…those clever marketers read a lot of fairy tales).
What you really need to know is that this vigorous selection produces lots of blooms on new growth, making it a great candidate for colder zone 5 and 6 gardens. In hot climates the large trusses of blossoms will be in softer shades of rosy pink when grown in neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Colder temperatures will cause the flower color to deeper red shades. If your garden soil happens to be more acidic, ‘Red Sensation’ will change color and thus need a new name, as it will take on bluer tones. The flowers age to smoky violet. Stems and fall foliage color have a dark burgundy cast.
‘Red Sensation’ grow 2-3′ tall and 3-4’wide, and require full sun or partial shade. Hydrangea macrophylla appreciate a moist, rich and fertile soil. May we suggest combining ‘Red Sensation’ with the always attractive Periscaria ‘Golden Arrow’?
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ blooms on new growth
Even seasoned gardeners seem to be confused as to when to prune Hydrangea.
Begin by identifying which Hydrangea species you are growing, to determine whether it will bloom on new growth or on old wood (last year’s stalks). The species arborescens, paniculata and some newer forms of macrophylla bloom on new wood. All the Hydrangea macrophylla (Mophead and Lacecap types) and quercifolia (Oakleaf) bloom on old wood, as long as there isn’t winter damage. Next year?s blossoms are set on the upper portion of the woody stalks in late summer and fall. H. macrophylla selections should not be pruned until after the plants have leafed out. In late spring, prune out or tip back any dead wood for a clean appearance.
The hardiest and most foolproof of all the Hydrangea are the paniculata group (Pee Gee types) and the arborescens group (Smooth Hydrangea). Both of these species can be cut within inches of the ground each spring if you want to control the size of your plants. They stalks can always be thinned to improve plant shape, and there is no harm to next year’s display if you want to cut long stemmed bouquets in summer and fall.
There are a lot of new Hydrangea macrophylla selections on the market, including ‘Double Expressions’, ‘Red Sensation’, ‘Let’s Dance Starlight’, and ‘Endless Summer’ that bloom on old and new wood. The blossoms appearing on old growth will display in early summer, while the flowers that form on new growth will appear later in August and September, for a long continuous display. If you live in the colder parts of zone 6 or zone 5, you may get too much winterkill for blossoms on the old growth, but you will still be able to enjoy a late summer through fall display.