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Annabelle hydrangea – Smooth Hydrangea

Annabelle hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle) can get a bit floppy. A good rain will cause stems to bend miserably, sending the huge and heavy flowers into the ground. It is a sad sight I’ll grant you, but with some patience and strategic planting, Annabelle hydrangea is worth it. Native to the eastern United States and known as smooth hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens grows 5′-10′.

Annabelle hydrangea has showier flowers than the species.

hydrangea arborescens annabelle
Annabelle hydrangea is a stunner in the right conditions.

Shade is strongly preferred, as are moist soils. You will find Hydrangea arborescens growing in the natural landscape along streams. Hydrangea arborescens’ leaves will droop miserably in dry, sunny spaces. Annabelle hydrangea can reportedly be grown in full sun at its northern limits, although constant moisture is required.

I strongly recommend planting Annabelle hydrangea in areas of the garden shaded from the afternoon sun. The flowers, when they come, will light up your landscape.

Annabelle hydrangea is one of the most cold-hardy hydrangeas.

Annabelle is hardy to USDA plant hardiness zone 3. Hydrangea arborescens blooms on new wood. If winter kills the stems back to the ground the next season’s flowering will not be affected.

Hydrangea blooms tend to last a long time. Even a species such as oakleaf hydrangea, which tends to bloom only once per season, will provide a season-long display of color as blooms age gracefully into fall. Count on a nice display from Annabelle from June through September.

annabelle hydrangea
Annabelle hydrangea planted beautifully.

Annabelle hydrangea’s floppy stems: Prune hard every winter.

As mentioned in the previous section, Annabelle hydrangea flowers on new wood. You can safely prune while the plant is dormant without risking the season’s flowers. Prune to 8″ above ground.

Annabelle has these gigantic super-charged flowers that outweigh the ability of the stems to support them.  We cannot change this hydrangea’s nature. More options for Annabelle hydrangea:

  1. Learn to live with it and accept that Annabelle will always be wayward in the garden.
  2. Stake early in the season. I’m not at all in favor of this method by the way. Staking tomatoes and peonies is one thing. Staking native shrubs does not serve their character.
  3. Plant strategically where Annabelle can lean on other structures (arching over a fence) or cascading over a wall. Deborah Silver has some great recommendations regarding designing with hydrangeas in the landscape (Ms. Silver practices garden design in Detroit – attesting to Annabelle’s cold hardiness).

Whatever you do, be patient. The first year or two there will only be a few stems with gigantic flowers serving to make the whole affair a top-heavy disappointment. As the plant ages, more foliage will give a visual balance to this beautiful hydrangea.

Annabelle Collins, granddaughter, 3rd birthday, 2018

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