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Hydrangea arborescens Ryan Gainey

Categories:Hydrangeas Native Plants Shrubs

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Ryan Gainey hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Ryan Gainey’) solves the primary issue many gardeners experience with the most commonly grown smooth hydrangea, ‘Annabelle’ (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’). Annebelle has floppy stems from the weight of the huge white flowers.

Ryan Gainey hydrangea
Ryan Gainey hydrangea flowers in early summer

A specimen introduced by noted Atlanta garden designer Ryan Gainey, his namesake is a lower-growing cultivar with stronger stems, darker foliage, and smaller flowers than Annabelle hydrangea.

Ryan Gainey hydrangea is native and has exceptional winter hardiness.

Many of the hydrangeas grown in southern gardens are native to Asia. Hydrangea arborescens (smooth hydrangea), like oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), is native to the United States. In addition, Hydrangea arborescens is a great option for northern gardeners who cannot grow many of the macrophylla hydrangeas due to lack of winter hardiness.

Do not be concerned if Ryan Gainey hydrangea suffers dieback to ground level in harsh winters. Hydrangea arborescens blooms on new wood, flowering on the current year’s growth.

native plants - Ryan Gainey hydrangea
Ryan Gainey hydrangea in bloom.

Ryan Gainey hydrangea has smaller flowers than Annabelle hydrangea…but not small flowers. There are those who revel in growing hydrangeas with the largest flowers possible. Ryan Gainey hydrangea cannot compete with the Nikko Blue’s of the world for size, but it is an elegant and refined plant in its own right. Flowers tend to be 4″-8″ across.

Grow hydrangeas with morning sun and afternoon shade if possible (choose Hydrangea paniculata cultivars in full or afternoon sun). Many gardeners plant hydrangeas in profuse shade; they will not bloom well without some sun. Filtered or indirect light is excellent for hydrangea flower production.

Ryan Gainey hydrangea is very easy to grow.

Hydrangea arborscens tolerates a wide range of garden conditions, including poorer soils and dry conditions. Do not plant smooth hydrangeas in afternoon sun and keep them watered the first year. All of the smooth hydrangeas cultivars are virtually bullet-proof.

This is a fairly rare hydrangea in commerce. Check Goodness Grows if you are interested in growing Ryan Gainey hydrangea in your garden and need to locate a place that carries it.

Scientific name: Hydrangea arborescens ‘Ryan Gainey’
Common name(s): Ryan Gainey hydrangea, smooth hydrangea
Height: 3′-5′ tall, 5′ wide
Native status: Native
Winter hardiness: 3-9
Of note: Native hydrangea with excellent winter hardiness. Excellent choice for those who have no patience with floppy nature of Annabelle hydrangea; trade-off is smaller blooms. Can bloom for up to two months in summer. Blooms on new wood, so winter dieback to the ground or severe pruning in early spring will not endanger current season’s bloom. Leaves are dark green, ovate, and serrated. Beautiful planted in mass.


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