I suspect many gardeners are the same way, looking for the latest in new perennials, hanging basket designs or tomato cultivars. At times, though, it is worth looking at the tried and true. In full, spectacular bloom at this time in Pennsylvania is Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle." The straight species is native to the eastern part of the United States, and Annabelle was discovered in the nearby town of Anna, Ill. (supposedly named after the women or "belle" of the town, hence the name Annabelle). The flowers can grow up to 8 to 12 inches across and can remain showy for several weeks. Some gardeners let the flower heads remain on the plant to add some winter interest.
The plant will grow in a mounding form to about five feet in height and spread.
For those who are not interested in the dried flower heads for winter interest, H. arborescens Annabelle can be pruned to the ground after dormancy sets in (or done in late winter after the dried flowers no longer have an aesthetic appeal), as the flowers only grow on new wood. It will grow in a wide range of light conditions but tends to wilt down when soil conditions turn dry. (A good mulching should prevent this in most soils).
There is no fall color or fruit of ornamental value. H. arborescens Annabelle is not suited as an accent shrub but better suited to be blended into a bed with other plants.
Many species and cultivars of hydrangea flower in Pennsylvania, mid July through August, with bursts of white flower color that slowly change to shades of pinks and reds. But too much white throughout the landscape can be a bit much on the eyes when in flower.
For those who like their hydrangeas they may want to consider Hydrangea paniculata "Bulk," also known as Quick Fire Hydrangea.
Quick Fire flowers several weeks earlier than other H. paniculata. Yes, the blooms start out as white, just like the other cultivars and yes, they turn reddish pink. But because Quick Fire blooms earlier, its flowers are turning color while the other hydrangea flowers are still white. It is a nice contrast of white flowers in the landscape to Quick Fire's reddish-pink flowers.
Just like other cultivars of H. paniculata, Quick Fire is relatively easy to grow. Avoid swampy or very wet areas as it prefers moist, well drained soils. It will grow well within every growing region of Pennsylvania as its hardiness goes to about a Zone 3. It can withstand some shade, but I have seen it grow best in sunny locations.
H. paniculata Bulk can reach spread and height up to 8 feet. Pruning can be done as late as February or early March as flowers are produced on new growth.
Not all hydrangea should be pruned at the same time. If you prune H. quercifolia or H. macrophylla at the time of H. paniculata, you are removing the upcoming year's flowers.