Annabelle Hydrangea

Bring the stunning beauty of Annabelle hydrangea to your yard in shades of white or pink.
By: Julie A Martens
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Botanical Names: Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, French hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Set your sights on a favorite hydrangea that opens flower heads up to a foot across. ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea may be less well-known than the blue and pink French hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), but it’s definitely a hydrangea worth investigating. ‘Annabelle’ is a naturally occurring cultivar that was found in the wild near Anna, Illinois.

Botanically, it’s known as Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle,’ a variety of smooth hydrangea.The straight species of smooth hydrangea is native to Eastern parts of the United States. ‘Annabelle’ is officially hardy to Zone 3, although gardeners in Zone 2 report success wintering it over.

‘Annabelle’ performs like a perennial in the far north, often dying back to soil during winter. This doesn’t affect flowering, because this hydrangea shrub forms its blooms on new wood. In other regions, experts recommend cutting ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea back to 6 inches high in early spring to encourage plentiful blooms on new stems.

When ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea flowers, the blossoms open in symmetrical, rounded heads that measure 8 to 12 inches across. The large flower heads are stunning, but rains can bend top-heavy stems to the ground. To support plants unobtrusively, slip hoop-type stakes into soil early in the growing season so stems are supported as they grow. Some gardeners plant ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea along a fence for an ornamental support.

You can also prune stems less, cutting them back to 18 to 24 inches in spring (instead of 6 inches). This method allows the base of stems to grow stouter and thicker over time, becoming more capable of supporting blossom weight. Pruning stems higher only works in warmer zones where plants don’t die to the ground in winter.

Hydrangea Photos

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Hydrangea 'Jetstream'

An oakleaf hydrangea, 'Jetstream' produces tall, sturdy cones of white flowers that fade to pink as they age. Prune after it flowers in midsummer.

Photo By: First Editions

'Diamond Rogue' Hydrangea

'Diamond Rogue' is a real stunner with blooms that transform from white to pink before finally turning a deep, wine red in fall. It grows from 4 - 5 feet tall and 3 - 4 feet wide, making it a great choice for smaller landscapes.

Photo By: First Editions

Hydrangea 'Jetstream'

As summer goes on, the blooms on 'Jetstream' hydrangea slowly fade to pink.

Photo By: First Editions

'BloomStruck' Hydrangea

'BloomStruck' is great for beginners — it has excellent heat tolerance, cold tolerance plus it is a re-blooming variety.

Photo By: Endless Summer Hydrangeas

'Jetstream' Hydrangea Leaves Create Fall Color

The oak-like leaves of 'Jetstream' hydrangea turn stunning shades of orange-red in the fall, helping give this plant interest all year.

Photo By: First Editions

Protect Hydrangeas Over Winter With Mulch

"The mulch’s job is to create a more consistent environment than what is happening outside," says Ryan McEnaney from Bailey Nurseries. "In some parts of the country, temperatures can fluctuate from -10 to 30 degrees in a week or two. As that happens, water molecules in the ground freeze (contract) and then melt (expanding), disrupting the root system (heaving). Mulch helps alleviate those dramatic changes to protect the plants."

Photo By: Endless Summer Hydrangeas

'Diamond Rogue' Hydrangea

First Editions 'Diamond Rogue' Hydrangea boasts big cones of white flowers that turn wine red as the blooms age.

Photo By: First Editions

Hydrangeas in Winter

Protect hydrangeas during winter with a layer of mulch. Leave faded blooms to create winter interest.

Photo By: Endless Summer Hydrangeas

'Bloomstruck' Hydrangea

'Bloomstruck' a reblooming hydrangea variety. It's said to be more tolerant winter cold and summer heat than previous reblooming types.

Photo By: Endless Summer Hydrangeas

Seaside Serenade Bar Harbor Hydrangea

The new hydrangea addition for 2017, Bar Harbor hydrangea.

Photo By: Monrovia

In terms of siting ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea in the garden, aim for a spot that receives morning sunlight and afternoon shade. This is especially important in the South and West, where these pretty hydrangea shrubs can even thrive in all day high, dappled shade. In more northern locations, ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea withstands all day sun. Make sure plants receive more sun the further north you live, because too much shade yields fewer blooms.

When buying ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas, purchase plants in bloom to ensure you get the type offlower head you want. Sometimes the native Hydrangea arborescens is sold alongside ‘Annabelle.’ It flowers are less showy and more fuzzy. You can also find pink Hydrangea arborescens varieties, such as ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ or ‘Bella Anna.’

In the garden, use ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea to provide a backdrop for a perennial border, or as an informal hedge. It also fits nicely into a mixed shrub border or native plant garden design. ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea blends beautifully into woodland settings in the South where sunlight is dappled.

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