Regular Pruning of Inkberry

Inkberry, Ilex glabra, is a beautiful, rounded, evergreen shrub that grow 5 – 8′ tall.  It prefers full sun and evenly moist acidic soil, but does well in wet areas and light shade.  When properly pruned, inkberry can make a nice foundation plant or short hedge, but is best used in native screens and rain gardens, where it can be left to grow naturally with little intervention needed from the gardener.  Young plants are perfectly round, with leaves right to the ground.  As plants mature, however, the canopy tends to shade out the bottom portion of the plant and their lower branches can become bare and leggy.  Regular pruning is required to keep inkberry looking its’ best.

Most applications for inkberry call for a plant that is maintained at 3-4 feet.  Once they reach this size, they need to be pruned at least once a year to keep in bounds.  Shearing with hedge trimmers (when new growth has just hardened off in early summer) is the easiest way to prune rounded shrubs.  Although this approach takes the least amount of time, repeated cycles of shearing can make the surface of the plant very dense, shading out the lower branches.  I recommend doing a more thorough pruning procedure every other year to open up the plant.  More light penetration stimulates new growth at the base and keeps the plant healthier overall.  Should plants become overgrown and overly leggy, a renovation can be done during the dormant period in winter or early spring.  I’ve actually cut overgrown inkberry to the ground while dormant and had excellent results.

There are several objectives when doing regular pruning on inkberry:

  • To remove dead or damaged branches
  • To maintain the proper height and shape
  • To keep the plant green from the ground up, (not leggy)

Understanding the growth pattern of these plants helps the gardener when making pruning decisions.  Growth in the upper portion of inkberry plants occurs in whorls.  A whorl is a ring of new stems that grow around a central, upright stem. There are many dormant buds between whorls on bare portions of the stems, even on the oldest woody stems.

On off years, when plants are not sheared, follow these guidelines:

  1. Remove any dead or dying branches completely, where they meet healthy growth.
  2. Pinch out most of the previous seasons’ growth just above a whorl to thin out the surface and keep the plant at the best height.
  3. Most cuts are made in the previous season’s growth, but several cuts can also be made into older wood, to stimulate growth lower down.
  4. As plants age, some of the oldest branches can be removed entirely at ground level in favor of younger, more vigorous growth.

There are several varieties of Inkberry available in the trade.  The most common are ‘Compacta’ ‘Densa’ and ‘Shamrock’.  Of the three, ‘Shamrock’ is the most highly praised by Dr. Michael Dirr in his extensive text book Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.  

What’s Bugging My Boxwood?

Boxwoods are beautiful evergreen shrubs that have been in cultivation for hundreds of years – and with good reason.  We love that they are dependably deer resistant and serve so many useful purposes in the landscape.  We also love that they are easy to grow when planted in fertile, well-drained soil and protected from exposure.  An annual trim and a light feeding is usually all they require.  But boxwood plants aren’t free from problems.  Boxwood Psyllid, Boxwood Leaf-miner and Spider Mites can infest boxwood and keep them from looking their best.  Multiple growing seasons with a large infestation of leaf miner, in particular, will make boxwood look very unattractive and even decline in vigor.  If you have boxwood in your garden, it’s a good idea to keep on the lookout for these tiny bugs and begin managing them before they get out of control.


BOXWOOD LEAF MINERs are tiny orange, mosquito-like flies that live on and around boxwood plants.  In late May-Early June, the adults emerge, having overwintered inside the leaves of the host plant. These pests are not strong fliers, so they usually hover a few inches from the host plants.  Males and females emerge over a period of a week to 10 days and mate.  Each female deposits up to 30 eggs inside the tender new growth and then dies within a few hours.  Eggs hatch in a few weeks and the tiny orange larvae begin to feed on the tissue inside the leaf, causing a blister.  The larvae overwinter in the leaf and resume feeding in spring.  They pupate and then leave the blisters as adults, starting the process all over again.  Affected leaves become tan and papery, usually shedding by August.

These pests are easy enough to identify: look closely at the leaves between fall and late spring.  Blisters are evident in the leaves on the outside of the plant.  If the leaves are broken open, the larvae can be seen with the naked eye or with the aid of light magnification.  Populations can be managed by shearing off and discarding affected foliage before adults emerge in June.  Scout for adults every day during the time that Weigela blooms.  When adults are seen, spray the plants with a mild insecticide.  Since adults emerge over a period of a days, a few applications might be best to get the best control.  If July rolls around and you weren’t able shear or spray the adults, a stronger insecticide is needed to kill the larvae within the leaf.

BOXWOOD PSYLLIDS are small insects resembling thrips or aphids.  The adult stage has jumping legs and can spring out of the plants when disturbed.  Adults appear in June and lay eggs between the leaf scales of immature buds in mid summer.  The minute orange eggs overwinter there and hatch the following spring.  Yellowish nymphs emerge at bud break in April or May.  This stage has pointed mouth parts that are used to pierce the leaves and buds and suck out the sap.  Their feeding distorts the new growth, causing the leaves to cup.  The cupped leaves make a perfect shelter for the nymphs as they continue to feed and grow.  Nymphs secrete a filamentous wax that accumulates in and around the cupped foliage.  The wax clumps together in a fluffy mass that is easily blown into the air when the plants are brushed up against.

It’s easy to spot the presence of boxwood psyllid due to the conspicuous cupped foliage fluffy wax on the plants.  Although this pest causes distortion of the foliage, the overall health of the plants is seldom affected.  Because there is only one generation a year, it’s usually easy enough to control boxwood psyllid in a single season.  If control does become necessary, it is best accomplished by targeting the nymph stage.  Spray horticultural oil and/or insecticidal soap as new growth emerges.  If new damage is noted, prune out affected foliage and discard to decrease populations.

Established boxwood plants will often have SPIDER MITES.  The adults are miniscule, red/brown insects that vaguely resemble spiders.  The first generation hatches in May from eggs that have overwintered on the underside of the leaves.  The mites shed their outer skeleton several times as they grow into adults.  They produce a fine webbing that gathers the shed exoskeletons.  They have pointed mouthparts that pierce the leaf, allowing the mites to feed on the sap.  Feeding occurs on both sides of the leaves causing white to light green flecking.  Heavy infestations can cause yellowing and premature leaf drop.  Controlling spider mites generally takes several applications of horticultural oil early in summer, as they have multiple generations a year.

Identifying spider mites requires a little bit of detective work.  If any kind of stippling or flecking is evident on the surface of boxwood leaves, suspect mites.  Take a close look at the underside of the leaves.  The shed exoskeletons and webbing can be seen with the naked eye, but the insects are so small it’s very difficult to see them without magnification.  Pull a few affected leaves off the plant and tap them firmly on a white sheet of paper.  Any mites will fall off onto the paper and they are much easier to see on the white background.  Low populations of spider mites are often controlled by predatory insects in the environment naturally.  However, larger infestations may cause leaves to turn brown and fall and do warrant control.


Another Bluebeard to Love

Ten years ago, when I was still gardening full time, most gardens had at least a few shrubby Caryopteris x clandonensis cvs.  This drought-resistant sub-shrub has grey green, deer resistant foliage during the growing season and airy blue flowers from late summer into the fall.  They look great planted en masse, or as accents in perennial borders.  But these plants are not without their problems.  If not grown in well-drained soil, they can rot over the winter or succumb to phytophthora root rot diseases.  And even though they are rated for our zone, long periods of exceedingly cold temperatures over the winter can also severely damage or kill them.  But there is a new Caryopteris on the scene, Caryopteris divaricata.

Caropteris divaricata is a completely different species of this plant, native to the Himalayas.  These are herbaceous perennials, dying completely down to the ground in winter and re-emerging from the crown in late spring.  They prefer full sun and fertile, but well-drained soil.  The green or variegated foliage has a distinctive aroma when crushed, reminiscent of old asparagus or green peppers.  I believe this odor is what makes them so averse to deer.  Although they flower late in the summer/early fall, they definitely have their merit.  I’ve always felt that using some tall, late-blooming plants in the back of the border is a great way to extend interest late into the growing season.  When so many other plants are blooming like crazy in summer, the foliage of these plants allows the eye to rest a bit, which makes the overall composition more enjoyable.  We’ve stocked two cultivars in the past: ‘Blue Butterflies’ and ‘Snow Fairy’.

I planted a big group of ‘Blue Butterfiles’ in the back of our garden last year, and have been very impressed with how sturdy their stems are and the plants overall size.  Year two, they are easily 6′ tall, filling an area between two large Hydrangeas very effectively.  I did notice considerable self-seeding this spring, but the volunteers were easily uprooted when they germinated and weren’t any trouble.  The flowers are profuse and very pretty when they arrive in September, but certainly best enjoyed close up.


I also planted some ‘Snow Fairy‘ in a different spot so that I could compare them.  This plant has been a real star.  So much so, that I am planning to plant another group further down this year.  The best part of this selection is the splash of white in the foliage.  When other plants are beginning to look tired with the heat of August, this Caryopteris is coming into its own.  The mid-green leaves have a varying degree of variegation, giving the plant a bright fresh look.  ‘Snow Fairy’ is shorter in stature than ‘Blue Butterflies’, making it more versatile.  Ours are just beginning to flower at 4′ tall.


When there seem to be fewer and fewer plants that are reliably deer resistant, it’s nice to have another plant to add to your arsenal.  I’d highly recommend giving Caropteris divaricata a try.


Fabulous Ferns to Know and Grow

Being a professional gardener on Nantucket is a challenging career.  Most of our clients only spend a few months on the island during the summer.  Because the landscape as a whole must look fantastic for these few months, there is a lot of pressure on gardeners to keep the sunny border in full bloom from June until Labor day.  There are many ways this can be achieved, but it’s an ongoing process of planting, fertilizing, deadheading, staking, spraying various repellents and insecticides and replacing plants.  We battle the unpredictable weather, salty winds and never ending barrage of deer and rabbits who want to gobble up the flowers overnight.  Everything can be so much easier in the shade.  There is far less emphasis on COLOR! COLOR! COLOR!, allowing the gardener to focus more on combining textures to create a calmer atmosphere.  Astilbe, Hosta and Alchemilla are well-used in Nantucket’s shady gardens.  But for me, ferns are some of the most successful plants for the shade.

Ferns are wonderful, versatile plants for many reasons:

  • Most thrive in dead shade where many other plants simply won’t grow.
  • Many will grow in very wet/boggy soils.
  • Others tolerate the dryer conditions under the canopy of mature trees.
  • They are very low maintenance, only requiring a clean-up once a year.
  • They are seldom bothered by insects of any kind.
  • They combine easily with other shade-loving, broad-leafed plants like Hosta and Brunnera.
  • Some are even evergreen, providing four season interest.
  • And, unlike hosta, deer and rabbits seldom browse ferns.

We sell a wide variety of ferns at the nursery, but some of the most popular are:

LADY FERN, Athyrium felix-femina cvs This useful medium-sized fern (2-3′) grows best in fertile, moist soil with good drainage in light to dense shade.  It’s lacy fronds are a pleasant light green arising from a round clump.  It will tolerate full sun, with ample moisture, and is one of the few ferns that will thrive in the dry soils under large shade trees.  If grown in ideal conditions, lady fern will slowly form a colony that completely covers the ground.  Try ‘Lady in Red’ for a contrasting red stem.


JAPANESE PAINTED FERN, Athyrium nipponicum cvsThis small to medium-sized (18-24″), colorful fern is best grown in fertile, evenly moist soil in light to dense shade.  The most striking feature of these ferns are their purple and silver coloring which contrasts well with other shade plants.  These are best kept in dappled to full shade as they will scorch in the sun.  The most readily available cultivars are ‘Pictum’, ‘Branford Beauty’ and  ‘Ghost’ but ‘Burgundy Lace’ is also a stunning plant to try.


HAY-SCENTED FERN, Dennstaedita punctilobaThis tough small (to 2′), native fern is being spec’d more and more for large scale planting.  It grows best in moist, fertile, soils in light to dense shade. It’s upright to arching, lacy, triangular fronds are a pleasant light green.  If kept evenly moist, this is a fern that will tolerate full sun and poor soils.

AUTUMN FERNDryopteris erythrosoraThis is my favorite fern.  They grow 1-3′ tall, preferring rich, evenly moist soil and dappled light to full shade.  The young fronds emerge a coppery bronze and change to a glossy deep green as they mature.  New fronds continue to emerge throughout the growing season, so there is always some contrast between the young and mature fronds.  When they are happy, Autumn Ferns will spread to form a dense colony.  BONUS: these ferns are evergreen, and continue to look fresh long past frost.  Tidy them up in spring before new growth emerges to keep them looking their best.  ‘Brilliance’ is even showier than the species with brighter copper coloring

OSTRICH FERN, Matteuccia struthiopteris cvs:  Ostrich fern is a stately addition to shady gardens with minimal exposure.  These ferns have tall (3+’), medium/light green, erect, delicate fronds that are particularly suited to deep shade and moist fertile soils.  As they mature, the black root stock begins to rise above the soil level.  Never attempt to shorten the root stock, this procedure generally kills the plant.  Working with these ferns over the years, I’ve found them to burn out in August unless grown in deep shade, with constant moisture.  The fronds are also prone to easily breaking, so they are best used in the back of the shady garden, where they are less likely to get damaged.  Try ‘The King’ in areas where burning out is a concern; this cultivar seems to do better than the species in dappled light.


ROYAL FERN, Osmunda regalis:  These ferns are a New England native, performing well in moist, fertile soils in dappled to deep shade.  Depending on conditions, they will grow between 2 and 5′ tall with a loose spreading habit.  Royal ferns have a unique look among ferns; the fronds have leaflets that are much rounder than others, resembling plants in the pea family.  Their fertile fronds rise above the foliage, contrasting with the medium green leaves.  Like ostrich ferns, these ferns will form a root stalk as they age that should not be disturbed with pruning of any kind.

JAPANESE TASSEL FERN, Polystichum polyblepharum:  I’ve always admired this evergreen fern for it’s glossy green leaves and rounded habit.  In our garden it forms adjoining clumps that are 2′ tall and about 3′ wide.  We leave the foliage until spring to clean up, trimming it off before new fronds emerge.

Dormant-Season Renovation of Privet Hedges

Privet hedges are used all over the island as a beautiful way to border properties and break up large landscapes into smaller spaces.  In a lot of ways, privet is an ideal plant for tall hedges because it grows quickly and can be maintained at a relatively narrow width.  However, even well-maintained hedges slowly widen over the years, and established plantings will need a harder pruning every so often to stay healthy and in bounds.

Shearing hedges is a necessary part of maintenance, but this practice can cause problems in the long run.  When woody plants are repeatedly sheared, a dense layer of tiny twigs builds up on the outside, shading the interior stems and inhibiting dormant buds from sprouting.  As hedges age, dead wood can also accumulate in the center.  It’s not so much that it’s wrong to shear hedges; it’s more a matter of realizing that in order to keep a hedge healthy in the long run, renovation is required from time to time.  Removing the dense growth on the outside allows sunlight to fall on the dormant buds below, stimulating strong, healthy, new growth.  It also makes it much easier to saw out dead branches and scout for insect pests like scale and thrips that live directly on the bark.  This procedure is best done during the dormant season.

There are several ways to approach renovating a privet hedge.  Because privet grows rapidly, a declining hedge could be cut to within a few inches of the ground and allowed to completely regenerate.  If well irrigated and fertilized, one might expect 4-5 feet of growth in a single growing season.  This drastic approach won’t be acceptable in most situations.  I usually suggest that a hedge be renovated over 2 or three seasons, making deep cuts on one side per year.  Leaving one side un-pruned guarantees continued screening during the summer.  Although it can be nerve-wracking to make big cuts, be assured there are hundreds of dormant buds waiting just below the surface of each trunk and branch that will sprout once the sun shines upon them.

Be sure to use the proper tools for the job.  Branches narrower than ½” in diameter can be cut with regular hand pruners.  Branches up to 1” should be cut with sharp loppers.  Anything  wider than an inch should be cut with a hand-held pruning saw or chainsaw.

Consider following these steps:

  1. Choose the side that will be worked on. Rake all the debris out from under that side.
  2. Determine how much wood will be removed and set a string line along the ground as a guide for pruning. Make sure it is tight, and hovers above the ground without snagging on the lower branches of the hedge. 
  3. A second line can be strung at chest-height as well, but it’s a challenge to get it in place before pruning. Tie the string line onto sturdy stakes that won’t pull in allowing the line to sag as you are working.   Prune around the line, so that hangs freely and doesn’t snag on the branches.
  4. Start pruning on one end. Work from the ground up to as high as you can reach, establishing a vertical plane with the string lines as reference.  NOTE:  A properly pruned hedge has a narrow “A” shape; tighter at the top than it is at the bottom.  It is acceptable to maintain a 90 degree angle to the grade, but never allow the top portion of the hedge to splay out wider than the bottom.
  5. From time to time stand back and scrutinize your work. When you are right next to the hedge, it’s hard to judge whether or not it’s straight.  It’s much easier to stand at the end that’s completd and look down the length of the privet with one eye closed.  Move back and forth slowly and you can see any spots that still poke out past the string line.
  6. On taller hedges, you may need to make a second pass above your first to finish the job. Pole saws and pruners can be used.  There is even a chainsaw available that is on a long pole.  Personally, I much prefer using a sturdy ladder, or scaffolding made between two Little Giant ladders.  NEVER EXTEND A CONVENTIONAL CHAINSAW ABOVE MID-TORSO TO MAKE A CUT OR STRAIN TO TRIM A BRANCH JUST OUT OF REACH.  Always move your ladder to a comfortable working distance.  Don’t forget; the top should be narrower than the bottom.
  7. I suggest pruning the top each time you do a renovation, even if you don’t want to reduce the overall height. This extra step allows maximum sun penetration over the upcoming season.
  8. Once the major pruning operation is complete, make sure all dead wood is removed and take a good look at the bare wood remaining. Scale insects and thrips have become more of a problem on Privet over the last few years.  If large populations of any pest are found, consider applying a control.
  9. Power-washing has become widely used as a means of destroying tiny insects that overwinter on woody plants. Although I haven’t tried this approach, I have heard good things about its’ efficacy.  Power-washing is best done while the plants are still dormant.  If you are considering it, do your research and complete the process before buds begin to break in spring.

How to Prune Chaste Tree, Vitex agnus-castus








Now that the weather is cool and we’ve had a good hard frost, most shrubs have shed their leaves.  If you like to do your pruning in the fall, it’s time to get started. I’ve been cleaning up our garden over the last little while, and decided to prune our Vitex the other day.  It seemed like a good opportunity to review the best pruning practices for these great plants.

Before making any cuts, make sure you have your objective in mind.  For Vitex, pruning is generally done to accomplish a few goals – keep the plant healthy and shapely, with a great show of flowers the upcoming year.








First remove any dead, broken or whiskery twigs.  Weak growth will not be able to support a flower or fill out the main framework, so it’s best to direct the plants energy into stronger branches.  If there are any old branches in an area where new growth has begun to fill out the shrub, remove them right at ground level, in favor of the younger growth.

Next, consider the size and shape you want the plant to be in the next growing season.  Generally, the shrub will be rounded when pruning is completed with a balanced framework of branches that grow up and outward from the base.  Pruning cuts should be made just above a pair of buds.  Dormant buds can be hard to recognize at first; they look like little scaly bumps on the smooth branches.  Those buds will wake up next season and the new growth will have a huge flower on the tip in August.  If you were happy with the size and shape of the plant this past season, use previous cuts as a guide, trimming back side shoots to a single set of buds where they emerge from a main branch.  Most branches will have little “Y’s” at the top after this style of pruning.

Over years of pruning this way, the tips of the branches where the pruning cuts are made will form pollards (where many stubs have accumulated from regrowth at that node year after year)  When strong new growth no longer sprouts from the pollard, make a cut below, at the next set of buds, removing the pollard and allowing the plant to produce strong new stems.  If you find that your plant is getting a little leggy and bare at the bottom, make a few cuts closer to the ground, to encourage new shoots to fill out the bottom.








Vitex can also be grown as small multi-stem trees.  In that case, remove all but a few trunks rising from the base, and prune the upper branches less, to form a canopy.

Let us Quote your Job!

Surfing Hydrangea Nursery has been supplying plants to Nantucket’s homeowners and landscape professionals for 20 years.  During that time, we have built a list of vendors from all over the country and as far away as Canada.  Using this wide network of providers, we are able to source just about any plant at any specification that can be brought to the island.   We encourage homeowners and landscapers to send us plant lists for upcoming projects.  We are happy to quote large jobs, and are often able to provide discounts on volume orders.  Let us do the work of sourcing and shipping the plants for you!  And keep in mind, we are able to deliver any of the plants we sell to the job site.

Over the years, we have worked hard to build strong relationships with our customers.  We believe those relationships are created by our knowledgeable sales staff – Alex, Anna, myself, Britt, Craig, Steve and Vanessa.  We stock and sell beautiful plants at a price point that makes sense.  We know that our plants aren’t cheap, but we also know that we sell the highest quality plants available with a team that has years of experience in the green industry.  Because we buy in volume and pay quickly, we are able to get the best pricing that our vendors and shipping avenues offer.  This allows us to keep our prices stable when other outlets might have to raise prices.  We realize that our customers have other places to buy plants both on and off island and we believe the plants and service we provide are well worth the fair prices we charge.

There may always be some items that we cannot price in-line with off-island wholesale nurseries and big box stores, and we are o.k. with that.  We believe that Surfing Hydrangea provides a fantastic product at the best price point possible on Nantucket while employing the most professional staff anywhere in the country.






We’re always on the lookout for plants that can solve problems for our customers.  We think spicebush, Lindera spp, might be one of those plants!  This wonderful native plant grows naturally from Maine to Ontario and Kansas and south to Florida and Texas.

This medium to large shrub, flowers in April on bare stems.  The yellow flowers remind me just a little bit of witchhazel, or winterhazel, but are smaller and held close to the twigs.  They are a good nectar source for insects waking up from their winter nap.  The mid-green, ovate, fragrant leaves turn yellow in the fall.  This plant is the sole food source for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly, and worthy of planting just to feed their caterpillars!  Similar to hollies, spicebush are dioecious, meaning they have separate male and female plants.  The males have somewhat showier flowers, but the females will produce red, elongated berries in the fall that feed migrating birds.

Spicebush is easy enough to grow in a wide range of soils and conditions.  Although they will have a denser habit in more sun, they perform well in part shade and do well in areas with moist soils.  Try planting it with arrowwood viburnum and Clethra in dappled sun.  Tall native perennials like Joe Pye weed and rose mallow would also make good companions.

Hydrangea Flower Color

Hydrangeas are funny ducks.  Sometimes their flowers are blue.  Sometimes they are pink.  Sometimes they are purple.  Sometimes they are red, sometimes they are fuchsia.  Sometimes they are white.  Sometimes they are a combination of all these colors.  We love the great variety of colors that these quintessentially Nantucket plants can bring to the garden, but many gardeners prefer one over another.  Traditionally, pastel blue has been the most sought after.  It seems simple enough.  Buy a blue hydrangea, plant it – done!  But with Hydrangeas it’s just not that simple.  So often, a gardener will buy a blue-flowered Hydrangea, plant it and find it bloom some other color the following year.  They puzzle over it.  They come in to the nursery saying, “I’m sure I planted ‘Nikko Blue’ it was perfect last year, now it’s pink!”  So what’s going on?

There are several factors that affect Hydrangea flower color.  The species of Hydrangea, the availability of aluminum in the soil, the time of year, and the amount of pigment in the flowers.

Not all Hydrangeas are able to change their flower color in the same way.  Mop head Hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla (the ones with big, round, squishy flower heads), are very susceptible to aluminum. If mop head Hydrangeas absorb aluminum from the soil, the flowers will be blue or purple.  If there is no aluminum in the soil, or it is chemically unavailable to the plant, the flowers will be pink.  In addition, the soil must be acidic or the plant cannot absorb aluminum.  In soils 5.5 and higher on the ph scale the aluminum is “locked up” and cannot be absorbed.  Planted in soil that has a ph lower than 5.5, the aluminum is easily taken up by the plants causing blue flowers, even in plants that are meant to be pink.  So, you can easily have a blue ‘Forever Pink’ Hydrangea.  The reverse is also true.  A ‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangea will be pink in alkaline soils.

‘Ayesha’ in pink
‘Ayesha’ in blue









Generally, Nantucket’s soils are lean and acidic, but not always!  If your blue Hydrangeas come out pink, aluminum sulfate can be added to the soil, changing them to blue.  It may take several applications, a few weeks apart, or even a whole growing season to get the color you are looking for.  Simply dilute the product in water and drench the soil around each plant, making sure to avoid the leaves.  Take care to follow the application rate on the package, as too much can burn the roots.  If your pink Hydrangea blooms blue, add lime to bring the ph closer to neutral.  Phosphorous also affects the availability of aluminum.  In order to keep the aluminum available, (and flowers blue) make sure to use a low-phosphorous fertilizer.  Choose a fertilizer with higher phosphorous to inhibit the aluminum, if you prefer pink.

The age of the flower and the time of year will also affect color.  Early in summer, most varieties will appear paler, almost bi-color, with most of the color showing at the edges of each floret.  As the flowers mature, the color generally becomes more even.  Later, as cooler nights arrive, the flowers enter their antique phase, and often appear reddish or deep purple.






The quality of the color is affected by the amount of pigment in the flower.  Each cultivar is different, but there are basically two groups as far as color saturation is concerned; Pastel and deeply saturated. In cultivars like ‘Glowing Embers’ there is a lot of pigment present in the flowers, allowing for very intense purples and/or pinky-reds. These plants will never be baby blue like ‘Endless Summer’.  No matter how much the soil chemistry is changed, there will always be a lot of pigment in these flowers, so they will always have deeply saturated color.  Conversely, cultivars similar to Endless Summer® can only produce pastel hues of blue, lilac and soft pink, there just isn’t enough pigment present in the flowers to allow for intense shades.


And then there is the whole question of white.  ‘Madame Emile Mouliere’, ‘Sister Theresa’ and Endless Summer® Blushing Bride, all purport to have white flowers.  Unfortunately, none of these stay clear white all season.  With afternoon shade, ‘Madame Emile Mouliere’ and ‘Sister Theresa’ will remain white for several weeks, but eventually take on a tinge of pink, or less often, blue.  ‘Blushing Bride’ usually takes on a pale pink hue, as well.  We are not aware of any way to keep the flowers white on these plants all season.




The take away:  If you want a blue Hydrangea, choose one that is bred to be blue, and plant it in acidic soil, using an acidifying fertilizer low in phosphorous.  If you’re shooting for pink, choose a variety bred to be pink, plant it in soil closer to neutral and use a balanced fertilizer, with higher amounts of phosphorous.  For white blooms, choose ‘Madame Emile Mouliere’, ‘Sister Theresa’ or ‘Blushing Bride’ be sure to give them afternoon shade.

Culvers Root

We sell a wide variety of ornamental plants at Surfing Hydrangea.  The vast majority of these are descendants of plants that were collected from Asia or other parts of the world. Although exotic plants are beautiful and often do very well here, they are not part of the ecosystem that has developed here since the Laurentide glacier began to retreat twenty thousand years ago.  Many of our native fauna depend on the plants they evolved with as a food source and shelter.  By planting more native plants we are supporting the animals that have been living here long before humans set foot on the island.

Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Adoration’

Culvers root, Veronicastrum virginicum, is a beautiful plant, native to moist meadows, stream banks and bright woodlands in the North East, that makes a stunning garden plant as well.  This plant is particularly attractive to bees, helping to attract more pollinators to the garden.  The lance-like leaves of this stately perennial are arranged in whorls, radiating around the stems at regular intervals.  In early to mid-summer, spiky white, candle abrum-shaped flowers appear on the top of the 4-6′ tall stems.  Veronicastrum thrives in full sun in moist to wet fertile soils, but tolerates some shade and average soil is just fine.  In shady sites, they may require some staking, and don’t them dry out; they will drop their leaves quickly if they dry out even once.

Veronicastrum look equally beautiful in cottage gardens as a “see through plant” or in great swaths in naturalistic plantings in the style of Piet Oudolf.  There are several cultivars available in addition to the white-flowered species in varying shades of lavender and pink. Try ‘Fascination’ or ‘Adoration’ for lilac/pink or ‘Apollo’ for a pastel lavender.