Mixing Hydrangeas With Trees

By Mark Montoya

The two most desired features in any landscape are large trees and mature shrubbery. When it comes to gardening, living in older neighborhoods has both these advantages. When planning your garden, consider these two features gifts from previous generations — gifts which are priceless.

Equally important in the quest for the perfect garden landscape is the art of observation:  noticing which plant materials seem to flourish effortlessly in your neighborhood. Unless you are willing to make the proper (and often costly) adjustments to the environment, don’t try to force plants to live in situations that are next to impossible.

One of the most common situations I see that attempts to challenge this wisdom is the desire to have a mass of hydrangeas, planted under trees which have roots that have grown into an impenetrable grid. Granted, it can be done, but it will require about a foot of new soil, some sort of edging to contain it, and lots and lots of water. Water means WATER, even when no one is at home! And after only a few years have passed, even with a sprinkler system, those tree roots will grow up into the new soil and start drinking all of that extra water at the expense of the hydrangeas.

So, if you don’t have a perfect place in your garden for hydrangeas (or other flowering plants), consider buying them as cut flowers, or placing the potted ones from the nursery in decorative containers. Hydrangeas can usually be found, in some form, year-round. Put them in a spot, inside or out, where you can enjoy them — where you can see them “up close and personal.” And, buy another variety later on — just as you would orchids or other seasonal flowers.

Hydrangeas are well worth having, whether you love the deep purples, lime greens, whites, pinks, or multiple shades of blue. And this alternative to ‘ground planting’ is a lot less expensive, more flexible, fun and stress-free, compared to creating the proper micro-climate in your garden for plants which don’t want to be there in the first place. Sometimes the most practical gardening can be in a vase.

Mark Montoya is a Montgomery native who first learned gardening from his father. He has designed, planted and nurtured gardens in our city’s neighborhoods — both old and new – for twenty years.

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