The Art of the Perfect Hydrangea

A Certain Blue Enters Your Soul – Henri Matisse


Hydrandea's in full bloom on the Cape.


Hi I’m Suzanne Apellaniz from Artistic Garden Design @suzanneapellaniz. I am the landscape designer at Old Silver Shed. My team and I have been working with Sandra since 2010. I’ve managed the gardens of dozens of homes on the Cape for over 25 years. My initial landscape design training comes from the Forestry Service. I lean towards a natural style with loose cutting, and I hate technical plant names. Sandra asked me to share some of my Hydrangea gardening tips with you, as well as answer specific questions she frequently gets from her IG feed.


If you learn anything from reading this Q&A remember the most important element of gardening is pruning. If it’s not cut neat, or natural, you won’t have a solid foundation or backbone to work with that season.


There are many types of Hydrangeas. I typically use – Lace Cap, Mop Head, and Panicle.


Q: What are the best varieties to buy?

A: I prefer Endless Summer @endlesssummer. I use this brand because they are more forgiving when it comes to pruning, and blooming. Historically Hydrangeas bloom only once, on second year growth and the flowers are not as reliable. With the Endless Summer variety you can cut them back in Spring and they will continuously flower.



Q: How and when do you prune Hydrangeas-When do you cut them back and how far do you cut back?

A: The mistake most people make is they cut them all the way down. When you do that, you are taking the flower buds that are dormant in the stem along with it. I wait until the end of April/early May (or whenever early Spring is in your area of the country) to cut them back when you see the little green buds forming. The other trick is to thin them out. Its better to have 50 strong stalks, than 100 weak ones. It also allows for the plant to get air flow minimizing the risk of fungus developing. Early Spring, varies around the country, want to look for time just before they leaf out. I wait until the end of April when you can see a little bit of green. You can see what’s live vs. dead. The goal is to cut back dead stalks. Don’t be fooled into thinking parts are dead though. They can look pathetic, but still have life in them. When you prune them correctly, they will grow twice as large when they comes back in bloom.



Q: What can you do about deer eating plants in your garden?

A: I suggest planting closer to your house. Deers are less tempted to go where they see movement or feel in danger. There is Liquid Fence, and other sprays that can be used topically. Most are natural but they stink. And you have to really stay on it. Other deer and animal deterrents: putting in a scarecrow, shinny objects, or things that move in your garden and dogs. Dogs peeing around your yard would act as a deterrent. In fact, some say having your husband or partner ‘pee’ on your garden does the trick. I’ve never tried it (-:



Q: Best soil type for growing?

A: Hydrangeas are very forgiving. They typically do best in Zone 3 – 7. This is one of the reasons (besides their beauty) that make them so popular. They like a lot of organic matter and drainage.


Q. Why are Hydrangeas so prevalent in coastal landscapes?

A. They grow well in coastal climates because of the moisture in the air from humidity and fog, and our sandy soil which helps establish good drainage. If your in North Carolina or Maryland (for example) where they have clay soil, you will need to mix sand in to create good drainage. I also highly suggest to add compost. You don’t typically plant Hydrangeas in full sun, but you can get away with it on the coast.


Q: How do you make them blue/pink?

A: To make them bluer you need to add an acid fertilizer (Espoma.) Coffee grounds are more natural but slower way to do that.To turn them Pink you need to make the soil more alkaline (add Lime).


Q: What is the best location (sun/shade) for them?

A: Most like shade because of moisture. On this property they are in full sun because of the sandy soil and fog which provides constant moisture.


Q: How do you preserve them?

A: You should take the last flowers of the season, and hang upside down. You don’t want to take the new flowers because they have so much moisture. When they’ve been on the plant for a while they have already started the drying process.


Q: What’s the best way to keep them alive once you’ve cut them for a vase?

A: I’ve heard you need to have water all the way up to the neck of the vase. And you should use luke warm water vs. cold. It helps open up the flow of water through the stem. 


I’ve included some recommended gardening products on Old Silver Shed’s Amazon Page go to


Tune in next time to hear how Sandra and I manage plants during the harsh winters on the Cape. You’re going to love it! Hint: her nickname is ‘Move a Bush.’


Get out in the garden! 










One Response

  1. I have purchased these specific hydrangeas, and have a number of them against the back of my home. Early morning sun afternoon shade. Mine are not nearly as large as yours. I don’t know if it’s because I live in Wisconsin which is like zone four. They seem to get new buds, and then the winter tends to freeze them off. I do fertilize and I do use product to make them turn blue. My question if you are able to answer, I am looking at planting them all along the side of my garage, which gets morning shade and afternoon sun. I was wondering if that environment could work for these shrubs to thrive .

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