How to Grow Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea
An Overview of Hydrangeas
There are many different varieties of hydrangeas. Some are shorter bushes that will only reach a few feet tall and prefer shade, some are 8-foot-tall, sun-loving shrubs, and others are climbers that do best on structures like pergolas or trellises. Some hydrangeas may even be trained into small tree forms.
Mophead and lacecap hydrangeas both have large rounded blooms of varying colors, mophead with fuller blooms resembling giant balls, and lacecap with tinier blooms resembling lace. Both bloom on previous years’ wood. Smooth hydrangeas have smaller rounded blooms. Panicle varieties have more erect flowers and smaller leaves, and oakleaf hydrangeas have erect blooms with larger leaves, like an oak tree. Smooth, panicle, and oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on new wood.
Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangeas are of the panicle variety, and therefore bloom on new wood. It is closely related to the PeeGee Hydrangea, which also has pink and white blossoms. Strawberry Vanilla was introduced to the gardening world in 2010, and has since then remained a best-selling variety.
Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea Characteristics
The botanic name for Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea is Hydrangea paniculata “rheny.” It closely resembles the popular Limelight Hydrangea in form, with the exception of the pink tint to its leaves. It is a hardy, dependable perennial.
This hydrangea variety is multi-stemmed, with each woody stem radiating out from the middle of the plant. Clusters of tiny flowers called inflorescence grow at the end of the stems. The flowers are about 8 inches long, and start out all white but turn to hot pink on the bottom and white on the tops. In late summer, the whole bloom turns pink, and then red.
When in full bloom, these bushes really are spectacular. The giant blossoms almost resemble fluffy pink and white cotton candy. They are especially stunning when planted in masses as a living hedge. One mature bush, however, will be sufficiently large and showy to steal the show in the garden even if it is planted alone.
One plant can reach up to 8 feet tall and may spread 6 feet wide. Growth is typically a bit slower the first season it is transplanted from the nursery, but then will pick up in seasons after that. Give this shrub plenty of room to grow, and don’t plant them any closer than 6 feet apart.
This variety of hydrangea is cold hardy from USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8. It can handle cold temperatures down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite its hardiness, some of these shrubs may have a difficult time getting through the winter, especially if recently planted. Take care to overwinter them appropriately (see below).
The instructions included with these plants says it needs full sun. Gardeners have had success, however, planting it both in part shade and part sun areas as well.
Hydrangeas like moist conditions, so you’ll need to keep the plant hydrated, especially during the hottest parts of the summer. Newly planted varieties especially need to be watered regularly. Hydrangeas should be watered up until when the ground freezes solid.
Hydrangeas like moist soil that is rich in organic matter but that drains well. It will also grow in clay or lower quality soil, but may not grow as vigorously.
Fertilize this hydrangea twice during the season—once in spring as growth is taking off, and again in mid to late summer. Don’t fertilize in late summer or fall, as the plant is starting to “go to sleep” at this time. Use a fertilizer that is made especially for hydrangeas. Alternatively, use organic compost as an amendment—blend into the soil carefully at the base of the plant.
Companion Plants for Landscaping
These shrubs are quite tall, and work well either as stand-alone feature shrubs or as a back-of-the-border plant. Plant a low-lying groundcover like wintercreeper in front of them. Plants with purple foliage, such as coral bells, also contrast nicely with the color of Strawberry Vanilla Hydrangea. Fall blooming plants like sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ look pretty in front of this bush.
Tips for Landscaping with Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea
How and When to Plant
You can plant hydrangeas either in spring or fall, with spring being ideal. If planting in spring, wait until the ground has warmed up and is easy to work with. If planting in fall, wait until the weather cools down a bit and the plant is starting to “go to sleep.” Avoid planting in the heat of summer. If you do, be sure to keep the hydrangea well-watered. Digging up and transplanting existing hydrangea bushes will be riskier in the summer heat that transplanting one from a container from a nursery.
Pick a spot that will receive ample sun. Dig a hole that is just as deep but twice as wide as the root ball. If you know the soil is of poor quality, add manure or compost. Put the plant and root ball in the hole, making sure it is level. Back fill with the soil you dug out, making sure the base of the plant is at the same level it was when in the container. Water right away, and continue watering daily (unless it rains) for the next few weeks until it’s established.
Overwintering a Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea
Hydrangeas are typically deciduous, so they lose their leaves during the winter and are reduced to twigs while dormant. They will begin to grow once the ground warms up a bit in mid spring.
A little extra care in the fall can make a huge difference in how your plant will fare next spring. Don’t prune in the fall, especially if it was just planted that season. The bare twigs may not be especially attractive or add any winter interest, but will protect the roots somewhat from the wind and cold.
Once the first frost comes, cover the bush’s base with a 6-inch layer of organic mulch to offer extra protection from the cold. When the weather begins to warm up, remove the mulch around the base. Also, you can wrap chicken wire around the base of the plant and fill it with dried leaves for extra protection, or use a rose cone around the plant.
This panicle variety of hydrangea blooms on new growth, meaning the new green shoots that grow once the spring thaw comes. Therefore, it should only be pruned in late winter before new growth takes off. It may be a good idea to forego pruning for the first year. After that, you can prune the bush down by as much as one third in late winter, right before the plant breaks dormancy. You can do light pruning throughout the summer to maintain the desired shape.
“Pinky Winky” – A paniculata variety that has identical colored blooms to Vanilla Strawberry, but longer, slimmer blooms up to 16 inches long
“Strawberry Sundae” – Almost identical to Vanilla Strawberry, but lower growing, only about 4 to 5 feet tall
“Edgy Hearts” – This bigleaf hydrangea variety has giant round blooms with each heart-shaped petal hot pink on the inside and outlined in white
“Blushing Bride” – Also with large leaves, this bush, growing up to 6 feet tall, has round white blooms that turn light pink in the fall
“Pink Diamond” – A panicle variety also, resembles Vanilla Strawberry, but can reach up to 15 feet tall
“Harlequin” – A mophead variety with bicolor light pink and white blooms
“Little Quick Fire” – Similar to Vanilla Strawberry but a dwarf panicle hydrangea, growing only about 3 or 4 feet tall