May Blooms in My Georgia Garden: Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia
I've always said that my favorite hydrangea is our native Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia. Honestly, this shrub is beautiful in every season! In Spring, new leaves emerge that are thick, rich green, and shaped like an oak leaf. Soon thereafter, bloom buds begin to develop, and you can tell early on which stems will have a bloom. Bloom size varies from plant to plant, but each bloom is a panicle shaped cluster of smaller flowers, all creamy white. With the species, this panicle can be smallish when compared to some of the named cultivars, but it is very beautiful. Pollinators just love it.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'

There are a number of named selections, of which I have only a few. The hardest one for me to find was Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake.' Large panicles of blossoms have one flower on top of another, giving it the appearance of double blooms. This plant took a little longer to establish and bloom for me, because it receives no supplemental water other than the little bit of rain we get. This year we were blessed with plenty of rain, so my Snowflake Hydrangea is sporting beautiful fluffy blossom clusters like the one in the photo.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice'

The most spectacular of these Oakleaf Hydrangeas has to be the cultivar known as 'Alice.' Blooms on the Alice Oakleaf Hydrangea are gigantic. These voluptuous blooms spikes can be 12 inches long or more. I'd have to say this one is my most favorite of all. If I had to come up with a disadvantage of this hydrangea, it would be that the blooms are so heavy that they weigh down the branch. Some of the branches with the largest blooms are laying along the ground due to the weight of the flower spikes. I should prop them up with something.

As they dry, the creamy white blooms age to a rosy shade of pink, unless your summer heat and lack of rainfall cause them to turn a crispy brown instead. Fall foliage is spectacular on all the Oakleaf Hydrangeas. With onset of cold weather, the large leaves change to a deep burgundy color, quite visible from a distance. And in winter, after the leaves fall, you'll notice the exfoliating cinnamon colored bark.

Oakleaf Hydrangea is my favorite hydrangea, not only for its beauty but perhaps more importantly for its ease of growing. Mophead Hydrangeas are quite fussy. "Oh, it's too hot!", "Oh, I'm so thirsty!", "Oh, my soil is not right!" they seem to be saying to me whenever I glance in their direction. And if I don't give in to their demands, they will punish me, by first wilting, then drying up. Or they won't bloom. And sometimes they even just up and die on me.

Not so, with the Oakleaf Hydrangea. They don't mind our dry clay soil. They don't complain when it doesn't rain. Once established, Oakleaf Hydrangeas are very drought tolerant. And although they naturally occur in the woods, Oakleaf Hydrangeas will grow quite happily in full sun. My Alice gets the worst--full sun in the afternoon during the hottest part of the day. Yes, the Oakleaf Hydrangea is truly beautiful in every season. My gardens are mostly shady, so I have all kinds of hydrangeas, but my most favorite of all is definitely the Oakleaf Hydrangea.

May Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Itea virginica Virginia Sweetspire

Itea virginica, commonly referred to as Virginia Sweetspire, is covered with its white racemes today. The honey-scented blooms are not only beautiful but attract numerous pollinators into the garden. Virginia Sweetspire is an easy to grow shrub, as long as you can provide water during dry spells. Itea loves moisture and tolerates wet, boggy, or even soggy soil. But I also know it to be quite drought tolerant, since I have one that has survived years with no supplemental water. That one has grown very slowly and only blooms when we have a rainy spring like we had this year. The Virginia Sweetspire I planted more recently that gets plenty of regular water has outgrown the other at a rapid speed and shows off every year for me whether it rains or not, but it gets regular water. 

Itea likes rich soil and would love it if planted on a creek bank or the edge of a pond.  I have neither, but it does just fine at the edge of my greenhouse garden where I can water it often.

Itea is a plant that is beautiful in all seasons. During Summer after the blooms have faded, the leaves remain a rich green, no matter how hot it gets. In Fall, its leaves turn brilliant shades of burgundy to scarlet red, making it a great alternative to the invasive Burning Bush. In our climate, Itea is semi-evergreen since leaves will remain on the shrub during our sometimes mild winters. So even when not in bloom, Itea virginica is an asset in the garden.

Itea virginica is a native shrub found growing in the Southeastern United States, but can be grown just about anywhere, since it's hardy in USDA Zones 5-9. 

'Henry's Garnet' shows off larger flowers than the species and has excellent fall color. It is a larger growing cultivar reaching up to 6 feet in height.

'Merlot' is famous for its maroon fall foliage and, at only about 4 feet tall, is more compact than 'Henry's Garnet.'

Plant Virginia Sweetspire in your garden, and you'll enjoy it in all seasons of the year.

May Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Pomegranate

Pomegranate Blooms
One of the showiest plants in my garden today is the Pomegranate Tree. As you can see, the large, fluffy many-petaled flowers resemble carnations. This cultivar is the very popular 'Wonderful.'

Exotic as it may seem, Pomegranates are very easy to grow in your own garden here in Georgia and Alabama. Pomegranates enjoy a hot dry summer even when planted in poor soil. In fact, Pomegranate just might be the easiest fruit tree to grow! 

Punica granatum, or as we know it, Pomegranate, loves hot sunny summers and dry, well-drained soil. It’s perfect for Georgia gardens, as long as we amend the soil for drainage. Pomegranate trees, or actually the growth habit is more like that of a shrub, require a cold winter to set fruit. That’s us—hot summers and a cold winter—at least cold enough for Pomegranates, because winter temperatures down into the 40’s is cold enough.

Pomegranate is a rapid growing plant that will ultimately be 10-20 feet tall. This large shrub can be somewhat prickly, so situate it where that won't be a problem. The large fruits are heavy, weighing down the branches.  It's best to prune the plant to keep it 10 feet or under, making it easier to pick the fruit and also to keep the branches from breaking with the weight of the fruit. 

The large fluffy bright orange blossoms appear in early summer. The fruit develops in late summer and matures into fall.  The foliage is attractive as well--new growth is red-tinged, and the leaves turn a golden yellow in fall.

With all the news lately regarding the health benefits of Pomegranate juice, we should all consider growing our own pomegranates!