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Climbing Hydrangea Vines

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Picture of climbing hydrangea lacecap.

Picture of climbing hydrangea lacecap.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Climbing Hydrangeas:

Plant taxonomy classifies climbing hydrangeas as Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris. This is a case where the Latin name (Hydrangea) is so commonly used that it essentially doubles as a common name; when used as a common name for the plants, I don't capitalize the word. Technically, you could also call them "climbing hortensias," but relatively few people use that terminology.

Plant Type:

Climbing hydrangeas are flowering deciduous vines. These plants are true climbers, using "holdfasts" to scale walls, etc.

Characteristics of Climbing Hydrangea Vines:

Climbing hydrangea vines are large plants, sometimes reaching 50 feet tall or more at maturity. In early summer, they produce fragrant, lacy ("lace-cap"), flat-topped, white flower heads. These "lace caps" can be 5 inches or more in width and are composed of showy flowers on the outside and less-than-showy flowers on the inside (see photo). The leaves of climbing hydrangea vines turn yellowish in autumn. The plants' exfoliating bark affords winter interest (for a picture of the exfoliating bark, click the photo to open the mini-photo gallery).

Planting Zones:

Indigenous to the Far East, climbing hydrangea vines are best grown in planting zones 4-7.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Climbing Hydrangeas:

Relatively few hardy flowering vines tolerate shade. Climbing hydrangea plants are one of them. In fact, in hot climates, they actually prefer a location with at least partial shade. Elsewhere, they'll do OK in more sunny areas, usually, if watered. Climbing hydrangeas that do get more sun tend to bloom more profusely. The soil should be moist but well-drained and contain plenty of humus. Aim for a soil pH that is slightly acidic.

Landscaping Uses:

Grow climbing hydrangea vines up trees, garden arbors, pergolas and fences. The plants can also be pruned and maintained in shrub form or used as ground covers. Make use of their white flowers in moon gardens. Their tolerance for shade gives many of us much-needed flexibility in developing our landscape designs.

Concerns About Climbing Hydrangeas: Walls, Trees:

There is some debate as to whether owners of brick homes should allow climbing hydrangeas to climb up their walls; but definitely don't permit them to climb houses sided with shakes or vinyl. I've read conflicting reports as to whether the holdfasts of climbing hydrangeas will stain brick walls.

"Frequently concern is expressed about climbing vines that may be inundating a tree and causing irreparable damage: there has never been a proven case of damage occurring from climbing hydrangea, however," says the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Outstanding Feature of Climbing Hydrangea Vines:

Climbing hydrangeas solve a problem for homeowners with shady areas to plant. Even though they won't flower as profusely if planted in full shade, these shade-tolerant vines provide attractive foliage that can cover quite an area once the plants mature.

Care for Climbing Hydrangea Vines:

Newly planted climbing hydrangea vines are slow to grow and slow to bloom. But there's not much you can do about it, other than to start out with the largest plants possible. As for pruning in later years, Marie Iannotti writes, "Once climbing hydrangeas become established, they can grow quite vigorously and may need occasional summer pruning to stay in bounds."

Name Origin of Climbing Hydrangea Vines:

I mentioned above that the genus name for these shade-tolerant vines is the same as the common name: Hydrangea. The Greek root hydr- refers to water, as in "hydroelectric," "hydroponics," "hydration," etc. Meanwhile, angeon comes from the Greek for "vessel." Most species of hydrangea require a lot of water, earning these plants the designation, "water vessel."


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