Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Shrubs

Honey, They Shrunk the Hydrangea!

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Smooth hydrangea Invincibelle Wee White (Hydrangea arborescens ‘NCHA5’). Source: springmeadownursery.com

In temperate climates, ‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’) is among the most popular landscape shrubs. You simply can’t miss its big pompons of pure white flowers from midsummer through early fall. In my neighborhood alone, I’m sure at least one house out of five features this shrub. And it’s been around for quite a while. ‘Annabelle’ was first discovered in the town of Anna, Illinois (whence the name Annabelle) in 1960 and was first made available to gardeners starting in 1962.

Despite its popularity, ‘Annabelle’ is not without its flaws and the one that annoys gardeners the most is that its stems, rather thin, often flop over under the weight of the huge ball of sterile flowers. But there is now an easy solution to this problem: the brand-new cultivar ‘NCHA5’, sold under the trade name Invincibelle Wee White®.

It is essentially a dwarf ‘Annabelle’, about half its height! At only 1 to 2 ½ feet (30 to 70 cm) tall, compared to 3 to 5 feet (90 to 150 cm) for ‘Annabelle’, but with a pompon of flowers almost as large, its shorter stems are better able to stand upright, even under torrential summer rains. In addition, while ‘Annabelle’ normally only produces one crop of flowers, Invincibelle Wee White is an rebloomer, flowering on and on, thus extending the season of interest right through to the end of fall. Another difference: the flowers age to pink and green as they mature while those of ‘Annabelle’ go straight to green.

Because of its smaller size, Invincibelle Wee White is an excellent choice for borders and container gardens and is also useful in mass plantings. As with ‘Annabelle’, its winter effect is also interesting, although its flowers are dry by then, they still hold on to the plant. Like ‘Annabelle’, Invincibelle hydrangea Wee White also makes an excellent fresh or dried cut flower.

Easy to Grow

Invincibelle Wee White is as easy to cultivate as its parent.

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Smooth hydrangea Invincibelle Wee White. Source: springmeadownursery.com

Give this North American native full sun or partial shade and any relatively rich and well-drained soil. It can be pruned back by about one third in the spring just as new buds start to appear. This will stimulate maximum bloom.

It’s not a very greedy plant and will get along fine with no fertilizer unless your soil is extremely poor. If you want to fertilize it, do so lightly with an all-purpose one. Avoid fertilizers rich in nitrogen, as they tend to encourage foliage growth over flowering.

Finally, Invincibelle Wee White is extremely hardy, to zone 3, tolerating -40˚ F (-40˚ C) with aplomb.

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Leaves sealed together by the hydrangea leaf-tier, an insect that only attacks smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens). Source: laidbackgardener.blog

No smooth hydrangea (H. arborescens) is fully resistant to the hydrangea leaf-tier, an insect that seals the leaves at the end of the stems together and can cause flowering to partially abort. But since Invincibelle Wee White is a rebloomer, you can simply cut off the offending stem tips and it will soon be back in flower. Since there is only one generation of leaf-tier a year, it won’t attack again.

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Invincibelle Wee White received the prestigious Green Thumb Award from the Direct Gardening Association as one of the best new horticultural introductions of 2018.

Availability

Although new for 2018, Invincibelle Wee White is apparently already available throughout Canada and the United States. I assume it will reach Europe in a year or so.20180320A www.provenwinners.com

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

3 comments on “Honey, They Shrunk the Hydrangea!

  1. There is a version of the Annabelle hydrangea that is 3-5 feet tall that does not flop, called Incredible.

  2. I have grown both of them. I had two annabelles, but the flowers were alway on the ground, so I added an Incredible. I was out of space so I removed the Annabelles. The Incredible really is much better. Its not hype, the flowers do stand up. Much of new and improved varietes turn out to be hype. For example all the new types of coral bells, (Heuchera)I bought failed, but the older tried and true ones remain over time. But, now I live in Ukiah, and I tried to dig up part of the Incredible to have it grow here, and it died due to the heat of the sun in the summer. I still have it the san francisco house. I can see it from time to time, as I am renting that house out.

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