Mopheads, snowballs and lacecaps are funny names for flowers but very descriptive of the different types of Hydrangea they describe. An old-fashioned favorite and perennial garden staple, hydrangeas are a flowering shrub with attractive foliage and large, showy flowers. Flower heads are composed of dozens of tiny, 4-petaled florets that grow in a variety of shapes -- sphere, panicle or flat – depending on variety. While America does have native hydrangea species, the large-blossomed plants that first captured the interest of 19th century gardeners were imported from Japan and China where hydrangeas were not only prized for their beautiful flowers and lush green foliage, but were also used to brew a sweet herbal tea.
Many of the hydrangea varieties most popular today were developed by French plant breeders in the early 1900s. Breeding for flower size and color variety, French cultivators created plants with exceptionally large blooms in rich shades of pink, blue and white. Some modern hybrids actually produce blooms in all three colors on the same plant. The French were also the first to grow hydrangeas as potted plants, promoting compact hybrids blooming with huge flowered orbs as decorative indoor plants. Potted hydrangeas remain an indoor favorite and can be relocated to outdoor patios or decks during the summer.
Planted outdoors, hydrangeas make an effective foundation or border plant, providing a leafy green screen that bursts with showy flowers from early July through late August. Hardy in zones 6 through 10, several species are also hardy in zone 5 and have become staples of Midwestern gardens. Hydrangeas require loose, evenly moist soil and should be watered frequently during hot, dry spells. To produce intense colors, fertilize regularly. Hydrangeas can be planted in partly shady locations, but require some sun each day. They will do best in garden areas that receive morning sun or dappled shade throughout the day.