Fabulous and Foolproof

In one of my previous posts I asked everyone to complete a Hydrangea survey to give me a better idea what type of plants I should be looking for, breeding and introducing. The survey was primarily about Hydrangea macrophylla and its cultivars.

One comment that caught my attention went something like this:

I think instead of forcing Hydrangea macrophylla to do something they weren’t designed to do, we should focus the hardy species that bloom on new wood, like Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens. I agree, these two species are fabulous and foolproof just about anywhere in North America . There are many superb new varieties of Hydrangea paniculata. I've written about it on this blog and mentioned Pinky Winky, Little Lamb, The Swan, and Limelight. These are are all easy to grow and dependible plants.

I also wrote about Hydrangea arborescens in an earlier post. To remind you I said …

Smooth Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens (Eastern U.S, Zone 3), is a wonderful, hardy plant that blooms in midsummer. It has the great advantage of blooming on the current season’s wood. This results in very reliable blooming plant regardless of frost or winter injury. The species itself is not a spectacular garden plant with its small mostly fertile flowers, but there are some noteworthy cultivars that are worth growing.

'Annabelle', introduced by Joe McDanials of Champaign, IL, is the most commonly grown cultivar. One is hard pressed to find any other cultivar of Hydrangea arborescens being sold today. There are some nurseries unknowingly selling the cultivars 'Hills of Snow' as 'Annabelle'. True 'Annabelle' has very large, perfectly symmetrical blooms, while the blooms of 'Grandiflora' are often quartered and irregular. 'Annabelle' is very showy, but often collapses under the weight of its own blooms.

If you remember, I said there was a need for more selections of H. arborescens and that I would like to see an improved 'Annabelle' with sturdier stems. At the time this was only a wish, however I was breeding and selecting with the goal of developeing an Annabelle with strong stems. Annabelle is such a great plant but is a mess after it rains. The stems are just not strong enough to hold the large flowers. Well I have exciting news to share; I found a plant with very strong stems. This was not a big of a surprise, but what came as a surprise was that this selection had strong stems and incredibly larger flower heads too. When I counted the individual flowers this selection had 4x as many flowers as Annabell. I call it Incrediball Hydrangea. Here are a few photos I took of the plant. What do you think?

Don't ask be where you can buy it because it's not for sale - yet. Hopefully you can get it from Wayside gardens next Spring.


  1. I don't shop at Wayside Gardens so unless they are sold some place else you're out of luck! They are one of the worst ranked online companies on Dave's Garden Watchdog.

    I ordered a shrub from them and they sent me a dead, rotten twig. On their site it said "Shipped as 4-inch pot." Until they improve their ratings, I highly doubt you will convince people to shop there. I love the plant though! You are really doing a great job! I bought Limelight after reading your blog about it. You were definitely correct about that beautiful plant. I bought it at my local nursery. No way would I buy a hydrangea from Wayside!

  2. Anonymous2:43 PM

    I just bought an incrediball from Spring Hill Nursery, to be delivered Spring '10. I'm so excited I absolutely cannot wait. I only wish I had known about these last month, as I just planted 9 annabelle's on the side of my house. I love them so much, but they do break after a rain. Maybe if the incrediball works out, I'll re-plant that wall next year! Thanks for the info!

  3. Anonymous7:13 AM

    I just read a post at Dave's Garden. Your claim of strong stems that hold up these huge blooms is false. People are reporting that after a rain the stems are all flat on the ground from the weight of the blooms.

  4. Thanks for the comment but I think that you have to judge a mature plant and not one that has just been planted. Give the plant a chance to establish and you will see that the plant does in fact have strong stems and that it will have strong enough stems to hold its large blooms.

  5. Anonymous7:49 AM

    I bought these Tiki Torch Echinacea and when they were about to bloom the stems stretched out and flopped. The flower still bloomed, mostly but I'm not sure why they did this? Any thoughts?

  6. Give the plant a year or two to mature. As they mature the get stronger. Too much shade or too much fertilizer can also promote streaching.

  7. KathieLO11:18 AM

    Tom, can you tell me why my Annabelle blossoms are usually green instead of white. This is the fist yr that I actually had some white blooms. I credited the constant rain falls we had throughout June. However, now that the rain has slowed the blossoms are green again. Also, I thought this hydrangea preferred shade. I planted it in a corner where it gets mostly shade and I can see it seems to be reaching for the sun. What do you think? Should I be fertilizing it with anything special?

  8. Anonymous7:13 PM

    As a nurseryman I can confirm that a newly purchased plant will often have weaker stems than a mature plant. I get in a lot of product from a lot of suppliers, and getting in plants that don't quite match their mature traits is fairly common. I.e. smaller/larger leaves, weaker stems

    My suppliers are trying to get their product from plug to finished product as quickly as possible, and their higher fertilizer regime will often make stems stretched and somewhat weaker. After a year (two at most) the plants usually settle in and grow like they are supposed to.

  9. Anonymous9:11 AM

    As a nursery owner, grower, and landscape contractor we have grown Annabelle for over 30 years, so when Incrediball was introduced we tried it. We have found, here in Maine, that as a container plant it is very disease prone to leaf spotting and browning. As a garden plant, with good nutrition, we have found that the overall flower head of Incrediball is similar in size to Annabelle, but that the individual florets are larger in the former. This trait is only noticeable up close. In our garden, the effect of both is very similar, though, once blooming was over, we saw more browning of the florets in the heads of Incrediball, while those of Annabelle faded to green with less browning.

    By mid summer in the garden, Incrediball had sent up a few vegetative shoots that grew to 7'
    tall before falling over. We cut both these hydrangeas down to 12" tall each fall. We will continue to observe the garden performance of Incrediball here in Maine, but after three seasons we still prefer Annabelle. It always does great! Maybe there are climate differences that affect them differently.

  10. I am currently working on planting hydrangeas on the north side of my house in a shaded/protected area near my front porch. I am debating between Annabelle or incrediball for the spot. It probably gets only 1-2 hours of early morning sun, then shade all day with maybe a tiny bit of dappled shade in the late evening. I'm trying to figure out which, Annabelle or incrediball, might thrive better in this spot? Originally I was going to do incrediball but I keep reading that maybe the Annabelle is more shade tolerant then the incrediball. Any suggestions or recommendations?

  11. Bbubs, I am afraid that neither Annabelle or incrediball will flower well in 1-2 hours of early morning sun. If the plants get filtered sun the rest of the day there is the possibility you can get by, but shade will limited the flowers and stretch the stems.


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