If you are one of the gardeners for whom the Endless Summer hydrangea has been disappointing, Heather Poire has some solutions for you.

Poire is a sales representative for Bailey’s Nurseries, the Minnesota company that introduced the everblooming hydrangea more than a decade ago, but she recognizes that it has not been as reliable in the Northeast – not blooming every year – as it is farther south.

“The tag says it grows in shade to full sun,” Poire told a group of landscape professionals meeting at O’Donal’s Nursery in Gorham, “but farther north it prefers warmer places. I’m in Zone 4 (most of Maine away from the coast) and I have mine in full sun,” which means five to six hours of sunlight a day.

Another tip to ensure the hydrangeas bloom well, Poire said, is to use a fertilizer that is high in phosphorous. A nitrogen-heavy fertilizer will promote leaf growth and discourage flowers. But don’t fertilize after Aug. 15, because you don’t want to encourage growth before winter.

In addition, she recommends, put at least 8 inches of bark mulch on the hydrangeas in late fall, and leave it there until late May or June, to protect the plants from the cold temperatures.

An alternative approach would be to use some newer varieties of hydrangea that defeat these problems on their own.

Poire and Mark Faunce, a sales representative for McHutchison, which distributes Ball Ornamentals, have some options.

Ball’s major introduction for this year is L.A. Dreamin’, which like Endless Summer is a reblooming macrophylla hydrangea with mophead blooms rather then lace caps. But while Endless Summer is pink or blue – with more acidic soil producing blue flowers – L.A. Dreamin’ produces flowers of different colors on the same plant.

“Blue, pink and mauve all come together,” Faunce said. He said that like all of the macrophylla hydrangeas that Ball is marketing, L.A. Dreamin’ is a reblooming variety.

Poire said that Bloomstruck, like Endless Summer a Michael Dirr introduction for Bailey’s, handles cold better than Endless Summer, has violet or ruby-pink flowers, depending on the soil’s acidity, and red stems. And it is resistant to mildew.

“This is the one to replace the original,” Poire said.

Faunce said he really likes the Wedding Gown hydrangea, which is pure white and looks like a lace-cap hydrangea, with full petals on the outer rim and smaller buds on the interior when it first comes out. As time passes, the interior petals fill out and look like a traditional mophead blossom.

He also likes Red Sensation, in which the mophead blooms are a light lime green when they emerge, change to red during the middle of the season and purple in the fall.

Honeycomb is a paniculata hydrangea, with white blossoms that can be up to 23 inches long, Faunce said.

Those were just a few of the new varieties that Poire and Faunce described. One certainty is that there will be more hydrangea varieties next year. Gardeners love them and nurseries are working hard to meet demand.

HELPING MONARCHS

The wire service story on monarch butterflies that ran next to my column Feb. 16 brought me more questions than I’ve ever had on something I didn’t write.

Mary Beth Breckenridge of McClatchy Newspapers wrote that few monarch butterflies made it north last summer, and that there are fewer monarchs this winter in Mexico than in the past. The reason given was that milkweed habitat has been eliminated by development and changing horticultural practices.

The story advised people interested in helping monarchs to plant more milkweed, which has in the past been considered a weed. The article did not say what types of milkweed or where you can get plants or seeds.

Herb Wilson, a Colby College professor who writes a birding column for the Maine Sunday Telegram and also has an interest in butterflies, said almost any milkweed, with the botanical name Asclepias, will do.

“I have seen them (monarchs) on Asclepias tuberosa, swamp milkweed and syriaca,” Wilson said. “I would think people would want to use native plants.”

He said most people who plant milkweed as a butterfly habitat use seeds, because they cost less than plants, but neither Fedco Seeds nor Allen, Sterling and Lothrop – two major Maine seed sellers – list Asclepias in their seed catalogs. I did find packets of Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias incarnata at Skillins as part of a seed line called Botanical Interests.

Bill Kennie, nursery manager at Allen, Sterling and Lothrop, said his Falmouth store does sell Asclepias plants.

“We sell the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which is purple, and tuberosa, which is the orange one,” Kinnie said. “Once in a while we will get ‘Ice Ballet,’ ” which is also native swamp milkweed.

Wilson said you can buy seeds from monarchwatch.org, but the website offers a mix of three different types of seed and does not say what they are. Seedsavers.org offers seed for Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias incarnata.

The tropical milkweed that monarchs flock to in Mexico is Asclepias curassavica, which would have to be treated as an annual in Maine.

We have “Ice Ballet” in our garden, purchased as a plant years ago. It multiplies slowly, so if you don’t want to wait, you might want to purchase Asclepias plants rather then seeds. Nancy isn’t sure whether our plant came from O’Donal’s or Estabrook’s.

SAVE THOSE BULB PLANTS

Speaking of reader questions, if you buy bulb plants such as daffodils, hyacinths or tulips from the grocery store, you shouldn’t throw them out when they go by.

Put them in a cool place until the ground thaws in the spring, and then plant them outside. They won’t rebloom this year, but should bloom in future years.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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