Most variegated hydrangeas, like 'Mariesii Variegata', are of the lacecap variety. Their small, fertile flowers, which look like tiny unopened buds, are carried inside a ring of larger, sterile flowers. Variegated hydrangeas provide not only long-lasting blooms but foliar interest as well. The bright green leaves have white edges with irregular patches of white going toward the leaf centers. Attractive for their ornamental leaves alone, variegated lacecaps are fast growers. Depending on the cultivar, they can stay at a 3-foot height and diameter or reach a 6-foot height and diameter. Their main cultural requirements are soil that drains well and regular watering. Variegated hydrangeas are easily grown by the home gardener and if some basic care is taken can be enjoyed for years.
Things You'll Need
Soil pH testing kit
Site your hydrangea correctly. Provide filtered shade in hot climates with bright sun most of the day. In cooler climates, provide morning sun and filtered afternoon shade. Make sure the site is big enough for the eventual size of the hydrangea.
Test your soil pH to provide the right level of acidity for your hydrangea. Variegated hydrangeas like a pH of 6.1 to 6.5. Use dolomitic lime to raise the pH, but follow manufacturer directions carefully to avoid over-liming. Spread a 2-inch layer of peat moss at the planting site and dig it in to lower the pH.
Use compost at planting time. Variegated hydrangeas like a soil rich in organic matter. Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost over the soil at the planting site and out 2 feet in either direction and dig it in.
Test your soil for drainage at planting time. Slow-draining soil will be fixed by the application of compost described above. Correct soil with extremely poor drainage by mixing 1 part coarse sand to 2 parts compost-soil mixture.
Feeding, Watering and Protecting
Follow a regular watering schedule during the initial growing season so your hydrangea can get established. Give variegated hydrangeas slow, deep watering at regular intervals when mature. Use a timer on your hose or drip irrigation system to be sure watering levels are consistent.
Fertilize variegated hydrangeas with an acidic fertilizer just before spring growth. Compost mulch can also be used to add soil nutrients. Spread the compost, starting at the stem, in a 2-inch layer out to the dripline.
Provide winter protection for your variegated hydrangea since they are less cold-hardy than some varieties. Cage the hydrangea in severe winter areas. Make a ring of stakes around the hydrangea 2 inches taller than the plant. Wrap the stakes with garden mesh and fill the cage loosely with clean straw.
Prune a newly planted variegated hydrangea in midsummer to establish a bushier plant. Cut off branches that cross, and prune back branch tips. Pruning in the summer gives the hydrangea time to harden off any new growth before winter.
Prune older variegated hydrangeas only if necessary to remove dead wood. Cut back stems that do not leaf out in spring to a live bud. Pruning other wood will remove bloom clusters.
Avoid pruning to make a big variegated hydrangea smaller. They recover very slowly from drastic pruning and may refuse to bloom. Transplant variegated hydrangeas that have gotten too big for their garden spot.
Planting in pots is one way to enjoy hydrangeas that would need winter protection. They can be enjoyed on a patio or deck and brought into a sheltered location in winter.
Look for mildew-resistant varieties when purchasing hydrangeas. Powdery mildew is a common problem with big-leaved hydrangeas.
Variegated hydrangeas can be naturalized in woodland landscapes in mild zones. Bold drifts of hydrangeas provide long-lasting understory color.
Growing variegated hydrangeas in extremely hot climates requires filtered shade and extra watering for protection from stress and sunburn.
Protect hydrangeas from slugs that are attracted to the leaves. Prevent damage by ringing the trunk with copper slug barrier tape.
Dying back to the ground in harsh winters is a problem with some cultivars like hydrangea macrophylla 'Maculata'.