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What are remontant and free flowering hydrangeas?
Hillary T
What are remontant and free flowering hydrangeas?

Remontant is a fancy word for bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) that rebloom in the fall. The word is from the French remonter, "coming up again." That's apt.

Free flowering is a term that is more self-evident: these types of hydrangeas flower more freely than other hydrangeas, yet they are not remontant.

Keep this rule of thumb in mind as you read: bigleaf hydrangeas generally set flowers on last's years stems, a.k.a. old stems. "Old wood" in hydrangea-speak means the same thing.

 

Remontant Hydrangeas

A remontant bigleaf hydrangea has a distinctive trait: it blooms twice in a year. 

Remontant hydrangeas have two very distinct and separate flushes of growth that produce flowers. The first in spring (on old wood - last year's stems) and a second flush beginning in late summer or autumn (on new wood - the current year's stems).

What's revered about remontant hydrangeas is that they set buds on both old wood and new wood. Most bigleaf hydrangeas set buds only on the old wood.

In the Southeastern US, the first flush on a remontant hydrangea such as BloomStruck is in late May or early June (from the old wood) and the second flush starts in September and lasts until the first killing frosts (from the new wood). Depending where you garden, this means flowering could last until rather late in the year.

Some say that the second flush (the fall flush on new wood) is not as strong as the first flush. That does seem to be the case, though it's no reason to hand out demerits. I haven't done a study, but it seems it may be 10% less or something minimal like that. I hardly notice it because I'm so giddy to see the joyous mopheads during autumn, my favorite season. Fall color and flowers - the best of both worlds for a moody hydrangea lover!

My observation is that the second flush, the one in autumn, lasts longer and it would keep going if freezing temps didn't stop the buds still in the "broccoli" stage from opening.

picture of a remontant bigleaf hydrangeaThis Endless Summer is flowering on Thanksgiving Day, 2017.

 

With remontant hydrangeas, my family gets to enjoy "Thanksgiving hydrangeas" on the feast table - this is a new thing since we have remontant hydrangeas in our gardens and warmer Novembers, so that first killing frosts are being pushed back into December.

Remontant hydrangeas have become exceedingly coveted due to the last-killing-frost-of-spring-issue that can zap entire geographies of hydrangea buds. Many a hydrangea lover has bemoaned not covering their plants that fluke day in late March or April when Snow Miser shows up one last time - the time when the bigleaf hydrangea buds on old wood, the wood that contains the flower buds, are already swelling and opening.

If you have a remontant hydrangea and are too lazy to cover your bushes, then you'll miss out in spring, but you'll have all summer to look forward to that second flush from the new wood. Oh boy! Remontacy is blooming insurance - if you miss out early in the year, it pays you back later.

 

Examples of Remontant Hydrangeas

Two main species of hydrangea are remontant.

Hydrangea arborescens (smooth hydrangea) species and cultivars are all remontant because they flower on new growth. If you cut off the fading flowers of spring, more flowering branches will grow and you'll get a second flush of flowers in the autumn.

Hydrangea macrophylla (bigleaf hydrangea) has many cultivars that have been selected for the reblooming characteristic. Here are my favorites, many of which we sell. Please read more about each type in our Hydrangea Collection.

  • BloomStruck - deep colors
  • David Ramsey - richer pastel colors
  • Decatur Blue - pastel, similar to Endless Summer and a great substitute for it
  • Endless Summer - love this plant, but we don't sell it because it can be found at nearly every garden center
  • Nikko Blue - said to be remontant, but not in my experience
  • Oak Hill - pastel, similar to Endless Summer and a great substitute for it
  • Penny Mac - pastel, similar to Endless Summer and a great substitute for it
  • Twist-n-Shout - the first remontant lacecap

picture of Twist-n-Shout bigleaf hydrangea, the first remontant lacecape hydrangeaTwist-n-Shout bigleaf hydrangea is the first remontant lacecap macrophylla.

 

Other Remontant Plants

There are other shrub species that are remontant too, most famously are Encore azaleas, the many roses that bloom twice, Viburnum macrocephalum (Chinese snowball viburnum), and some Gardenias, like Gardenia jasminoides 'Double Mint'.

For trees we have Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis (Higan cherry) that flowers in spring, but can often become covered in light pink flowers in October or November when other plants are showing off their fall colors. When noticed for the first time, this cherry tree startles folks into thinking the seasons are out of wack, but really it's doing its typical thing and flowering twice.

For perennials (not my specialty), I've seen irises and queen Anne's lace offer up a few remontant flowers, though they're not as showy as their first flush.

 

Free Flowering Hydrangeas

The term remontant is used to distinguish that group of hydrangeas from from free-flowering hydrangeas.

Free flowering hydrangeas are distinctly different in their flowering behavior, if you know what you're looking at. 

Free flowering means that it will flower for a longer time than other bigleaf hydrangeas, but not produce that second distinct flush. It's more like the hydrangea doesn't quite stop blooming during the summer. (And they may spit out a flower or two in the autumn.)

There seems to be two mechanism that yield free-flowering hydrangeas:

  1. The hydrangea flowers first on old wood, but also a little bit on the new wood of that growing season. The flowers from new wood are produced later, thereby extending the flowering season.
  2. The hydrangea flowers first from the terminal bud, but also from buds along the stem (lateral buds) that are deeper down into the plant. The flowers on the lateral buds are produced later, thereby extending the flowering season. 

Here are some free flowering bigleaf hydrangeas you'll run across. Please read more about each type in our Hydrangea Collection.

  • All Summer Beauty
  • Ami Pasquiere
  • Blue Bird (a serrata type)
  • Blushing Bride
  • Diadem (a serrata type)
  • Mme. Emile Mouillere
  • Marechal Foch
  • White Wave

picture of a free flowering bigleaf hydrangeaMme Emile Mouillere is free flowering. 

 

Other Remontant Plants

Tons of perennials are free flowering - black-eyed Susans, Echinacea, many asters like climbing aster, salvias; the list goes on and on. 

Shrubs. My specialty. Thankfully many shrubs besides hydrangea are potent in the free flowering department, too.

Picture all chaste trees, butterfly bushes, abutilon, spirea, several hibiscus species, and other shrubs of high summer that bloom on and on. 

Please see our Shrub Collection for many of those species just listed.

 


Not all hydrangeas are remontant or free flowering. In fact, most are neither - especially the older types. Most hydrangeas simply flower once a year, but for a good long time.

As you plan your shade or hydrangea garden, be sure to include remontant and free flowering hydrangeas in the mix to ensure plenty of blooms every year.

Here's to a bounty of Hydrangea flower buds for everyone!

Hillary & Mike


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