Smooth hydrangea is a cherished shrub that has two check marks in its favor:
✔ it's a native hydrangea
✔ it's a slow colonizer
We love plants that colonize an area. Colonizers do the work of filling in gaps for us, so we think down the road and give them extra feet to spread over the years. This native hydrangea is a gentle colonizer - it plays nicely with its neighbors.
The texture of the leaves are evocative of the Appalachian forests (even when seen from a car window - they are along so many roadsides in the mountains) so that Hydrangea arborescens fits into the native forest gardens and suburban-urban gardens of the East Coast with that sense of place many of us are cultivating in our backyards.
'Balsam' is also knows as 'Highland Lace' because of the lacy mophead flowers (see pic for 1,000 words of explanation).
These flowers are remontant - if you prune off the spent flowers, you will likely get a second flush.
This is one of those hydrangeas that will give you fall color. It's the color of our favorite Kerry Gold butter from grass fed cows.
We have two of these planted in our woodland garden (along with a few secret ones that may be introduced one day - sorry couldn't help the teaser).
Here's an explanation of the flowers in the pictures.
- The big while ones are how they look in full glory.
- There's a close up of the full glory phase - showing how it has a few fertile florets flowers tucked amongst the sterile florets.
- Then there's a pic next to a true 1 gallon pot for scale (not one of the smaller "trade" gallons) and then a panned-out shot showing the habit in flower.
- We show two pics of the broccoli phase - just emerging green florets.
- Then two pictures of mature flower heads. They turn back to chartreuse green with age.
Balsam smooth hydrangea, smooth hydrangea
USDA Hardiness Zones
flowering shrub, deciduous
- Spring: medium green
- Summer: medium green
- Fall: yellow
Fall Leaf Color Quality
Soil Moisture Requirements
moist-but-draining, no standing water
Soil pH Requirements
acid, neutral, alkaline
sun, part shade, shade
To Make It Thrive
Give Hydrangea arborescens 'Balsam' rich soil plus consistent moisture in a soil that drains. It may require extra watering, but no standing water. Place it in full shade or afternoon shade in the deep south (zones 8 and 9), but full sun is okay farther north. Best flowering is with some sun.