You can grow hydrangeas in Utah with a little expert advice.
Until winter melts away, we are left to dream and scheme and plan for gardens in all their glory. We know that zucchini grows good here, zinnias too. But other trendy garden topics take a fine-tuned green thumb.
Horticulturist Sheriden Hansen helps you avoid the pitfalls while growing some unique plants and foods.
Find more gardening advice at extension.usu.edu/botanicalcenter.
How To Grow Unique Plants in Utah
Vertical Walls in Utah
- Rooting depth – for something like rain gutter gardens and hanging pockets hung on fences, you need to choose a shallow rooted crop. Match up the final size of the plant with an appropriate container.
- Water need – in most of the vertical wall systems, water in our hot summers can be a limiting factor. Small soil area holds limited water supplies that are often depleted quickly in the heat. The exception is in hydroponic and indoor systems.
- Sun – we have INTENSE sunlight in the summer in Utah due to high elevation and very few cloudy days. This can cause some sunburn and scorch issues in vertically trellised crops and exposed crops (which happens a lot in vertical systems).
CAN YOU BE SUCCESSFUL?
Yes, but it takes some time and effort on your part. Carefully monitor the moisture needs and along with that goes fertility need (the more we water, the more often we will need to assess nutrient needs). Use 30% shade fabric when needed to prevent sunburn or locate your system in a space that gets morning and early afternoon sun followed by late afternoon shade.
Grow Hydrangeas in Utah
- Bloom color: Alkaline soil, which we have in abundance in Utah, will change the color of the bloom. If you purchase a blue or purple hydrangea, you can expect bloom color to be pink in most soil found in Utah due to pH. The pH affects that plants ability to take up nutrients (like aluminum) in the soil, causing the bloom color to change.
- Small plants and leaves that are burned on the edges or margins: high summer heat, extreme winter cold, and low humidity can play a role in the size and health of plants. Big leaf hydrangeas tend to struggle in our environmental conditions. They aren’t adapted for the arid west and cold climate conditions that we sometimes see (I am looking at you winter of 2022-2023!).
CAN YOU BE SUCCESSFUL?
YES! But you need to choose different varieties.
Oak leaf hydrangeas, Panicle hydrangeas such as ‘Limelight’, ‘Fire Light’, and ‘Tardiva’ are EXCELLENT selections for Utah gardeners that need the beauty of hydrangeas added to their garden.
Locate them in areas where they will thrive: loamy, well-amended soil with some respite from the full, intense sunlight that Utah has to offer. 4-6 hours of sunlight will provide you with gorgeous bloom.
Blueberries in Utah
Blueberries prefer a soil pH from 4.5 to 5.5. The pH of the soil in Utah is typically 7.0 and higher. You can grow them but it takes quite a few resources and some very careful management. Common problems:
- Soil pH: With higher pH soils, acidification is required. Without this, the plant can’t take up needed nutrients and you will see stunted plants, yellowed leaves, and little to no fruit production. For the home gardener this is accomplished most easily by planting in containers and replacing soil with an acidified soil mix. You can find these mixes at larger nurseries. Peat is also acidic and can be added to the container. Blueberries require a coarse-textured soil, so adding some sand and grit will help with drainage and give them the soil texture they require. You can also grow in amended raised beds. Soil testing should be done annually to ensure the soil pH is where it should be.
- Water pH: Watering with our secondary or even culinary water will raise the soil pH because the water is also alkaline (has a high pH). Acidification of the water is required unless you are collecting and watering solely with rainwater that has not been moved through the soil.
- Cross pollination: You will get bigger and more abundant fruit with cross pollination. Half-high and northern highbush are best for Northern Utah. Southern highbush and rabbiteye types are best for St. George and surrounding areas. You need two different cultivars that bloom at the same time.
CAN YOU BE SUCCESSFUL?
Yes, with some very intense management, but you might be more successful growing honeyberries instead. These have a similar taste and antioxidant load and are better adapted to Utah soil and water conditions. The berries are elongated and plants come from the honeysuckle family. Why work harder when there is a good substitute available?
Sheriden Hansen serves as an assistant professor of horticulture with the Utah State University Extension. She holds a Masters in Plant Science from Utah State University. Sheriden loves to teach about fruit and vegetable production, how to grow crops in small spaces and container gardening. Sheriden is married with two sons. She is a registered nurse and beekeeper.
Sheriden is with the USU Botanical Center in Kaysville. Here you will find beautiful walk-through gardens and a full roster of classes and family activities. Get connected with the Botanical Center here.