'Shooting Star' hydrangea

This variety lends a festive touch
Jim McCausland

Forced into flower for the holidays, snow-white hydrangeas make perfect companions for red poinsettias and evergreens strung with colored lights. The new 'Shooting Star' lace cap hydrangea enhances seasonal decorations even more. Each of its double flowers is shaped like a star within a star and holds its white color for four to six weeks before maturing into a greenish hue, which lasts another four to six weeks. And unlike most other lace caps, its sterile blooms don't sprinkle pollen onto the furniture or floor below.

Look for blooming 'Shooting Star' hydrangeas at supermarkets, garden centers, and department stores around the West. Most are sold in 6-inch pots. For the holidays, keep these plants in a cool spot that receives plenty of light. Water whenever the top half-inch of soil dries out. As flowers fade, snip them off.

Everywhere except in the coldest climates, deserts, and low-elevation Hawaii, these hydrangeas can become good garden shrubs that grow about 5 to 6 feet tall and wide. Just plant them outdoors when danger of killing frost is past (April or May in most areas). They like part shade, regular water, and fertilizer when new growth starts.

HYDRANGEA BASICS

Exposure: Full sun on the coast; partial shade where afternoons are hot.

Soil: Rich, porous soil; lighten heavy clay soils by mixing in compost or peat moss.

Water: Irrigate plants regularly during the growing season; established plants can get by on less water in coastal areas.

Pruning: To control plant size and shape, prune in winter in mild climates. Cut stems back to the strongest pair of new shoots.

To air-dry the blooms: Cut off several whole flower heads when blossoms are fully open and still fresh. Put the stems in a small vase with about 2 inches of water in the bottom. As the water evaporates, flowers will begin to dry, turning a pale lime green in the process. When fully dried (in several weeks), snip individual blossoms from flower heads to cluster in small vases.