The go-to blooms for summer (and winter), hydrangeas are as tricky as they are popular. Here's advice for making your hydrangeas the best on the block, regardless of the season.

The go-to blooms for summer (and winter), hydrangeas are as tricky as they are popular. Here's advice for making your hydrangeas the best on the block, regardless of the season.

Hydrangeas dazzle in summer, but their winter look has charm few plants equal.

"I love the winter structure" hydrangeas give the garden, says Nick McCullough ofMcCullough's Landscape & Nursery in New Albany. He uses a shrubby type, hydrangea paniculata, for hedges and mixed borders.Depending on variety, these blooms can grow several feet tall or be pruned into small trees.

Paniculata's hardy branches and blossoms are unfazed by cold. Their white or pink conical blooms color the summer garden as well as brighten the winter landscape, and the tan hue of dried blooms enhances other winter stalwarts, too. McCullough, for instance, pairs hydrangeas with red-twig dogwood, Lenten rose (hellebores) and winterberry holly for months of landscape sizzle.

Yet many people know only of the blue mopheads, hydrangea macrophylla. These thrive in many parts of the country and produce heart-stopping, billowy displays of blue or pink flowers.

"People travel to Cape Cod and Nantucket and want that," McCullough says of Central Ohioan's East Coast envy. While the plants grow locally, too, their cold-sensitive flower buds may be nipped by an early-fall chill, bitter winter or late-spring freeze. Ill-timed pruning also reduces or eliminates flowers.

Fortunately for mophead fans, breeders continue tinkering to produce tougher plants. A leap forward came with the discovery of what is now called Endless Summer. In addition to cold tolerance, the plant produces flowers regardless of temperature readings.

"Endless Summer is probably one of the best things since sliced bread," says Mary Stowe, a nursery manager at Oakland Nursery's Columbus store. An Endless Summer plant in her garden froze to the ground last winter, "but the roots were alive. It still bloomed."

Somewhat similar in appearance and reliability is Annabelle and her relatives in the hydrangea arborescens clan. This specie's enormous white flowers are sometimes 12 inches across, while other varieties are lime green or pink. A newer white variety, Incrediball, has thicker stems less likely to flop under the weight of flowers. (Both macrophylla and arborescens prefer morning sun and appreciate some dappled afternoon shade.)

Those with somewhat shady gardens should look to oakleaf types, hydrangea quercifolia. This North America native grows on the fringes of woods and produces long, conical white flowers that change to cream, green or pink (depending on variety) before drying to beige.

The leaves resemble those found on red oak trees and, when autumn turns the dark green to burgundy and red, the foliage is almost as stunning as the flowers. Branches and twigs are covered with tan bark that naturally peels away to reveal cinnamon-colored stems that are spectacular in winter.

Hydrangeas are also somewhat deer-resistant and overachievers when brought indoors, too. Their fresh and dried flowers are prized by floral designers and craftspeople alike.

Few landscape plants generate such beautiful, long-lasting and dependable returns on your landscape dollars as hydrangeas.