The Beautiful, but Not-So-Familiar, Mountain Hydrangea

Hydrangea serrata ‘Beni-Gaku’ is a lacecap variety of mountain hydrangea with bracts that take on a reddish hue as they mature. Photo of specimen in the UT Gardens, Knoxville, by A. Pulte, courtesy UTIA.

UT Gardens’ June 2020 Plant of the Month

Submitted by Andy Pulte, University of Tennessee Department of Plant Sciences

The mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata) has always been relegated to playing second fiddle behind the more popular and lauded mophead hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla).  However, over the last several years at the State Botanical Gardens of Tennessee (particularly at the UT Gardens, Knoxville), we have simply fallen in love with this understated beauty. And why not? There is a lot to love about this seldom featured hydrangea species. 

A recent stop at a local big box store revealed a large selection of the aforementioned Hydrangea macrophylla, but no Hydrangea serrata werein sight. So, you may need to seek this plant out online or at an independent garden center. This will give you access to some of the best cultivars available. Look for cultivars including ‘Beni-Gaku,’ ‘Blue Billow,’ ‘Purple Tears,’ ‘Blue Deckle’ and the H. serrata series Tuff Stuff.

Hydrangea serrata is native to Japan and Korea and tends to be a stockier plant then H. macrophylla. It loves a morning sun/afternoon shade spot in your garden and will reward the adequate application of moisture with bountiful blooms. In fact, you can sneak this plant into even sunnier spots if soils remain moist. 

As a general rule, you don’t grow hydrangeas for the foliage. Flower power is the main appeal. Mountain hydrangea will not disappoint. In early June, flowers will cover plants from top to bottom. Most notable cultivars are “lacecap” types. Lacecap hydrangeas have open centers containing fertile flowers. This is a real positive trait, as lacecaps tend to attract more pollinators. 

You will find mountain hydrangeas at all three UT Garden locations across the state. The gardens in Crossville, which traditionally have more challenges with hydrangeas, report H. serrata is a more consistent bloomer for their location than H. macrophylla. With a few exceptions, H. serrata blooms on old wood and needs very little pruning. Some newer cultivars have the ability to bloom on both the last and current season’s growth. 

If mountain hydrangea is new to you, it might be worth a try this year. Planning now and planting in early fall would be ideal if you wish to add one to your garden. This hydrangea is sure to bring years of beautiful blooms to your garden.

The UT Gardens includes plant collections located in Knoxville, Crossville and Jackson. Designated as the official botanical garden for the State of Tennessee, the collections are part of the UT Institute of Agriculture. The Gardens’ mission is to foster appreciation, education and stewardship of plants through garden displays, educational programs and research trials. The Gardens are open during all seasons and free to the public. For more information, see the Gardens website:

About Brad Jones

Brad is the Owner/Operator of BBB TV 12, and has been with the company since August of 1996. Brad is a 1987 graduate of Coalfield High School and a 1995 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Communications. He won the 1995 broadcast production student of the year award. Brad worked at Shop at Home, Inc. a home shopping network that was located in Knoxville, TN from 1993 - 1995 and then at Via TV (RSTV, Inc.) from 1995 - 1996. After some freelance work in Nashville, Brad joined the BBB Communications staff in August of 1996. A short stint at WVLT TV as a news photographer was in 2001, but he continued to work at BBB TV as well. Brad is married to Nicole Jenkins Jones, a 1990 graduate of Oak Ridge High School, who works at Oak Ridge Gastroenterology and Associates in Oak Ridge. They have 3 kids, Trevor Bogard, 27, Chandler 22, and Naomi 13. On December 12, 2013 they welcomed their first grandchild, Carter Ryan Bogard. Brad is also the assistant boys basketball coach at Coalfield High School for the past 11 years. In 2013-14 the Yellow Jackets won their first district title since 1991 and just the 4th in school history.

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