Best grown in rich, medium moisture, well-drained soils in part shade. Tolerates full sun only if grown with consistently moist soils. Soil pH affects the flower color (blue in highly acidic soils and lilac to pink in slightly acidic to alkaline soils). Add aluminum sulfate to the soil to make the flowers bluer or add lime to the soil to make the flowers pinker. Begin soil treatments well in advance of flowering, as in late autumn or early spring. Bloom occurs on old wood. Prune after flowering by cutting back flowering stems to a pair of healthy buds. Prune out weak or winter-damaged stems in early spring. Winter hardy to USDA Zone 6. Can be grown in USDA Zone 5 with protection (e.g., mulch and burlap wrap), but may lose significant numbers of flower buds or die to the ground in harsh winters, thus respectively impairing or totally destroying the bloom for the coming year. Unlike most other H. macrophylla cultivars, ‘Dooley’ plants set flower buds at each node and will accordingly often bloom in summers where other macrophyllas lost flowering buds to harsh winter temperatures.
Big leaf hydrangea is a deciduous shrub with a rounded habit that, in the St. Louis area, typically grows 3-6’ tall and as wide unless damaged by harsh winters or pruned smaller. It generally features dark green, serrate, obovate to elliptic leaves (4-8” long) and large clusters of long-blooming summer flowers. Flowers appear in two types or groups: (1) LACECAP GROUP which features flattened flower clusters (corymbs) of small fertile florets with scattered showy sterile florets often forming a marginal ring, and (2) MOPHEAD or HORTENSIA GROUP which features rounded, globose, mophead-like clusters (corymbs) of mostly showy sterile florets. ‘Dooley’ is a mophead-like cultivar that is usually grown in acidic soils for its blue sterile florets. When grown in alkaline soils, florets appear pinker. Dark green, serrate, obovate to elliptic leaves (4-8” long). Blooms in July for up to two months. Cultivar name honors former Georgia football coach, Vince Dooley.
No serious insect or disease problems. Some susceptibility to bud blight, bacterial wilt, leaf spot and mildew. Aphids are occasional visitors. Notwithstanding its unique flowering buds, winter hardiness can still be a problem in the St. Louis area.
Group or mass in a sheltered location in the shrub border. Also a good specimen or accent for protected locations near homes or patios.