Best grown in rich, medium moisture, well-drained soils in part shade. Tolerates full sun only if grown in 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. Plants generally need little pruning. If needed, prune immediately after flowering by cutting back flowering stems to a pair of healthy buds. Prune out weak or winter-damaged stems in late winter/early spring. Best to mulch plants year-round with 3" of shredded bark, peat or compost. Winter hardy to USDA Zone 6. For added protection, however, plants grown in USDA Zone 5 should be sited in sheltered locations and given additional winter protection, as needed, for the purposes of minimizing the risk of loss of significant numbers of flower buds or possible die-back to the ground in an extremely harsh winter. A burlap wrap of stems or circle of chicken wire filled with leaves or straw to 8-12" are time-consuming and visually unattractive landscape options, but can be effective. Regardless of protective measures taken, bigleaf hydrangeas simply will not bloom (or will bloom poorly) in some years because of a variety of winter occurrences beyond the control of the gardener (e.g. low temperatures, sudden wide temperature fluctuations, icy conditions, late frosts).
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.
Hydrangea macrophylla, commonly called 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 serrate, obovate to elliptic, dark green leaves (4-8” long) and large clusters of long-blooming summer flowers in either lacecap form (flattened flower clusters of small fertile florets with scattered showy sterile florets often forming a marginal ring) or mophead form (globose flower clusters of mostly showy sterile florets).
Genus name comes from hydor meaning water and aggeion meaning vessel in reference to the cup-like capsular fruit.
Specific epithet comes from the Greek words makros meaning large and phyllon meaning leaf in reference to plant leaves.
‘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.
Group or mass in the shrub border. Also a good specimen or accent for foundations and other locations near homes or patios. Hedge. Containers.