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Tardiva is a late summer star in Charlotte

By Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. I killed weeds in a bare spot under trees. Now it is blank. I am considering one of the pretty ajugas to use as ground cover. What do you think?

    Modern varieties of ajuga such as Burgundy Glow, Chocolate Chip and Bronze Beauty are very serviceable ground covers and offer a pretty alternative to grass. They produce new growth early each spring, which looks good through the year. They bloom, and the blooms can be quite pretty, though it isn’t the main reason to plant ajuga, also called carpet bugle. Plants spread nicely, even in the difficult condition of dry shade, provided they are watered during the early weeks while they get established.

Some of you only know hydrangeas as the lovely shrubs bearing blue or pink flowers in early summer. They are very pretty, but, alas, the pretty globes too soon turn green, then brown.

These are the popular garden hydrangeas, often called mop head hydrangea or florist hydrangea, the latter because they are sold in pots, with a pretty wrap and bow, for Mother’s Day.

But there is more to hydrangeas. This month, a plant that you may not even recognize as a hydrangea has been very beautiful. It is named Tardiva and the plants are really standing out in their late-summer glory.

Tardiva belongs to the species named Hydrangea paniculata. It has been around a long time, but only in recent years has it begun to show up more widely in home landscapes.

It is not a small shrub, but almost treelike as it rises rapidly to about 6 feet, possibly higher.

This plant should be better known because it has some important assets.

Tardiva is not fussy about soil or water. It prefers part shade to full sun and I have seen it growing splendidly in both levels of sunshine.

Its pruning requirements are fairly simple. It blooms on new growth, which means it can be pruned and trained to a pleasing height and shape in late winter, before it breaks dormancy and the leaves emerge. This seasonal pruning will encourage a fuller plant that is more attractive. Left unpruned, you risk a rather vertical, leggy plant with fewer blooms.

Its major asset is the lacy flowers, opening white in August and lasting into September. Their shape is interesting and lovely. The individual florets are arranged in a cone-shaped bloom and unfold in rings starting at the bottom of the bloom. As they age, the flowers develop a pinkish tint.

This is a particularly beautiful plant for an area where you are inclined to sit in the late evening to enjoy the cooler air and the arrival of darkness, earlier than just a few weeks ago.

The white flowers, of course, stand out in the low light and emerging darkness, the same way the big white blooms of Natchez crape myrtles do.

Natchez, of course, has an extremely long flowering season, still in bloom after several months. But Tardiva, opening up in late summer, is a delightful surprise for August.

Because of the popularity of mop heads as Mother’s Day gifts, Tardiva is unlikely to compete with it in the landscape.

People do a lot of plant shopping in spring, when Tardiva doesn’t show off its major beauty the way azaleas, forsythia and other spring bloomers do.

So remember the name: Tardiva. It’s a star for late summer.
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