Bobo Hydrangeas: Dwarf Type Offers Compact Alternative

Good Choice for Small Yards

Bobo hydrangea (image) picks up a tinge of pink in August. The blooms are mainly white.
My Bobo hydrangea's sepals were already picking up a pink tinge by mid-August. David Beaulieu

Although marketed as "Bobo hydrangea," the taxonomy of this plant is actually given as Hydrangea paniculata 'Ilvobo.' That is, Ilvobo is the true cultivar name, not Bobo. It is a deciduous shrub. The information that follows is intended to:

  • Provide a brief description of the salient features of the shrub
  • Tell you of its growing requirements
  • Instruct you in its care
  • Discuss its place in the broader world of hydrangea bushes
  • Explain why this plant may be a good fit in some homeowners' landscape plans

Plant Description and Explanation of "Panicle" Hydrangeas

Bobo is said to be one of the "panicle" hydrangeas, a term related to the specific epithet indicated above: paniculata. The paniculata species is so called due to the fact that its inflorescences are grouped in panicles, that is, big flower heads composed of multiple branches.

Indeed, the attractive and prolific flower heads are one of the two biggest selling points for Bobo hydrangeas, the other being their compact size; their foliage holds little interest. If you grow multiple Bobos, you'll have enough to justify cutting off a flower head here and there to be brought indoors as a table decoration. The panicles reach at least 5 inches in length. Their shape is pyramidal.

The sepals of the flower heads open in July in my zone-5 garden, at which point they are white.

As the summer progresses, the white color fades some. As a trade-off, however, some pink starts to seep into the sepals by mid-August. This hint of pink intensifies in autumn.

Bobo is not one of those hydrangeas whose floral color is dependent on the characteristics of its soil. Its color is what it is, regardless of soil pH.

If you want to be able to manipulate the color of your hydrangeas, you want to grow H. macrophylla, not H. paniculata.

Bobo hydrangea is considered a dwarf, reaching about 3 feet tall with a similar spread. With pruning, it can be kept even more compact.

Growing Requirements

Choose a location where the soil can be kept moderately moist but drains well and where the bush will be in full sun to partial shade. A soil with generous amounts of humus will work best. Suggested planting zones for Bobo hydrangeas are 3-9.

Care: Pruning, Fertilizing

These shrubs bloom on new wood. Consequently, you should prune them in late winter or early spring. One advantage of shrubs that flower on new wood is that you don't have to worry about flower buds being killed off in a harsh winter.

You can fertilize Bobo hydrangeas in early spring. Growers typically apply a slow release fertilizer.

Bobo is said to have strong stems, but don't put too much stock in that claim. It will flop over after a good rain like any other hydrangea. That's because rainwater collects in those massive panicles. The weight is just too much -- regardless of what the gardening catalogs tell you. Of course, you can simply shake the water out of them later (or just wait for them to dry) to straighten them back out.

But if this bothers you, you could stake your bushes.

Other Kinds of Panicle Hydrangeas

Bobo isn't the only kind of panicle hydrangea. In fact, there are at least two other types that are far better known:

  1. 'Limelight'
  2. PeeGee

Limelight is so called for the chartreuse color of its sepals. Meanwhile, PeeGee is sometimes called the "tree hydrangea" -- an indication of the size it can achieve. It makes for quite a contrast in this regard with the dwarf, Bobo.

As already mentioned, another major group of hydrangeas is the macrophylla (bigleaf). You'll also hear, for example, of the "smooth" type, the oakleaf, and climbing hydrangeas.

Uses in Landscaping

Because of their compact size, Bobo hydrangeas are an excellent choice for small yards and/or tight spots. Likewise, they will grow just fine in containers.

In fact, when I first obtained mine, I hadn't yet allocated a space in my landscape for it, so a temporary home had to be found for it. My wife placed it in a window box, and, frankly, we more or less forgot about it. Happily, this tough little plant survived the New England winter in that window box, unprotected.

Other potential uses for it include:

  • In a woodland garden
  • In a low hedge (for example, where you want to break up the verticality of a fence without totally obscuring it)