Try Bobo Hydrangeas, a Dwarf Type That Offers a Compact Alternative

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

Known for its large clusters of white flowers, Bobo hydrangea is considered a dwarf, reaching only about 3 feet tall with a similar spread. With pruning, it can be kept even more compact. 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 that works well for a variety of landscape uses.

Flowers and Foliage

Bobo is said to be one of the "panicle" hydrangeas, which have flowers that are grouped in panicles, or 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 flowers 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 are white when they first open in mid-summer, but the color fades somewhat as the summer progresses. As a trade-off, however, some pink starts to appear in 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.

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 works best. Suggested USDA plant hardiness zones for Bobo hydrangeas are 3 through 9.

Pruning and 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, just 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 can stake your bushes to help keep them upright when wet.

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. These are the "Limelight," named for the chartreuse color of its sepals, and PeeGee, sometimes called the "tree hydrangea" because it can grow very tall. Another major group of hydrangeas is the macrophylla (bigleaf), commonly known as "snowball" hydrangea, as well as the popular oakleaf and climbing hydrangeas.

Uses in Landscaping

Because of their compact size, Bobo hydrangeas are an excellent choice for small yards and tight spots. Likewise, they will grow just fine in containers. Other common uses for Bobo hydrangea include planting it in a woodland garden or creating a low hedge—for example, where you want to break up the verticality of a fence without totally obscuring it.