Hydrangeas (Hydrangea spp.) are among the most commonly planted flowers for lightly shaded areas. The best known are the bigleaf varieties (Hydrangea macrophylla), generally hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 9. Among the bigleaf hydrangeas, "lacecap" varieties are most often variegated, but the trait may also show up in other hydrangea species. Variegated leaves usually combine two colors, either shades of cream and green or contrasting green hues.
"Maculata" (Hydrangea macrophylla "Maculata"), hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9, features large, oval-shaped green leaves with white edges. The lacecap flowers contain small, fertile flowers surrounded by a border of large, sterile ones, giving a lace-like appearance. Like many macrophyllas, "Maculata" flowers are blue in acid soil and pink in alkaline soil. Hardy in the same zones as "Maculata," "Lemon Wave" (Hydrangea macrophylla "Lemon Wave") bears toothed, ovoid leaves with dark green centers and a wide band of ivory-yellow on the edges. The plant grows 3 to 6 feet tall.
2. Climbing Hydrangea
Another species with at least one variegated variety is climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8 or 9. Cllimbing between 30 and 50 feet, the "Miranda" variety (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris "Miranda") features dark green leaves with a lighter green band around the edges. Blooming in May, "Miranda" also bears fragrant white lacecap flowers, which do not change color according to soil pH; as well as red-brown exfoliating bark for winter interest. "Miranda" and all climbing hydrangeas need strong supports for their woody stems.
In recent years plant breeders have developed bigleaf hydrangea varieties that bloom on both old and new wood, meaning that the plants will flower in early and late summer. One of the rebloomers, "Light-o-Day" (Hydrangea macrophylla "Light-o-Day"), hardy in zones 5 through 8, features green leaves with white edges. The plant is compact, growing 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide, and bears blue or pink lacecap flowers. "Light-o-Day" may not flower as profusely as nonvariegated repeat bloomers, but does provide a second flush of flowers.
Hydrangeas thrive in light shade with consistently moist soil. Irrigate with soaker hoses during dry periods. It is possible to change bloom color in bigleaf varieties by adding lime for pink flowers and aluminum sulfate for blue ones. This should be done in late fall or early spring, with the amendment of choice worked into the soil around the plant's roots. Prune hydrangeas in fall, after they have bloomed, cutting back stems to a point above a healthy bud. In spring, prune only to remove dead wood, as more rigorous pruning will prevent once-blooming plants from flowering.