Not many garden shrubs can provide the punch of summer color that hydrangeas do year after year. Although most varieties prefer partial to full shade, there are selections appropriate for most locations.

Compare Hydrangea Types

‘Endless Summer’ starts blooming early and keeps producing flowers (on new and old wood) throughout the season. Photo by: Susan A. Roth.

Botanical name:

Hydrangea macrophylla

Zones:

5-9

Height/Spread:

6-10 feet/6-10 feet

Exposure:

Part to full shade. Full sun only with consistently moist soil.

Color:

White to pink, blue, purple

Bloom time:

June to October

Pruning:

Generally needs little pruning, just tidying up. Remove dead wood as spring growth begins, being careful of flower buds.

Other:


  • Sometimes called French hydrangea.
  • Newer varieties bloom on old and new growth, and older cultivars bloom on old wood.
  • Flower color depends on soil composition (see Flower Color)
  • Good for cut flowers.
  • Two flower types: Mophead with large globe-shaped flower heads, and lacecap with flattened head of small flowers surrounded by larger flowers.
  • Common selections: Endless Summer, ‘Nikko Blue’, ‘Tokyo Delight’, Pistachio

'Annabelle' is graced with huge white flower heads for two months in summer. Photo by: Karin Jaehne / Shutterstock.com.

Botanical name:

Hydrangea arborescens

Zones:

3-9

Height/Spread:

3-5 feet/3-5 feet

Exposure:

Part shade. Full sun only in consistently moist soil.

Color:

White to pink

Bloom time:

June to September

Pruning:

Prune close to the ground every other year in late winter to keep neat and encourage new growth.

Other:


  • Blooms on new growth.
  • Intolerant of drought.
  • May die to the ground in harsh winter.
  • Native to Eastern North America
  • Common selections: ‘Annabelle’, Incrediball, Invincibelle Spirit

The flowers of ‘Limelight’ start off green, then change to white, finally turning pink when the season segues from summer into fall. Photo by: Dmitry Trubitsyn / Shutterstock.com.

Botanical name:

Hydrangea paniculata

Zones:

3-8

Height/Spread:

8-15 feet/6-12 feet

Exposure:

Full sun to part shade.

Color:

White

Bloom time:

July to September

Pruning:

Prune as needed in late winter/early spring, promotes larger flower clusters.

Other:


  • Blooms on new growth.
  • The most winter hardy variety.
  • Cone-shaped flower heads.
  • Common selections: ‘Limelight’, Pinky Winky, Vanilla Strawberry, Bobo, Little Quick Fire, ‘Grandiflora’ (commonly called PeeGee)

In addition to handsome oaklike foliage and attractively peeling silvery brown bark, Snow Flake features footlong, pyramidal, drooping heads of sterile flowers that look like stacked stars. Photo by: Lee Anne White.

Botanical name:

Hydrangea quercifolia

Zones:

5-9

Height/Spread:

6-8 feet/6-8 feet

Exposure:

Full sun to part shade.

Color:

White to purple/pink

Bloom time:

July to September

Pruning:

Prune after flowering as needed, cut back winter-damaged stems in early spring.

Other:


  • Blooms on old wood.
  • Native to the US, found in woodlands throughout the Southeast.
  • Good fall color, flowers change from creamy white to dark rose and leaves to a combination of orange, yellow, red, purple, and burgundy.
  • Common selections: ‘Pee Wee’, ‘Ruby Slippers’, Snow Flake

Expect a summer show of creamy white, fragrant lacecap flowers draped along layered branches. Photo by: MBP-Plants / Alamy Stock Photo.

Botanical name:

Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris

Zones:

5-9

Height/Spread:

30-40 feet/5-6 feet (grown upright)

Exposure:

Part to full shade.

Color:

White

Bloom time:

May to June

Pruning:

Prune lightly after the vine is done flowering to control its height and width. Heavy pruning to rejuvenate a damaged plant should be done in late winter or early spring.

Other:


  • Can cover up to 200 square feet if unsupported and grown along the ground.
  • Grow against walls (brick, stone, or wood), on arbors, fences, trunks of large trees, over low walls or tree stumps.
  • Common selection: ‘Miranda’

Photo by: Mr. Megapixel / Alamy Stock Photo.

Botanical name:

Hydrangea serrata

Zones:

6-9

Height/Spread:

2-4 feet/2-4 feet

Exposure:

Part shade

Color:

Pink or blue

Bloom time:

June to August

Pruning:

Prune after flowering as needed, cut back winter-damaged stems in early spring.

Other:


  • Blooms on old wood.
  • Similar to H. macrophylla (lacecap varieties), but more compact, with smaller flowers and leaves.
  • Good choice for container planting due to its size.
  • Common selections: ‘Blue Billow’, Tuff Stuff, ‘Bluebird’

Growing & Caring for Hydrangeas

When to Plant:

Container-purchased hydrangeas should be planted in spring or fall.

Pruning:

Many hydrangeas don’t need major pruning. Most need just enough to keep them tidy by removing old flowers and dead stems, some trimming to improve the shrub’s structure or shape, or to open up the shrub to let in sunlight and air. Flower head size can be related to pruning, as with more aggressive pruning, shoots will be more vigorous and flower heads will be larger and fewer. With less aggressive pruning, or tip-pruning, flowering is encouraged farther down the stem and can result in more numerous, but smaller flower heads. See above for variety specifics and also How to Prune Hydrangeas.

Soil:

All hydrangeas like well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Soil composition can affect the flower color of H. macrophylla and H. serrata (see Flower Color). Other varieties can tolerate a range of soil alkalinity.

Amendments:

Mulch with organic material annually. A slow release 10-10-10 chemical fertilizer with thorough watering before and after applying is also an option.

Water:

Hydrangeas like to be kept moist, but not wet. Don’t let them dry out. Container hydrangeas may need daily watering. Add mulch to help keep soil moist.

Diseases and pests:

Hydrangeas are generally not affected by serious disease or insect problems; however, many species may be susceptible to some bud blight, bacterial wilt, leaf spot, or mildew. Keep an eye out for aphids and mites, and treat as needed.

Flower color:

One characteristic of hydrangeas that continues to puzzle gardeners is flower color. Flower color can be changed only on specific species of hydrangea, mainly those related to H. macrophylla or H. serrata. The common thought is that flower color is related to the pH of the soil. However, as Michael Dirr explains in his book Hydrangeas for American Gardens, the color is not determined by the pH, per se, but the amount of aluminum a plant can access in the soil — which is determined by pH and phosphorus levels. A lower pH allows aluminum to be soluble and absorbed by plants (unless phosphorus is high), and the flowers tend to be blue. A higher pH locks up the aluminum and the flowers tend to be pink. Shades of cream to green can also be seen when blooms first open, and tones can change as flowers age.

Here’s how you can adjust your soil to affect the bloom color:

  • Soil pH 5.5 and lower = Blue
  • Soil pH 6.5 and higher = Pink/purple
  • Soil pH 5.5-6.5 = Purple or both blue & pink
  • Add aluminum sulfate to soil to make flowers bluer.
  • Add lime to soil to make flowers pinker.
  • This should be done well in advance of flowering, in late autumn or early spring.

Hydrangea Pictures

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Lee Anne White.

HYDRANGEA INVOLUCRATA

Although not obvious in this picture, Hydrangea involucrata bears pleasingly fuzzy leaves. These offer an attractive backdrop for the open, airy lacecap clusters of pale blue to pink-mauve fertile flowers punctuated by a few showier, sterile ones. To 3 feet tall and twice as wide.

Photo by: Susan A. Roth.

HYDRANGEA MACROPHYLLA ENDLESS SUMMER™

Without question the hottest hydrangea in the trade. Unlike most macrophyllas, ‘Endless Summer’ starts blooming early and keeps producing flowers (on new and old wood) throughout the season. New enough that its ultimate height isn’t well-documented; may reach 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.

Photo by: Lee Anne White.

HYDRANGEA PANICULATA ‘LIMELIGHT’

Similar to the ‘Grandiflora’ (PeeGee) types, ‘Limelight’ goes one step beyond the others with its big clusters of lime-green flowers that age to white. Expect a mature plant to reach 10 feet high by 6 feet wide. Hardier than many hydrangeas, to Zone 4.

Photo by: Lee Anne White.

HYDRANGEA MACROPHYLLA ‘MME. FAUSTIN TRAVOUILLON’

Somewhat smaller than loftier macrophylla types at about 4 feet tall, it flowers freely and over a long season. Blooms are dark pink in low-aluminum soils. Also known as ‘Peacock’.

Photo by: Lee Anne White.

HYDRANGEA MACROPHYLLA ‘BRUNETTE’

Always richly colored, whether aluminum is available in the soil (flowers in shades of blue and purple) or not (flowers red). Not as tall or vigorous as many of its kin, making it a good choice for containers.

Photo by: Lee Anne White.

HYDRANGEA MACROPHYLLA ‘MARÉCHAL FOCH’

Though less cold-hardy than many macrophyllas, the profusion of saturated rose-pink mopheads of ‘Maréchal Foch’ makes it a favorite as an indoor plant in cooler regions.

Photo by: Lee Anne White.

HYDRANGEA QUERCIFOLIA ‘SNOWFLAKE’

Handsome oaklike foliage and attractively peeling silvery brown bark are reasons enough to plant any quercifolia, but this selection also features footlong, pyramidal, drooping heads of sterile flowers that look like stacked stars. Expect it to reach 8 feet tall and nearly as wide.

Photo by: Lee Anne White.

HYDRANGEA MACROPHYLLA ‘KARDINAL’

In the presence of soil aluminum, the intricate lacecap flowers bear small fertile mauve flowers contained within a circlet of large, dark pink sterile flowers, as seen here. The entire cluster becomes red in the absence of aluminum. Less cold-hardy than other macrophyllas. About 3 feet tall.

Photo by: Lee Anne White.

HYDRANGEA MACROPHYLLA ‘GIMPEL’

Fully mature flower heads show a strong contrast of white fertile flowers and pink sterile ones. Among the newer selections (introduced in 1986) and not as cold-hardy as some. Vigorous plants mature at less than 4 feet high.

Photo by: Lee Anne White.

HYDRANGEA MACROPHYLLA ‘NIGRA’

Although the pink or pale blue flowers are of some interest, grow this hydrangea more for its striking black stems. Extra fertilizer and routine removal of older shoots encourages stronger, darker new growth. Can grow 3 feet tall and almost twice as wide.

Photo by: Lee Anne White.

HYDRANGEA MACROPHYLLA ‘TOKYO DELIGHT’

White lacecaps gradually turn pink as the season progresses. Has an attractive upright plant habit, and the dark green leaves acquire red and purple shades in autumn. Spotted stems offer additional visual interest. Under 5 feet tall.

Landscape Design Tips

Hydrangeas can play many roles in the garden, from hedges and screens to container plants. They especially shine in borders because they “play so well with others,” says Cheryl Whalen, head gardener at White Flower Farm. “But,” Whalen adds, “hydrangeas are also excellent solo performers,” which is good news for gardeners with small spaces.

  • White-flowered selections create the illusion of snowballs in summer.
  • Mass pink and blue types with similarly-colored garden phlox (Phlox paniculata selections) and lilies for a visual confection of candy colors.
  • Blue selections look like sapphires against a gray wall or set alongside a slate patio.
  • Bigleaf selections make imposing container plants - feature a pair in large urns.
  • Panicle selections can be maintained as good-sized “trees” in large pots. Remember hydrangeas in containers will need extra watering.
  • Oakleaf hydrangeas are the boldest and have the coarsest texture, lending visual strength to shrub borders and woodland plantings.

Floral Design Tips

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