Hydrangeas are popular shrubs that bloom colorful flowers through summer and into fall. They usually bloom in shades of blue, purple, and pink, with some selections in white, green, or red. Most hydrangea bushes are easy to grow in Zones 3-9 and prefer partial shade.

On this page: Hydrangea Basics | Planting | Care | Pictures | Landscaping with Hydrangea | Floral Design

HYDRANGEA BASICS

Hydrangeas are popular summer-flowering shrubs that are easy to grow and care for. Pictured: 'Limelight' Photo by: Proven Winners.

Zones:

Varieties of hydrangea suitable for zones 3-9.

Height/Spread:

The mature size of a hydrangea differs depending on the variety. Some are as small as 3-feet tall and wide, while others can reach 15-feet tall and 12-feet wide.

Exposure:

Most hydrangea plants bloom best in part shade, but some will tolerate full shade or full sun. The amount of sun hydrangeas can handle depends on your location—in areas further north they can take more sun, while further south they prefer just a few hours of morning sunlight.

Bloom time:

Hydrangeas usually bloom in summer, with some blooming earlier in the season and some later (and if you’re lucky, possibly even into fall).

Flower color:

Most bloom in shades of blue, purple or pink, but there are also white, green, and even some red varieties. Many hydrangeas will open one color and then change colors as they age. Additionally, the flower color of certain hydrangea flowers (mainly bigleaf or mountain hydrangea varieties) can be manipulated to be more blue, pink or purple depending on soil composition and soil pH levels. Learn more about how to change the color of some hydrangeas.

Types of hydrangea:

There are six main types of hydrangeas:

  • Bigleaf or French hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
  • Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
  • Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)
  • Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)
  • Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)
  • Mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata)

Additionally, there is a wide variety of characteristics to choose from: standard-size shrubs, smaller dwarf varieties, or taller tree-like forms. You can also choose from four distinct flower shapes: lacecap, panicle, mophead or snowball. There are also types that bloom on old wood, types that bloom on new wood, and types that bloom on both, often referred to as “reblooming” or “remontant” hydrangeas.

Compare the sizes, light needs and bloom time of the different hydrangea types and determine which ones meet your gardening needs.

Toxicity:

Leaves and flower buds can be seriously harmful to dogs and cats if eaten. See more Common Poisonous Plants for Dogs and Cats.

PLANTING HYDRANGEAS

Growing hydrangeas successfully starts with the planting process. It's all about timing, location and healthy soil.

When to plant hydrangeas:

Container-purchased hydrangeas should be planted in spring or fall. Make sure there is no threat of frost when you plant your hydrangeas.

Where to plant hydrangeas:

Keep reading for some suggestions on how to find the right spot for planting your hydrangea.

  • In general, the best location for a hydrangea is a spot in your garden that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. If you live further north, hydrangeas will tolerate more sun (possibly even full sun all day).
  • Make sure to account for the mature size of the hydrangea when selecting a spot for planting—give your plant plenty of room to grow.
  • Pick an area of your garden that has excellent drainage. Amend the soil with compost if necessary.
  • Do not plant hydrangeas beneath a tree—the root competition and lack of sunlight will prevent them from thriving.
  • Avoid planting hydrangeas in exposed areas where gusty winds could snap stems.
How to Plant Hydrangeas

How to plant hydrangeas:

To get your hydrangea off to a healthy start, amend your soil with up to 15% organic matter and an all-purpose slow-release fertilizer (use half of what is recommended). Plant hydrangeas slightly higher than they were in the nursery container. The planting hole should be 2 to 3 times wider than the root ball to give the roots plenty of room for expansion. If the roots appear to be bound, loosen them gently before planting. Finish up by backfilling with the amended soil and then water well. If you are planting a grouping of hydrangeas, space them at least 3 feet apart (more if they are larger varieties).

Planting hydrangeas in pots:

When planting a hydrangea in a pot use a bagged potting mix rather than garden soil. Mix in a slow-release fertilizer and make sure to leave 1 to 2 inches between the top of the soil and the rim of the pot for watering. Make sure the pot you use has drainage holes and is big enough that your hydrangea has room to grow.

CARE & PRUNING HYDRANGEAS

If you wait until spring to prune your mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla), be careful not to remove the new buds that are forming. Photo by: Dorling Kindersley ltd / Alamy Stock Photo.

Pruning hydrangeas:

Many hydrangeas don’t need major pruning. Most need just enough to keep them tidy by removing old flowers and dead stems, improve the shrub’s structure or shape, or to open it up to let sun and air in.

Flower head size can be related to pruning. With more aggressive pruning, shoots will be more vigorous and flower heads will be larger and fewer. Less aggressive or tip pruning can result in smaller but more numerous flower heads.

How and when to prune depends on the type of hydrangea you are growing. You’ll need to determine whether your plant blooms on old wood, new wood, or both before proceeding to prune.

Learn more here: 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. Other varieties can tolerate a range of soil alkalinity.

Learn more here: Changing Hydrangea Color.

Amendments:

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

Watering hydrangeas:

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. Japanese beetles can be a problem on oakleaf hydrangeas.

Why is my hydrangea not blooming?

There are a few reasons why your hydrangea might not be blooming as expected. This problem is most prevalent with types that bloom on old wood, or last year’s growth. First, you may have pruned at the wrong time and inadvertently removed the stems that would have produced flowers. Second, the flower buds may have been damaged by a hard frost. Some gardeners cover their hydrangeas during cold snaps if they think this may be any issue. Finally, the lack of flowers could be caused by too much shade or over-fertilizing.

Learn more in this video: Why Didn't My Hydrangea Bloom?


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HYDRANGEA PICTURES — VARIETIES TO GROW

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Photo by: Proven Winners.

'LIMELIGHT'Buy now from Proven Winners
Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata)

Zone: 3-9
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 6-8 feet tall & wide
Bloom time: Late summer through fall
Flower color: Lime green to white

Large, football-shaped clusters of lime-green flowers age to white and make excellent cut flowers, fresh or dried. Hardier than many hydrangeas, ‘Limelight’ isn’t fazed by winter temperatures to Zone 3. Use as a flowering hedge or screen, as a single specimen, or in a large container.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

INCREDIBALL®Buy now from Proven Winners
Smooth hydrangea (H. arborescens)

Zone: 3-8
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 4-5 feet tall & wide
Bloom time: Summer
Flower color: White

An improved version of the garden favorite ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea, with stronger stems to hold the enormous snowball blooms. Blooms open white and age to jade green. Plant a row of this easy-to-grow, North American native shrub for an impressive hedge, or highlight a single plant as a showy summer centerpiece. Also available in blush.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

PINKY WINKY®Buy now from Proven Winners
Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata)

Zone: 3-8
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 6-8 feet tall & wide
Bloom time: Mid-summer to fall
Flower color: White to pink

This whimsically-named hydrangea is easy to grow, adaptable to most soils and both sun and shade. Blooms open white and turn to pink as the seasons change. The flower panicles continue to grow, producing more white flowers at the tips, resulting in two-toned blooms up to 16 inches in length.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

QUICK FIRE®Buy now from Proven Winners
Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata)

Zone: 3-8
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 6-8 feet tall & wide
Bloom time: Mid-summer to fall
Flower color: White to dark pink

Flowers open white, then turn pink before finally deepening to a dark rosy-pink in the fall. Quick Fire® blooms earlier than other panicle hydrangeas and continues to bloom, giving you months of flowers. You’ll also get a bonus round of color on this hydrangea with gold and burgundy fall foliage. There’s also a dwarf form, Little Quick Fire® that grows 3-5 feet tall and wide.

Photo by: Ellen McKnight / Shutterstock.com.

ENDLESS SUMMER®
Bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla 'Balimer')

Zone: 4-9
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 3-5 feet tall & wide
Bloom time: Late spring until fall
Flower color: Blue in acidic soil, pink in alkaline soil

Unlike most H. macrophyllas, ‘Endless Summer’ starts blooming early and keeps blooming throughout the season. Showy flowers make excellent cut flowers.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

INVINCIBELLE® RUBYBuy now from Proven Winners
Smooth hydrangea (H. arborescens)

Zone: 3-8
Exposure: Sun
Height/Spread: 3-4 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide
Bloom time: Summer
Flower color: Pink to red

Bright ruby red and silvery pink flowers that bloom on strong stems set this hydrangea apart. Extra dark foliage adds to its richness. Other reliable rebloomers available in the Invincibelle® series are: Spirit II, Mini Mauvette, Wee White, and Limetta.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

LET'S DANCE® BLUE JANGLES®Buy now from Proven Winners
Bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla)

Zone: 5-9
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 1-2 feet tall, 2-3 feet wide
Bloom time: Summer
Flower color: Blue in acidic soil, pink in alkaline soil

The oversized mophead blooms of the Let’s Dance series are set on old wood and again on new wood, giving you more flowers over a longer period of time. The large blooms on Blue Jangles® will readily turn blue in acidic soil and vivid pink in more alkaline soil. Others available in the Let’s Dance® series include Diva!, Rhythmic Blue®, Starlight, Rave® and Big Easy® — and all have varied colors depending on soil pH.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

BOBO®Buy now from Proven Winners
Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata)

Zone: 3-8
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 3 feet tall, 3-4 feet wide
Bloom time: Summer to fall
Flower color: White to pink

This compact variety has white blooms that turn pink as they age. Its strong stems hold the large flower heads without flopping over, and numerous blooms will cover the entire plant. Bobo® blooms on new wood, so should be pruned in late winter or early spring, if needed. This dwarf selection is perfect for containers or small areas.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

FIRE LIGHT®Buy now from Proven Winners
Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata)

Zone: 3-8
Exposure: Part sun to sun
Height/Spread: 6-8 feet tall & wide
Bloom time: Summer
Flower color: White to red

The blooms on Fire Light® emerge white and age to a vivid red. This exceptionally hardy hydrangea is also easy to grow and has sturdy stems. Fire Light® blooms on new wood and should be pruned in late winter or early spring, if needed.

Photo by: ANGHI / Shutterstock.com.

'NIKKO BLUE'
Bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla)

Zone: 5-9
Exposure: Part sun
Height/Spread: 4-6 feet tall & wide
Bloom time: Early summer
Flower color: Blue in acidic soil, pinkish hue in alkaline soil

An excellent choice for mixed borders or as a single accent plant. Plant in semi-shaded areas and enjoy abundant, showy flowers. ‘Nikko Blue’ blooms on old wood and should be pruned just after flowering.

Photo by: My Rubio Garden / Shutterstock.com.

VANILLA STRAWBERRY™
Panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata)

Zone: 4-8
Exposure: Sun to part shade
Height/Spread: 6-7 feet tall & wide
Bloom time: Mid-summer to fall
Flower color: White to strawberry red

Creamy white flowers bloom on red stems in mid-summer, but then turn pink to red as the seasons change and nights get cooler. All three colors can be noted on the plant at the same time.

LANDSCAPING WITH HYDRANGEAS

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 varieties 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 varieties look like sapphires against a gray wall or set alongside a slate patio.
  • Bigleaf hydrangeas make imposing container plants - feature a pair in large urns.
  • Panicle hydrangeas can be maintained as good-sized “trees” in large pots. Remember hydrangeas in containers will need extra watering. Learn how to grow a hydrangea tree.
  • Oakleaf hydrangeas are the boldest and have the coarsest texture, lending visual strength to shrub borders and woodland plantings.

FLORAL DESIGN

Last updated: May 3, 2019

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