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All About Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are beautiful shrubs that grow in a variety of forms. Because they are widely adapted and grow in USDA hardiness zone 3 to 9, they can be used in many locations.

Plant hydrangeas as shrubs around your home. Plant them in mixed shrub or perennial flower borders to add some color and stature to the garden. Use them to create a focal point in the lawn, especially the tree forms. Grow hydrangeas along the forest edge to provide a nice transition to a wooded area. Plant hydrangeas to grow up a shady wall or side of the house. As you can see, the uses of hydrangeas are almost endless.

Blue and White Mophead Hydrangea
Hydrangea comes from the Greek meaning “water vessel”. This is appropriate since they all need a moderate amount of water to grow their best.

Hydrangeas do grow well on clay soils, but will struggle on sandy soils unless they have been amended with mulch and extra water.

All hydrangeas grow best in part shade. Though some will grow in full shade, the flowering will be reduced.

All About Hydrangea: Origins

Many hydrangeas originally hail from Asia and there are some natives in the Americas as well. Of the 75 different species of hydrangeas, only a handful are commonly used for landscaping and gardening. While some can be evergreen, most are deciduous. Before selecting a hydrangea for your yard, you should learn about which one will best fit into your landscape.

white hydrangea incrediball in bloom
Snowball Hydrangeas, like Incrediball, show off their huge, fluffy blooms throughout the season.

All About Hydrangea: Varieties and Uses

The smooth hydrangea is an herbaceous, shrubby 3 to 5 ft tall plant that grows quickly in spring from the ground, or from cut-back stems. It produces large white flowers in mid-summer that are so heavy they fall to the ground. 'Annabelle' is the most common of the smooth hydrangeas. Newer varieties such as 'Invincibelle Spirit' feature pink-colored blossoms with stiffer stems that don't need as much support to keep the flowers off the ground. Smooth hydrangeas bloom on new wood each spring, so are very winter hardy to zone 3.

Hydrangea Invincibelle
Hydrangea Invincibelle is a pink crowd pleaser.
yellow and purple hydrangea
Mophead Hydrangeas are some of the most popular in home gardens.

Big leaf hydrangeas grow 4 to 6 feet tall. They bloom on old wood and take on a more shrubby structure. These are the classic blue hydrangeas. Varieties, such as 'Nikko Blue', produce large, deep blue flowers (depending on the soil pH) from mid-summer until fall. They are generally hardy in zones 5 and warmer.

In zones 4 to 6, try the newer 'Endless Summer' type hydrangeas. These have been bred to flower on old and new wood, so even if the plant dies back to the ground in winter, the new growth that emerges in spring from the roots will eventually flower. Newer selections of this type, such as 'Bloom Struck', have proven to be more reliable bloomers than the original 'Endless Summer'. There are also lacecap versions of this bigleaf hydrangea, such as 'Twist n Shout', that offer a lacier looking flower.

Panicle hydrangeas bloom on new wood, but grow into a large shrub or small tree. The most famous of these is the 'PeeGee' hydrangea. Panicle hydrangeas are often planted in cemeteries, perhaps because they're so carefree and bloom consistently each fall. Newer selections, such as 'Limelight' and 'Bobo', feature flowers that start out white, but quickly fade to pink or burgundy. They are attractive plants in the landscape and the flowers are easily dried for indoor use. Panicle hydrangeas are also very winter hardy and can range in size from 4 feet to 15 feet tall depending on the variety.

Oakleaf hydrangeas have oak-shaped leaves on 5 to 8 foot tall shrubs. Like the panicle types, the flowers start out white and fade to pink in late summer. This American native is noted for its large flowers and beautiful fall foliage color. It's hardy in zones 5 to 9.

Finally, the climbing hydrangea looks different from all the other types mentioned. This woody vine is hardy to zone 4 to 8. It slowly grows up to 30 feet tall. It produces white, lacy, fragrant flowers in early summer and grows well in part to full shade. The exfoliating bark is attractive in winter after the leaves drop. It takes time to get established, but once growing will thrive for years.

All About Hydrangea: Cut Flower Delight

One of the best uses of hydrangeas is as cut flowers indoors. They are simple to dry for arrangements. The key is to wait until the flower is past mature before harvesting. This is opposite most other flowers where it's recommended to pick when they start to flower or are in full flower.

If allowed to dry on the shrubs, the flowers then will age beautifully adding more color nuisances to the bouquet. Cut flowers from late summer till fall, experimenting with the best time for your area. Place them in a vase with a little water and let the water naturally evaporate. The flowers dry beautifully and can be used for months in arrangements. The smooth and panicle hydrangeas will hold their color best.

hydrangea as a cut flower

About the Author: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden speaker, author, consultant, radio and TV show host. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. Visit his website, for how-to gardening information, and for more about Charlie.

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