How to Grow Hydrangeas

Growing Hydrangea InstructionsGrowing Hydrangea Instructions

How to Grow Hydrangeas: Beloved Shrubs for Part-Shade Spots

An American favorite, hydrangea shrubs are known for their big, plentiful blooms and their long-lived foliage.

They can be shaped into a hedge, trained into a tree, or grown with ease in containers. Although they certainly need a bit of sunlight to produce their famous flowers, they're most at home in part shade areas, where they can lend a solid dose of colorful charm.

When & Where to Plant Hydrangeas

Light: Most types of hydrangeas grow best in part shade, but can tolerate full sun in northern gardens. In the South, hydrangeas need afternoon shade.

Soil Conditions: Hydrangeas like a moderately fertile, well-drained soil. Hydrangeas grow best on slightly acidic soil. For some species, the flower color can be changed by making the soil more or less acidic.

Correct Spacing: Depending the variety, space plants 3 to 6 feet apart.

Timing (planting): Plant hydrangeas anytime during the growing season. In the North, spring is best to allow plants to get established before summer. In the South, spring or fall is a good time. Hydrangeas tend to wilt easily in the summer heat, so when planting in warm weather keep the soil consistently moist.

Blue HydrangeaBlue Hydrangea

How to Grow Hydrangeas Throughout the Season

Growth Habit: Hydrangeas can grow from 3 to 15 feet tall and almost as wide depending on the species. Some hydrangeas grow more vertical and can be pruned into a tree form. Other hydrangeas have a wider and rounder shape. There is even a vining type of hydrangea.

Staking: Hydrangea that grow in a tree form may need staking after transplanting if grown in a windy location. Remove the staking after one year. Bushy types of hydrangeas may need to have their flowers supported. The large blooms can pull down the branches. Wire cages or plant supports can keep the flowers upright and more visible. Vining hydrangeas will need a strong support to climb on and will have to be attached to the support.

Watering: Hydrangea have large leaves that transpire water easily. Even established plants can wilt during the heat and drought of a summer day. Wilted plants will often recover in the evening and be fine. Add at least 1 inch of water weekly, more during hot, dry stretches.

Fertilizing: Based on a soil test, fertilize in spring with a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of compost and an all purpose organic granule fertilizer. To promote flowering, look for a fertilizer high in phosphorous (the middle number on the bag). Don't apply high phosphorous fertilizers if gardening near bodies of water since it can runoff and pollute streams, rivers and lakes. For big leaf hydrangeas, add sulfur to keep the pH slightly acidic. To get bluer flowers on this type of hydrangea add more sulfur to lower the pH to 6. To produce pinker flowers raise the pH closer to 7 by adding lime.

Child with Fragrant HydrangeaChild with Fragrant Hydrangea
Fragrant hydrangeas deliver a sweet smell to the landscape.
a colorful butterfly visits hydrangea flowers a colorful butterfly visits hydrangea flowers
A colorful butterfly visits a hydrangea bloom.

Trimming & Pruning: Deadhead spent flowers as needed on the bigleaf hydrangeas and smooth hydrangeas. Smooth hydrangeas may send out a second flush of flowers in late summer. Other hydrangea types have the ability to hold their flowers on the shrub for many weeks after full bloom.

The how and when of pruning depends on the type of hydrangeas you're growing. For hydrangeas that flower on new wood produced in spring, such as the panicle and smooth hydrangea, prune in early spring to reduce the size of the shrub, reduce branch crowding and stimulate new growth. The more growth, the more flowers you'll get in mid to late summer. Prune smooth hydrangeas to a few feet off the ground.

For hydrangeas that bloom on old wood, such as the climbing hydrangea, bigleaf and oakleaf hydrangea, prune after flowering in summer. The old wood are branches that survive the winter. Some types of bigleaf hydrangea bloom on the old and new wood. Prune these after the first flush of flowers in summer. Prune to remove dead, diseased, broken and crowding branches and reduce the size of the shrub. Do not prune hydrangeas that bloom on old wood in spring, or you will have no flowers that year.

Mulching: Since hydrangeas need consistently moist soil, mulch in spring with a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of bark mulch. The mulch will keep the soil cool and moist and help prevent weed growth.

  1. Annabelle Snowball Hydrangea

    Annabelle' Hydrangea is famous for its huge, snow-white blooms and excellent cold hardiness. This shorter variety grows 3 - 5 ft tall and flowers reliably, even after severe winters ...

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    Annabelle Snowball Hydrangea Snowball Hydrangea Annabelle Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle
    $25.98 Sale $12.99
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    Annabelle' Hydrangea is famous for its huge, snow-white blooms and excellent cold hardiness. This shorter variety grows 3 - 5 ft tall and flowers reliably, even after severe winters and intentional pruning. Its enormous 10" blooms and ability to adapt to both cold and heat have made 'Annabelle' one of the most popular hydrangeas in the country. (Hydrangea arborescens)
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  2. Blue Hydrangea All Summer Beauty, Hydrangea macrophylla, Mophead Hydrangea

    'All Summer Beauty' Hydrangea is a compact, long-blooming mophead variety that produces big, bouncy flowers on 4 ft shrubs. Because it blooms on both new growth and old wood, flowers...

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    All Summer Beauty Mophead Hydrangea Mophead Hydrangea All Summer Beauty Hydrangea macrophylla All Summer Beauty
    $25.98 Sale $12.99
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    'All Summer Beauty' Hydrangea is a compact, long-blooming mophead variety that produces big, bouncy flowers on 4 ft shrubs. Because it blooms on both new growth and old wood, flowers will form throughout the season, even after a harsh winter - which can be the undoing of other hydrangeas. Known for its bright blue blooms in acid soils, expect to see shades of pink and purple where the ground is more alkaline. (Hydrangea macrophylla)
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  3. Ruby Slippers Hydrangea, Oak Leaf Hydrangea Ruby Slippers, photo by Carmen Jolley

    'Ruby Slippers' Oak Leaf Hydrangea delivers oversized, cone-shaped blooms that arrive in white to light pink and deepen to a reddish-magenta as they age. A compact shrub, 'Ruby Slipp...

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    Ruby Slippers Oak Leaf Hydrangea Oak Leaf Hydrangea Ruby Slippers Hydrangea quercifolia Ruby Slippers
    $29.98 Sale $14.99
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    'Ruby Slippers' Oak Leaf Hydrangea delivers oversized, cone-shaped blooms that arrive in white to light pink and deepen to a reddish-magenta as they age. A compact shrub, 'Ruby Slippers' is a fine choice for small spaces and planting in containers, or training into a low hedge. Its lobed, oak-like leaves change to burgundy as fall appoaches, bringing another layer of vibrant color to the landscape. (Hydrangea quercifolia)
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  4. Deep Purple Hydrangea blooms turn into a deep purple for the season

    Deep Purple™ Hydrangea lives up to its name, covered with the richest purple blossoms of any hydrangea. Each blossom begins a chartreuse green color, opening to a deep violet hue. ...

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    Deep Purple™ Hydrangea Deep Purple™ Hydrangea PP#28,940 Hydrangea Deep Purple™ PP#28,940
    $29.98 Sale $14.99
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    Deep Purple™ Hydrangea lives up to its name, covered with the richest purple blossoms of any hydrangea. Each blossom begins a chartreuse green color, opening to a deep violet hue. Early blooming and long-lasting flower heads provide months of color in the summer garden, and look stunning in bouquets and vases. Plants form a compact mound, perfect for large containers to decorate porches and patios. Strong stems support oversized mophead blooms above dark green foliage. (Hydrangea macrophylla)
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  5. Mophead Hydrangea Everlasting Revolution PP22,260, Hydrangea macrophylla

    Everlasting® 'Revolution' Mophead Hydrangea delivers a medley of colorfully blended blooms to the summer garden. Expect to see varying shades of pink, purple and blue (depending on ...

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    Everlasting® Revolution Hydrangea Everlasting® Revolution Mophead Hydrangea Hydrangea macrophylla Everlasting® Revolution
    $27.98 Sale $13.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Everlasting® 'Revolution' Mophead Hydrangea delivers a medley of colorfully blended blooms to the summer garden. Expect to see varying shades of pink, purple and blue (depending on your soil type) flowerheads on this compact shrub, all highlighted with bright green accents. 'Revolution' is a heavy bloomer that was bred to produce extra-sturdy stems, making it an excellent choice for cut flowers. Container friendly. (Hydrangea macrophylla)
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  6. Pink Sunset Hydrangea with bright bubblegum pink blooms, and rich green foliage

    Pink Sunset™ Hydrangea produces an abundance of intense pink blooms for months of summer color. Mophead blooms open pale pink, and darken to a vibrant bubblegum pink color. Flower ...

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    Pink Sunset™ Hydrangea Pink Sunset™ Hydrangea PP#28,907 Hydrangea Pink Sunset™ PP#28,907
    $29.98 Sale $14.99
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    Pink Sunset™ Hydrangea produces an abundance of intense pink blooms for months of summer color. Mophead blooms open pale pink, and darken to a vibrant bubblegum pink color. Flower coloration can vary with soil pH: alkaline soil is required for rich pink hues - acidic soils will produce clear blue flowers. A delightful compact habit is excellent for large containers, centerpieces, or patio plants. In the garden, a sturdy structure and strong root system produce vigorous plants and support oversized blooms. (Hydrangea macrophylla)
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  7. White Climbine Hydrangea Vine, Hydrangea anomala petiolaris

    Climbing Hydrangea Vine pairs the blooms of white lacecap hydrangeas with the vertical coverage of a foliage-rich vine. Unlike other climbers, this flowering vine also produces horiz...

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    Climbing Hydrangea Vine Climbing Hydrangea Vine Hydrangea anomala petiolaris
    $25.98 Sale $12.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    Climbing Hydrangea Vine pairs the blooms of white lacecap hydrangeas with the vertical coverage of a foliage-rich vine. Unlike other climbers, this flowering vine also produces horizontal branches that showcase even more blooms and a thicker cover of glossy green leaves. Cinnamon-red bark is shaggy and textured, providing winter interest. A bit slow to start, but expect a growth spurt once established. (Hydrangea Anomala Petiolaris)
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Hydrangeas: End of Season Care:

Dividing & Transplanting needs: Hydrangeas that grow into bushes with multiple stems, such as the bigleaf and smooth hydrangea, are the best candidates for dividing. In the North, divide hydrangeas in spring while the shrub is still dormant. In the South, divide in spring or fall after all the leaves have dropped. Water the shrub well. With a sharp spade, dig around the root ball and eventually remove the shrub from the ground.

Using the spade or knife, cut the shrub into 2 to 4 sections depending on the size of the plant. Make sure you have a solid mass of roots with each division. Replant each division in a similar location and keep the new plants well watered all season.

Pests/ Disease: Hydrangeas are generally insect and disease free plants. However, they can occasionally be attacked by aphids, spider mites and Japanese beetles. Reduce nitrogen fertilizer to thwart aphids and knock them off the leaves with a strong spray of water from a hose. Keep plants well watered to avoid spider mites. Hand pick Japanese beetles or set up hormone traps placed 200 feet away from the hydrangeas to draw the beetles away.

While hydrangeas may get leaf spots caused by various diseases, powdery mildew is probably the most prevalent disease. Powdery mildew causes a whitish film to form on the leaves. It eventually causes the leaf to yellow and die. If occurring late in the season, don't worry about it. Simply clean up the dropped leaves well in fall. If it needs control, spray Neem oil earlier in the season. You can also use a home remedy of 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon horticultural oil, in 1 gallon of water. This is a preventive spray that stop powdery mildew from forming.

Hydrangeas: Extra Info:

One of the biggest problems with one of the most popular species, the big leaf hydrangea, is lack of flowering. This is particularly an issue in colder climates.

Since bigleaf hydrangeas flower on the old wood, the stems need to survive the winter in order to get early flowers the next year. If they die to the ground, the stems won't form flowers.

The solution is to protect the stems in winter with bark mulch. In late fall, cover the plant stems with a 1 to 2 foot deep layer of bark or wood chips. These will protect the stems in winter and provide mulch in spring as you remove the chips. Don't be in a hurry to remove the wood chips in spring, since late frosts can also kill young buds. Also, avoid spreading high nitrogen fertilizers near your hydrangeas. Nitrogen will create shrubs with large leaves, but fewer flowers.


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