Hydrangeas are a beautiful summer shrub that abundantly produce colorful, globe-like blooms. They’re fast growers and, depending on the variety chosen, can quickly add dramatic, full foliage to yards with a large footprint.
How to Grow Hydrangeas
Although each variety of hydrangea has unique needs, here are some general hydrangea care instructions and growing tips. (Later on, we’ll share about each type of hydrangea and give tips for each!)
How to Plant:
Hydrangeas work wonderfully in group plantings or as a flowering statement shrub with other shrubs and perennials! Where you plant your hydrangea will depend on the hydrangea variety you choose. Certain varieties tolerate vibrant sun, whereas others prefer nearly full shade. (We’ll cover each variety more later on in this post!) Just be sure to pay attention to light requirements and the expected mature size of your variety of hydrangea to give it room to grow. If planting multiple hydrangeas, allow at least three feet between each plant.
Hydrangeas can be planted as early as early spring or as late as six weeks before the first frost.
To plant, dig a hole two feet wider than the hydrangea root ball and, for depth, plant just as deep as the original container or slightly above the ground to create a mound at the base of the plant. A mounded base allows for adequate drainage away from the roots of the plant. For an extra-healthy rooting period, amend the soil with a slow-release fertilizer like our Triple Phosphate Fertilizer. Finish by watering deeply and regularly until established.
Water deeply once a week and more often during the hottest summer weeks.
Soil and Drainage:
Hydrangeas can handle moisture better than dryness, so be sure to plant in a soil that won’t dry out and mulch to ensure moisture retention. Add compost when first transplanting to ensure hydrangeas have adequate nutrients to adjust to their new environment. Hydrangea macrophylla and quercifolia particularly prefer more acidic soil.
Fertilize three times throughout the summer- in early April, May, and June with a phosphorus-rich fertilizer like Triple Phosphate Fertilizer to encourage more blooms!
Pruning hydrangeas encourages continuous blooms all summer long. As a general rule for pruning, wait until new growth comes out in Spring and prune any dead wood.
It used to be that hydrangeas only bloomed on last year’s growth, but certain new varieties like macrophylla, paniculata, and arborescens can bloom on both old wood and new. Likewise it’s important to know what variety you have planted and plan your pruning accordingly.
Hydrangea aborescens and paniculata, for example, respond well when reduced in size in the spring, and the pruning will encourage blooms on new wood. Pruning new wood on hydrangea macrophylla, though, should be avoided as it could remove potential new blooms.
Overwintering in the 1st Year:
In preparation for a plant’s first winter, keep the soil around the new hydrangea moist all throughout fall until first frost and stop fertilizing after August 15th to help the plant start preparing for dormancy.
Near the time of first frost, insulate the plant with a 4-inch layer of organic mulch around the base and leave stems on the plant. When fully dormant (usually after November), cover your hydrangea and wait until spring!
Changing the Color of Hydrangea Blooms
Hydrangeas are known for their color-changing blooms! Whenever you regularly fertilize, add Garden Lime or Soil Acidifier to change the color of your flowers. Soil acidifier will maintain a beautiful blue hue, whereas garden lime encourages bright pink blooms!
Hydrangea Varieties + Care Tips
It’s important to know the different varieties as well as their growing patterns and needs before selecting one for your yard. Keep reading to learn about our favorite hydrangea varieties available at Garden Heights as well as a few tips for care for each type!
Hydrangea Macrophylla (or Hortensia)- Bigleaf Hydrangea
This variety is what people normally think of when they think of hydrangeas. Its leaves grow to be about six inches in length, and blooms are hemispherical or even fully globe-like! This hydrangea grows best in areas of medium shade with cool, moist soil.
Here are a few types of Hydrangea macrophylla available this season at Garden Heights! We’ve included the colors of their blooms to make them recognizable while you’re shopping!
Bloomstruck- Pink or Purple
Blushing Bride- White
Summer Crush- Raspberry Red or Neon Purple
Original Endless Summer- Blue or Pink
Twist-n-Shout- Pink or Periwinkle
Depending on the soil pH, Hydrangea macrophylla that bloom blue or pink can even change color! This is a common trait of hydrangeas, but not all varieties respond as readily as hydrangea macrophylla. When grown in alkaline soil, blooms will turn pink or purple-red, and in acidic soil they’ll turn blue or purple. Many materials such as coffee grounds (acidic), compost (acidic), lime (alkaline), and aluminum sulfate (acidic) can be used to alter the soil pH.
The Twist-n-Shout hydrangea is a perfect one to start with if you want to experiment with this unique property! Only start attempting to change their color one or two years after planting, and it may take up to a year of changing the acidity of the soil to see results. The waiting is worth it, though, and you’ll see blooms the color of your choice for seasons afterward!
Hydrangea Quercifolia- Oak Leaf Hydrangea
This variety, also known as the Oak Leaf hydrangea, likes shade and doesn’t require very much attention. It can survive in dryer conditions than most hydrangeas and doesn’t require pruning. Quercifolia produces conical, white blooms full of either single or double-blossom flowers and grows to be about four to six feet tall.
Ruby Slippers- White to Deep Pink
Snow Queen- White
PeeWee- White to Pink
This shade-loving hydrangea produces blue, lilac, or pink blooms and blooms on old wood (stems that formed during the previous growing season and before). Although very similar to hydrangea macrophylla in color and habit, hydrangea serrata is more compact (growing two to four feet tall and wide) with smaller flowers and leaves. Its flowers appear in small, lacecap clusters with color-altering ability, similar to hydrangea macrophylla. More contained in size, this variety is perfect for planting near patios or closer to the house.
Tuff Stuff- Pink or Purple
Tiny Tuff Stuff- Blue, Pink, or White
Hydrangea Arborescens- Smooth Hydrangea
This hydrangea is a Missouri Native (originating from Anna, Illinois in fact!) and produces dome-shaped flowers that are two to six inches wide. Unlike hydrangeas quercifolia and serrata, hydrangea arborescens is sun-loving, needing about four to eight hours of sun per day. This hydrangea is easy to grow and can be planted with other natives for a garden that helps preserve Missouri’s unique plant and animal ecosystem!
The Incrediball Smooth Hydrangea pictured above produces beautiful basketball-size blooms! Other varieties available at Garden Heights include:
Incrediball- White to Green
Invincibelle Limetta- Lime Green to Green-White
Hydrangea Paniculata- Panicle Hydrangea
Another sun-loving hydrangea, hydrangea paniculata is named for its pinnacle-shaped blooms that appear midsummer into fall. This variety is a reliable grower and is available as either a patio tree or a dwarf shrub! Larger hydrangea paniculata varieties can be eight to fifteen feet tall in maturity, growing up to two feet per year, whereas the dwarf shrubs can be as little as three feet tall and wide. A fun tip- for larger flowers, you can prune this plant back to having only five to ten primary shoots.
This hydrangea is one of our best-sellers at Garden Heights due to the wide array of dwarf varieties we have available! Dwarf varieties have large blooms that almost take over the plant due to their compact habit, making them a perfect focal point when planted in bunches or as a border. Also due to their size, dwarf paniculatas are some of the best hydrangeas for growing in containers!
Here are a few paniculate varieties we love to help with your garden planning:
Bobo (Dwarf Species): White flowers that turn pink in autumn and cover the plant all the way to the ground! Even better, its thick, strong stems reduce flopping and sagging blooms.
Little Lime (Dwarf Species): Produces soft green blooms at first, which turn rich pink toward autumn. This hydrangea is a perfect addition to a cut flower garden and is a favorite for containers.
Little Quick Fire (Dwarf Species): This dwarf hydrangea blooms a whole month before most other hydrangeas, producing white flowers that turn pink-red later in the summer. It’s drought tolerant and perfect for extending your garden’s hydrangea season!
Limelight (Large Species): Limelight blooms initially with fresh green flowers that fade to pink, red, or burgundy, and its blooms will even persist through frost! Consider using this larger specimen in a container or to hide less-natural yard elements like air conditioners or utility boxes!
Quick Fire (Large Species): This early-blooming species starts to show its beautiful white and pink flowers a month before most other hardy hydrangea varieties and comes back year after year!
Fire Light (Large Species): Fire Lights are very hardy and have blooms that transform from a pure white to a rich pink! It has wonderfully sturdy branches that make it perfect for hedging or for added coverage along privacy fences.
Pinky Winky (Large Species): This unique hydrangea is a favorite with beautifully large, two-toned blooms that start fully white and fade to partially pink in the fall! Its flowers can be up to 16 inches long!
Stop by to see our full selection of hydrangea paniculatas, and we’d love to help you select just the right one!
Hydrangea Anomala- Climbing Hydrangea
Although slow-growing and shrubby at first, established climbing hydrangeas expand rapidly and add dramatic, lacecap blooms to walls, trees, or stonewalls in your yard. Be sure to plant in an area with moist soil and afternoon shade, and use a phosphorus-rich fertilizer in earlier spring to encourage more blooms!
Want to keep a copy of our guide to each hydrangea variety for yourself? Download our variety guide below!
We hope this post has prepared you for a beautiful summer of hydrangea care, and as always, we’d love to help you pick out the perfect hydrangeas to fill your garden! Click here for our store hours and location!