How to Grow Hydrangeas

Blue hydrangeas make an eye-catching addition to any landscape.

By early- to mid- summer, the large flower heads of hydrangea (Hydrangea sp.) begin to dot the landscape, weighing down the branches with saturated color. Hydrangeas make a great addition to landscape borders, and the blossoms are gorgeous as cut or dried flowers. Here are some tips for growing this eye-catching plant in your yard.

Pink mophead blossoms look like pompoms.

About Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs that transform from bare winter stalks into lush, green branches dripping with blooms in summer. These graceful, rounded shrubs range from 3 to 10 feet tall or more. Larger varieties look more treelike and substantial in shrub borders, while smaller varieties can be tucked into perennial beds or even containers.

Colors of blossoms include white, pink, lilac, red, blue, purple, and even greenish. Blossom color can change as the flower matures, or as the plant itself matures, and it’s not uncommon to see more than one color on one plant (or even within one blossom!). You can also change the color of many hydrangeas using soil supplements, as explained below.

There are more varieties of hydrangea than people can agree upon, but most garden hydrangeas fall within a few main species:

  • Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) include the familiar “Mopheads” and “Lacecaps” that are used in cut flowers and florists’ arrangements. Hardy to zone 6.

  •           Lacecap hydrangea

  • Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomala) are hardy to zone 4 with white, lacecap-style blooms. They can be trained to grow up trellises or spill over walls.
  • Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are native to the U.S. They have a distinctive peeling bark and spectacular red fall foliage. Hardy to zone 5.
  • Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) boast late-season, pale pink to lime green blossoms. They are the most cold hardy variety, reliable to zone 4.
  • Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) are another native U.S. plant and hardy to zone 4.

Hydrangeas make a stunning border shrub.

Growing Hydrangeas

If a hydrangea doesn’t bloom, chances are it isn’t planted in the right spot. While some varieties tolerate more or less sunshine than others, in general hydrangeas do well with:

  • Light: Full morning sun, with some light afternoon shade.
  • Soil: Rich, crumbly, well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter.
  • Water: They don’t have the word “Hydra” in their names for nothing! Choose a location with plenty of water and good drainage. Hydrangeas are thirsty plants, but they don’t like to sit in water.

Oakleaf hydrangea exhibit dramatic red foliage in the fall.

Planting Hydrangeas

When planting or propagating hydrangeas, keep in mind that:

  • Early summer is a great time to plant hydrangeas, but they are more readily available when blooming. Plant anytime throughout the growing season, although they will need TLC in hot weather.
  • Use lots of organic matter in the planting hole, especially if you have clay soil.
  • Make sure your hydrangea is planted at the same depth it was in the pot.
  • Hydrangeas can be propagated using softwood cuttings on an existing plant. Choose a nonblooming, new, soft green stem, and take a 6”- 8” cutting with several pairs of leaves. Remove the bottom leaves, dip in rooting hormone, and plant in light compost. Create a mini-greenhouse using glass jars or plastic. Place in a bright, shady spot, and keep moist until rooted. Transplant carefully into light, rich soil.
  • Hydrangeas can also be propagated by burying a live branch in a technique known as ground layering.

Hydrangeas need rich soil and plenty of water

Caring for Hydrangeas

To keep your hydrangeas healthy, remember to:

  • Fertilize 2-3 times throughout the growing season with a balanced, slow-release organic fertilizer.
  • Keep hydrangeas mulched to hold in moisture. Organic mulches will also break down to enrich the soil.
  • Hydrangeas become visibly wilted if allowed to dry out. They need at least an inch of water per week during the growing season, and possibly more in hot, dry weather.
  • Deadheading promotes more blooms, although some gardeners like to leave the dried blossoms on the stalks during the winter.
  • New growth can be cold sensitive. Protect your hydrangeas from late spring freezes, and don’t fertilize or prune in the fall.

Hydrangea blooms come in a wide variety of colors.

Pruning Hydrangeas

Pruning techniques for hydrangeas vary depending on the variety:

  • Bigleaf (H. macrophylla) and oakleaf (H. quercifolia) hydrangeas bloom on buds that emerge from old wood. In spring, only remove stalks you’re certain are dead. Heavier spring pruning will result in lots of new stems that won’t bloom until next year. After they bloom in summer, you can prune lightly for shape, and also thin the stalks – if desired – to encourage fewer, but larger, blooms.
  • Panicle (H. paniculata) and smooth (H. arborescens) hydrangeas bloom on new growth, so they can be pruned in early spring to encourage a flush of new stems for summer blossoms. Some gardeners prune smooth hydrangea to the ground in the late fall and treat them as a perennial.

Bloom color varies even within the same plant.

Changing the Color of Hydrangea Blooms

The color of pink and blue hydrangeas depends on the amount of aluminum within the plant, which is controlled by soil pH. Acid soil (plus aluminum) makes the flowers blue, while alkaline soil turns them pink.

Gardeners love to manipulate this by adding supplements to achieve a desired flower color. Each variety reacts differently to color manipulation, and white varieties usually won’t change color at all.

Bloom Color Tip

For blue blossoms, supplement with 1 tablespoon of aluminum sulfate in a gallon of water, applied about once a month throughout the growing season. For pink blossoms, add lime to bring the soil pH no higher than 6.2.

Drying Hydrangea Blooms

Hydrangea blossoms make lovely dried flowers. Leave them on the plant until they are papery-feeling and partially dry. Carefully cut the stems and hang the flowers upside down, or stand them in a jar, until completely dried.

Further Information


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20 Comments on “How to Grow Hydrangeas”

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  • Andrea Says:
    January 9th, 2016 at 11:42 pm

    I live in zone 7b. We have experienced an extremely warm month of December, the hydrangeas are beginning to leaf out. However, there is going to be a cold front coming next week. Will this damage the plants that have leafed out?

  • Shirley Brennan Says:
    December 19th, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    My hydrangea are young and just beginning to look good when I went out one day and the leaves were white powdery looking. what is wrong and what can I do? The leaves are starting to fall off but there is new buds popping out.

  • geoffrey waterworth Says:
    October 12th, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Would my hydrangea bloom in the vicinity of a lilac bush?

  • Carol ellis Says:
    October 5th, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Does anyone put extra mulch or straw around them in the winter for protection? Mine didn’t bloom very well this year either. This is the first year for us and just leaning about them. Thanks.

  • Carolyn Woolman Says:
    September 20th, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I planted my hydrangea in the ground, no blooms, leaves healthy. I moved it to another location, same thing. I then put it in a pot and moved it around. Now, for the first year I have huge beautiful blooms. I think that I will leave it in the pot. I am not sure about feeding it though. Any info?

  • Teresa D Says:
    August 14th, 2015 at 10:26 am

    I got this white hydrangea a small one with 2 blooms I planted it about a month ago and now the color of the blooms are almost a lime green ? What is it doing? I also took 11 cuttings / Starts Now in pots growing good from a dark Blue hydrangea Will the color keep the blue or will it change also Please I need some Info.

  • Don Burkhardt Says:
    August 1st, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    We have an oak leaf hydrangea that has never bloomed. It was planted ten years ago and appears healthy other than that. Will a bloom-boosting agent be of help? I read where you said it’s probably not in the right place. Will you please let me know what the sun / shade requirements are?

    Thank you!

  • Salma Says:
    June 1st, 2015 at 12:23 am

    I m fond of Hydrangea. Got some seeds n going to plant them in a pot for my partial sunlit balcony. Thanks for the tips in your blog!

  • rick Says:
    April 10th, 2015 at 9:07 am

    Hydrangeas bloom with White, Pink & Blue flowers. Why are the flowers of different colours, inspite of growing on the same plant? i want to know yet i am little bit confused in this question only.

  • Jacquelyn Kennerson Says:
    September 2nd, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    We have beautiful, variegated hydrangea bushes in the back of our house. Mulched, well watered, afternoon sun, good drainage…but no blooms. Help

  • Holly Says:
    August 13th, 2014 at 11:25 am

    I am trying to find a good fertilizer for my Hydrangeas that are in a pot and will be planted in the yard, but can’t seem to do this. I live in Williamsburg Va

  • Margaret Childress Says:
    June 26th, 2014 at 7:47 am

    I live in San Antonio in a condo. Please help me grow at least one blue hydrangea, pot or ground. Thanks

  • Tammy Says:
    January 3rd, 2014 at 11:47 am

    I have 2 plants 1 planted in the ground I guess considered low light and the other in a container on the porch. The one in the on the front porch bloomed beautifully. The other on the ground didn’t. 🙁 So now I lm thinking of taking out the ground one and planting in the front either closer to more light or front caddy corner to my giant hibiscus and opposite to my jasmine. Any input which do you think it would prefer? I’m scared to lose it so I’m keeping the potted one where it is.

    Thank you
    Tammy 🙂

  • Alvae Says:
    August 26th, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    The previous owner of our house planted three mophead hydrangeas in a perfect spot ~ they were only two feet tall but loaded with big, blue blooms. Unfortunately, after the blooms were gone, an uninformed mower (my son) mowed right over them! Yep, cut them to the ground. I just knew that was the end of the hydrangeas. To my surprise, this spring all three burst forth with vigorous green shoots full of leaves and even some small blooms! I’m impressed with the hardiness of these old-fashioned, gorgeous plants and have bought a couple of Limelight hydrangeas to complement the blues.

  • Mollie Says:
    March 1st, 2013 at 8:01 am

    M. Waldrop, I don’t know where you live, but I had beautiful hydrangeas in Maryland. I thinned them when they were in full bloom. That way I could use the cut flowers in the house. A big healthy hydrangea can be thinned an incredible amount. If you wanted to be smaller, not just thinned out, you should probably trim it back in the summer after it blooms. Now, I’m in San Antonio and trying to figure out if there’s a way to get these beautiful flowers to work in my very alkaline soil. I’m going to try one in the ground and one in a pot.

  • M. Waldrop Says:
    October 9th, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    My hydrangea gets the morning sun and full sun until noon when it falls to the back or west side of the house. It is full and loves that arrangement evidently because it has flourished every year. I need to cut it but here’s where I flinch. I have been told to prune in the fall and after it turns cool, and not to prune in the spring when the buds are evident. I’m afraid I’ll lose the beautiful blooms…but I know that they do well in a space that gets morning sun.

  • A. Adams Says:
    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    My hydrangea starts to bloom and then stops. It looks healthy, but just one darn bloom per season.

    I get morning sunin the back until about 1:00 then on one side I get full sun all day from sun up to sun down. The front get afternoon soon from 2:00 til sundown the other side gets filtered morning sunligt. Thats where I have the hydrangea planted, but near the front of the house Where do you suggest I transplant it to or do I need to do something to promote the blooms

  • Sandi Says:
    July 28th, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    My hydrangea is two yrs. old. Finally this summer it has flowers but they’re white. They are supposed to be blue. Do you know when they will change color? Thanks

  • Glenda Says:
    April 9th, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    I live about 50 miles north of Dallas, TX. I love hydrangeas. I remember my grandmothers yard was filled with these lush flowers. They were even around the front porch of her house. I remember but I have to admit, that was about 45 years ago. Her house was about 80 miles north east and had red soil and probably a high sulphur content. The name of this small town was Sulphur Bluff. The city was Sulphur Springs and yes they mined sulphur.
    I on the other hand have black soil and order to grow almost anything I have to dig up the soil and replace it with a potting/garden soil/top soil/peat mixture.
    I have tried a few times to grow hydranges, not much luck. I was always told to plant on the North side of the house. However I have seen hydrangeas planted on the West side in direct sun in Dallas. and that west summer sun can get real hot in the summer. Do these plants have a desired location? north/south/east/west?

  • Beth Says:
    March 27th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    I live in Birmingham and would like to know the best time to move hydrangea offspring?

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How to Grow Hydrangeas