If you’re looking for a garden flower with show appeal, hydrangea flowers are truly stunning. Large globes of flowers cover this shrub in summer and spring. Although their appearance may seem high maintenance, with the right conditions and care, hydrangeas are actually fairly easy to grow. So grab your garden gloves, because our growing hydrangeas guide will have you ready to plant in no time.
- What Are Hydrangeas?
- Planting Hydrangeas
- Hydrangea Care Tips
- Types of Hydrangeas
- Common Questions About Growing Hydrangeas
What Are Hydrangeas?
Blooming in spring and summer, the hydrangea is considered a shrub. But despite their ability to be rather large showstoppers in your yard, how to grow hydrangeas isn’t a question even the novice gardener will need to ask – these beauties all but grow themselves. Reaching up to 15 feet in height, the hydrangea grows quickly and often fills in a space in just one summer. You’ll find hydrangeas growing in hardiness Zones 3 to 7 as perennials. With flowers starting in spring and often last throughout summer into early fall, hydrangea flowers can be the foundation plant of your landscape.
As with most things in your garden, learning the basics of how to plant hydrangeas can save you time and money. By choosing the proper location, getting the soil just right and planting correctly, you’ll increase your chances of enjoying large, colorful hydrangea blooms for years to come.
- Best time to plant hydrangeas
Fall is the best season to plant hydrangeas, followed by early spring. The idea is to give the shrub plenty of time to establish a healthy root system before blooming. The best time of day to plant is early morning or late afternoon. The cooler parts of the day offer protection against heat stress. Keep new plants well-watered until established.
- Where to plant hydrangeas
Knowing where to plant hydrangea shrubs is an important first step. Many people plant hydrangeas in beds next to their homes or fences. This is because hydrangeas love the warm morning sun, but they dislike the heat of the afternoon. The best place to plant hydrangeas is in a sheltered location with sunny mornings and shady afternoons. You often find this on the north or south side of your home. Avoid planting directly underneath trees, which can lead to competition for water and nutrients. High winds can rip and damage leaves and destroy the flowers.
- Best soil for hydrangeas
Hydrangeas grow well in soil containing an abundance of organic material. Good drainage is vital. While hydrangeas like moist soil, they cannot tolerate being waterlogged. Soggy, poor draining soils can cause root rot. In just a few weeks, your hydrangeas can quickly die. If you have heavy soil, consider mixing in plenty of compost prior to planting to improve soil quality.
- How to plant hydrangeas
To plant hydrangeas, simply dig the planting holes 2 feet wider than the root ball. Keep the depth of the hole consistent with the size of the root ball so your plant sits level with or just higher than the surrounding soil. By creating a slight mound, you help increase water drainage away from the base of the plant.
- How to propagate hydrangeas
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One hydrangea can turn into many through simple propagation techniques. Bigleaf and panicle hydrangeas are best propagated through layering in early to mid-summer. All you have to do is:
- Dig a small trench near your hydrangea plant.
- Bend a branch down to the trench so it touches the soil in the middle of the branch (six to 12 inches of branch should extend past the trench).
- Make scratches in the bark where the branch touches the trench soil.
- Fill in the trench and place a paver, brick or stone on top.
- With time, the branch will form its own root system and may be transplanted to a new location.
Smooth and oakleaf hydrangeas put out new shoots through underground stems. Just dig up the young plant and separate it away from the main plant. It can then be transplanted to a new location.
Hydrangea Care Tips
Although the hydrangea’s leaves and flowers appear delicate, they actually don’t require a lot of tender care. These tips provide all you need to know about how to care for hydrangeas.
- Water at a rate of 1 inch per week throughout the growing season. Deeply water 3 times a week to encourage root growth. Bigleaf and smooth hydrangeas require more water, but all varieties benefit from consistent moisture. Use a soaker hose to water deeply and keep moisture off the flowers and leaves. Watering in the morning will help prevent hydrangeas from wilting during hot days.
- Add mulch underneath your hydrangeas to help keep the soil moist and cool. An organic mulch breaks down over time, adding nutrients and improving soil texture.
- Apply fertilizer based on your specific hydrangeas. Each variety has different needs and will benefit from different application timing. The best way to determine your fertility needs is by using a soil test.
- Bigleaf hydrangeas need several light fertilizer applications in March, May and June.
- Oakleaf and panicle hydrangeas do best with two applications in April and June.
- Smooth hydrangea plants only need fertilization once, in late winter.
- Protect against pests and disease by choosing cultivars with resistant traits. Leaf spots, bight, wilt and powdery mildew can all appear on hydrangeas. Pests are not common on hydrangeas, but can appear when plants become stressed. Possible pests include aphids, leaf tiers and red spider mites. Properly caring for hydrangeas is your best defense.
Types of Hydrangeas
There are four different types of hydrangeas grown in the United States:
- Oakleaf hydrangeas thrive in warmer zones. If you live in Zone 5 or warmer, oakleaf hydrangeas are a great choice, as they’re able to withstand the heat of summer.
- Bigleaf hydrangeas are the most common of all. They’re often found growing in Zones 5 through 9.
- Panicle hydrangeas are hardy to Zone 3. They’re easy growers, reaching up to 15 feet tall.
- Smooth hydrangeas are also known as snowballs because of their large white clusters of blooms. They’re an excellent choice in cold climates.
Consider planting these popular hydrangeas in your garden landscape:
- French Hydrangea – This traditional bigleaf hydrangea is also known as the florist’s hydrangea for its large, vibrant blooms.
- Mophead hydrangea – This variety of bigleaf hydrangea features large, round blooms.
- Lacecap hydrangea – Large flowers surround smaller buds with the appearance of being only half bloomed for a lacy, delicate look.
- Endless summer hydrangea – Discovered in the 1980’s, this unique bigleaf hydrangea variety has the ability to withstand the cold winters of zone 4.
- Peegee hydrangea – While often trained to look like a tree, the Peegee (P.G.) is technically the Grandiflora cultivar from the panicle hydrangea family.
- Blue hydrangea – Blue hydrangeas from the bigleaf family are only blue because of the soil they are grown in. You can purchase a blue hydrangea and find it blooms a different color next year.
- Pink hydrangea – Pink hydrangeas range from hot pinks to barely blushing and can be found in several different types.
Common Questions About Growing Hydrangeas
When do hydrangeas bloom?
The hydrangea blooming season depends upon the type and cultivar as well as your planting zone. Most new growth hydrangeas put on buds in early summer to bloom in the following spring, summer and early fall seasons. In hot climates, hydrangeas may stop blooming in the heat of summer, but will rebloom in the fall.
How do you cut back hydrangeas?
When hydrangea plants are given plenty of growing space in the garden, they don’t need pruning. All that is required is the occasional removal of dead wood.
Do you need to deadhead hydrangeas?
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Deadheading hydrangeas will keep your plants blooming into fall. You don’t have to wait until the flower wilts – hydrangeas make excellent cut flowers. Leave those early fall blooms in place to fade on their own. You don’t want to encourage new growth close to your freeze date.
How do you control hydrangea color?
Hydrangeas are unique in that you can control their color. But keep in mind, not all hydrangea types are capable of color adjustments. Bigleaf hydrangeas, H. macrophylla, react to changes in soil pH. A low soil pH allows hydrangeas to absorb aluminum, which turns the flowers a beautiful blue color. To increase blue hydrangea flowers, lower your soil pH by adding sulfur or peat moss to the soil. You can also add additional aluminum sulfate to your soil throughout the growing season. Pink and red flowers shine when you add ground limestone to increase the pH.
A soil pH test can help you accurately adjust your hydrangea color. Avoid pH levels above 7.5 to prevent damage to the plant. No matter what adjustments you’ve made, all hydrangeas will naturally fade in the fall. Don’t worry – the plant will showcase fresh, colorful blooms again in the spring.
Can hydrangeas grow in shade?
Hydrangeas like dappled or occasional shade, but they will not bloom in heavy shade. It isn’t so much a question of do they prefer sun or shade, but rather more of a question of how much sun do hydrangeas need? The further north your garden is located, the more sunlight your hydrangeas need. An average rule of thumb is six hours of sunlight per day. However, hydrangeas growing in the south can perform on only three hours of sunlight.
Can hydrangeas grow in full sun?
Hydrangeas like morning sun, but do not do well if they’re in direct, hot afternoon sun. Partial shade in the later parts of the day is ideal for these beauties.
Can you grow hydrangeas in pots?
Even if you lack the space in your garden to grow hydrangeas, knowing how to grow hydrangea in a pot means you can still enjoy these beautiful blooms. The process is relatively simple, as long as you follow the basics of hydrangea care. Choose a large enough pot for the mature size of your specific hydrangea – at least 18 inches in diameter. Look for non-porous containers to help hold the consistent moisture level require by hydrangeas. Drainage holes will allow excess water to drain properly. Consider planting dwarf hydrangeas, such as Little Lime, Mini Penny and Buttons ‘n Bows.
How do you keep hydrangeas from wilting?
Regular watering in the mornings can help prevent wilting. Some varieties of hydrangeas simply can’t handle the heat. It won’t matter how much water you give them – they’ll wilt a bit in the heat of afternoon. A thick layer of mulch can help retain moisture and keep soil cool. If your hydrangeas perk back up once the day begins to cool, you don’t need to worry. It’s better to have a little mid-day wilting than to overwater and drown your hydrangeas.
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