blue ball hydrangea

The Essential Guide to Hydrangeas

What’s not to love about hydrangeas? These showy shrubs are the delight of summer blooms. They are long-living shrubs that bloom most of the summer and well into fall. Here is a guide to all things hydrangea: a description of the different types, how to change their color, drying projects, and more!The Essential Guide to Growing Hydrangeas

Type of Hydrangeas

Most Hydrangeas prefer moist, rich soil, and part sun /part shade locations. They generally like a bit of morning sun and cooling shade in the afternoon to perform best and stay healthy.

Several species (and many, many varieties of these species) of the hydrangea genus are commonly seen in garden centers and florist shops. I have four types representing three species in my landscape: ‘Endless Summer’ bigleaf hydrangea, ‘Bluebird’ lacecap compact hydrangea, ‘Tardiva’ hardy hydrangea, and ‘Alice’ oakleaf hydrangea.

  • Bigleaf hydrangea, (Hydrangea macrophylla), a spring bloomer, is perhaps the most widely sought species. They may have either round or flat flower clusters in shades of white, red, pink, blue, purple, and sometimes red. The big round bloomers are called “mopheads” and those with flat blooms are called “lacecaps.”
  • Hydrangea serrata, or mountain hydrangea, is extremely similar to macrophylla but is smaller and more cold hardy. It is broad with large heads of pink or blue flowers in summer and autumn.
  • Hardy hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) blooms in the summer. The long cone-shaped blooms change in color from light green to white to pink or red as they mature.
  • The Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is famous for its large, deep green leaves that persist far into autumn and for its displays of fall shades of orange, red and maroon before dormancy. Oakleaf hydrangea bears its white panicles of blooms in early summer.
  • Climbing Hydrangeas such as Decumaria barbata and Hydrangea petiolaris are vines which behave politely as they climb walls, fences, and pergolas. Unlike wisteria they are relatively tame and easy to prune.
  • Wild Hydrangea, (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’), is a loose—and wide—branched shrub that likes moist soil or rocky slopes.
  • Rough-Leaved Hydrangea (Hydrangea aspera) has rough leaves and broad, flat flower heads. You can even get ones with purple foliage like this Plum Passion’ from Monrovia.

Plum Passion Hydrangea from Monrovia

Pruning Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas don’t need to be pruned, but some varieties will give you a better show if you do give them a cut. The most important things to know for successful pruning is what kind of hydrangea you have and when to cut. Hydrangeas that bloom on old wood (last season’s stems rather than this season’s) should only be pruned after flowering. Hydrangeas that bloom on new wood can be pruned in the fall before winter dormancy or in spring as soon as you can see new growth. At this time of year, you can prune back the whole plant for bigger flowers, thin them out, or shape them freely.

Despite all of these recommendations, you should always follow the 4 D’s of pruning. That is, you can safely remove any damaged, diseased, dead, or dying plant material at any time of the year. In fact, it’s encouraged for the best health of your plant.

Here are a few more resources on pruning:

Learn How to Prune like a Pro! Pruning 101

Want to Know WHEN to Prune? This Will Answer All of Your Questions!

The Art of Espalier: Growing Fruit Trees in Small Spaces

Pistachio Multi-Color Hydrangea

Propagating Hydrangeas

The best branches to work with are relatively thick (one and a half times the thickness of a pencil), a little green (but not brand new shoots), with no flower buds. Cut the top six inches of the branch, making the cut two inches or so below the leaf node (this is the junction where a leaf sprouts or sprouted from the branch). Remove all except the top two leaves. Cut the top two leaves in half to reduce loss of water through transpiration. Dip the base of the cutting into rooting hormone (which isn’t absolutely necessary) then put the cutting into a sterile seedling mix. See how to do it here.

Hydrangea Annabelle Monrovia

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ growing in Monrovia nursery

How to Change Bloom Color

Love your hydrangea blooms but want to change up their color? Many hydrangeas will go through a slight color change when transplanted due to the adjustment to their new soil when you first bring them home. But if you really want to shake things up, this simple little soil hack will make your Hydrangea change color!

How to Change Hydrangea Color

Drying Hydrangeas

It’s not that hard to dry hydrangea flowers and keep their color! Here is how:How to dry hydrangea flowers and retain their color

Thank you to Monrovia for providing some of the photos for this article and to VanRubin Gardens, the personal garden of Jeffery Rubin in West Vancouver, BC, for a tour of his gorgeous garden. Pistachio Hydrangea in a contaner garden



About the Author : Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe is a mom of two rambunctious boys, wife, and work-at-home mom from Georgia. In her free time (when there is such a thing), she is in the garden or hidden away reading the latest post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama! As interests, Debbie is an obsessive crafter, home chef, and gardener. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and is a co-author and photographer behind the garden blog, The Prudent Garden; a collection of tips, crafts, and articles that highlight home gardening.

View all posts by Debbie Wolfe

  1. Lori
    LoriAugust 26,15

    Hi! I was hoping you could help me. We live in Ontario, Canada – I have 2 Hydrangea bushes in our front garden. They were planted probably 4 years ago now. The leaves come up every year but we’ve never had a flower on either bush. We purchased them from The Home Depot and they have no idea why they wouldn’t have flowered by now, but of course it is too late to take them back. We have a hydrangea tree right beside the bushes and it does just fine so I was wondering if you had any ideas as to what we could do to get these things to bloom. Thanks!

    • Umpa Lumpa
      Umpa LumpaSeptember 10,15

      Lori, I have the same problem. Not sure if any of this will help but these are the things I’m trying. (1) I was feeding them with miracle grow. I’ve now stopped that and am feeding with Holly tone. (2) I have trees above them providing shade, I’m going to cut off some branches to get them more sunlight. (3) Depending on what variety they are trim them quite a bit. I told some of them take 2-3 years to adjust to their new soil and begin blooming. If the winter was very cold, they may not bloom that year.

  2. Sharon A.
    Sharon A.May 17,16

    This happened to me too when I was cutting back the dead sticks each fall. When I stopped cutting the “dead” sticks each year, my bushes started flowering. Maybe give this a try and see if they start to flower. I have giant flowers each year now.

  3. Glen
    GlenJune 16,16

    If your hydrangea are pink and you want them to turn blue, acidify the soil by adding sulfur, usually sold in the form of Aluminum Sulfate. For turning blue hydrangeas pink, make the soil more alkaline by adding lime, preferably in the hydrated form, because lime takes a long time to breakdown into the soil.

  4. Vanessa D.
    Vanessa D.June 19,16

    I just planted and Endless Summer hydrangea this year. I’m looking forward to watching it bloom.

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseJune 22,16


    • Jay Mart
      Jay MartJuly 13,16

      Vanessa, do not trim it as it blooms on old branches. It takes a quite a while in the Spring for leaves to come out and old branches look dead – do not be tempted to remove them. It looks ugly but leave them alone. In late Spring/Summer, you will see all of them with leaves, later with the flowers. If you cut them earlier, they will not bloom that year.
      Also, many people think that Endless Summer looks half dead when it is hot outside and needs watering. Perhaps, but it is also a reaction to hot air and you can do nothing about it. It will refresh over night, look o.k. in the morning and on a hot day, looks wilted again. Think very carefully where you plant it, so it does have some cool air in the heat of the day.
      You will see this Summer how it will do in the area you planted it this year. If it looks bad and wilted all the time, consider moving it in the Fall when it gets cooler, but well ahead freezing weather. If you are in garden Zone very cold, you will have to cover it over Winter.

  5. Charlotte
    CharlotteJune 20,16

    I have a lonely tiny hydrangea, I managed to get roots on last year from a cutting I took off a bush my mom had. It’s struggling to grow, but i am bad about watering. Any tips to help it grow faster?

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseJune 22,16

      Hi Charlotte, I think you have answered your own question. New plants don’t do well if they are parched. Keep it well watered, in good soil, in the right light conditions, and generally baby your baby plant. It will grow much faster with loving care.

  6. Karen Meredith
    Karen MeredithJune 21,16

    Such a beautiful website. I love, grow, and paint flowers and your blog is a real find. Thanks!

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseJune 22,16

      Thank you, Karen. What a nice comment to read. I appreciate you taking the time. It means more than you know. xo Stephanie

  7. Katy Junker
    Katy JunkerJune 22,16

    Any way to turn a blue bloom purple?? :)

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseJune 22,16

      Hi Katy, while nothing is certain due to the differences in varieties, you could adjust the pH so that it is a pinky-purple or a purple-blue. Try to get the pH as neutral as possible (pH 6 or 7) and you may see some changes in bloom color towards purple. Experiment and log your results, you never know what might work best.

  8. sahana
    sahanaJune 27,16

    Great tips! Thank you for sharing with us at #HomeMattersParty . We would love to have you again this week.

  9. Melinda Taylor
    Melinda TaylorApril 10,17

    I LOVE your site, but I think one of the most important elements of being a great gardener is knowing ALL about a plant; it’s healing properties OR its dangerous, and often deadly properties. I think everyone has a responsibility to tell people, especially those with children and pets, if a plant is dangerous and HYDRANGEAS ARE EXTREMELY POISONOUS. “All hydrangeas contain cyanogenic glycosides. These substances, when ingested, can cause gastronomical upset, including vomiting and diarrhea. They also can cause a decreased heart rate and lowered amounts of oxygen in the blood. These things can lead to breathing difficulties, seizures and coma. If the toxins are consumed in large amounts, heart or respiratory failure can occur.” Please add the information about what effects a plant can have to your blog. It matters.

  10. Hope
    HopeApril 11,17

    I live in MN and I love the look of hydrangea bushes! I want to plant a few of them near the front of my house (the Zone 4 type), but I’m worried that there won’t be enough sun. The house is north facing, and where the bushes would be it is really all shade. Are there varieties of hydrangeas that tolerate full shade better than others? Or can you recommend a big flowering bush that would work well in full shade?

  11. Mary Jane
    Mary JaneApril 18,17

    I just planted a few hydrangeas a few years ago, but have never thought to dry the flowers! I’m going to dry some of them this year to use in wintertime arrangements around the house. Thanks for that great idea! Cheers, Mary Jane

  12. Anjelo Manliguez
    Anjelo ManliguezMay 25,17

    Do help me. My Hydrangea’s leaves and flowers dry up and turn brown even if I try to keep them from the sun.

Leave a Reply