Hydrangeas are one of the most popular shrubs in the US and are also the one we get the most questions on. These shrubs are known for their showy blooms that are available in colors from white to pink, red, purple, and blue. They are a versatile plant and can be used as hedges, in small spaces and grow in a variety of conditions in cold climates, in full sun, and shade.
When selecting a hydrangea, you need to consider where you live, what type of blooms you want, and the ease of growth. We have highlighted five different species you might want to consider:
Big Leaf Hydrangea (hydrangea macrophylla): This hydrangea is also known as French Hydrangea or Mophead Hydrangea. Their blooms are classified as mopheads or lacecaps. Mopheads are the most popular and are known for their significant blooms that range in size from a baseball to bigger than some melons. These blooms are on top of bright green leaves. In the summer you will see them with giant blue, pink or white blooms. No other shrub can compare to them. Lacecaps are a bit more understated but also have beautiful blooms. These flowers are great pollinator attractors in the garden. Their flowers are small and delicate. With this hydrangea, the flowers bloom on old wood. There are rebloomers which also flower on new wood too. Plant these hydrangeas in moist, well-drained soil, morning sun, and light afternoon shade. Mulch the plant and water it regularly to help establish your plant. If you buy a repeat bloomer, it's important to water, feed, and remove spent blossoms regularly to encourage new flowers. If you live in the north make sure to protect the plant in the winter. While this plant is not difficult to grow it may fail to flower. There are several reasons this can happen which include cold winter damage to the flower buds, not getting enough sunlight, too much nitrogen fertilizer, or pruning at the wrong time of year. US Hardiness Zones 5-9.
Panicle Hydrangea (hydrangea paniculata): Panicle Hydrangeas are some of the easiest to grow and care for hydrangeas. They grow vigorously and tall (8 to 15 feet) and can also be compact depending on the variety. Panicle Hydrangeas have sharply-pointed, conical flower blooms with oval to ovate dark green leaves. The plant has pink or white flowers and recently some greens (lime) have become available. They bloom from summer to fall. The blooms grow on new wood and can be pruned in late winter to early spring. The flowers can last for months in the garden. They are cold hardy (US Hardiness Zones 3-8) and are not subject to frost damage. This plant also grows well in urban environments. Plant these hydrangeas in organically rich, moist well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. This series of hydrangea is also a great pollinator, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies.
Smooth Hydrangea (hydrangea arborescens): This hydrangea is also known as smooth hydrangea and wild hydrangea. This hydrangea is typically found in in the eastern US from New York to Florida and as far west as Oklahoma and Kansas. Annabelle Hydrangea is the most popular of this series. Most varieties in this group have tiny white flower clusters that bloom May – July. Some flowering might continue to September. The plant grows 3 – 6 feet. This hydrangea performs best in medium moisture and well-drained soils, in partial shade. If planted in full sun, it will need to be watered regularly. This plant is not drought tolerant and the foliage will weaken in dry conditions. While the plant is hardy for zones 3 – 9, it can die in harsh winters. This series blooms on new wood, but there are some rebloomers. There can be an issue with the flowers being too top heavy for the stems, and the plants flop over. Newer varieties have been bred to do away with this issue. Since the plant might die due to harsh winters you can prune them back close to the ground in late winter to rejuvenate and encourage new stem growth.
Mountain Hydrangea (hydrangea serrata): This plant is also called Tea of Heaven. The Tea of Heaven name is because you can use the plant leaves to make tea. This hydrangea is similar to the Big Leaf Hydrangea but is a smaller shrub with smaller flowers and leaves. The plant will bloom all summer long and into the fall. It will grow approximately 2-4 feet tall and wide. The flower color is affected by the PH of your soil. If your soil is alkaline you will get pink flowers and if it is acidic you will get blue flowers. The USDA Zones 5-9 and blooms on old wood. There are also rebloomers that flower on new wood. If you live in Zone 5, you will need to protect the plant in the winter with a burlap bag and mulch. Very little pruning is needed for this hydrangea. This hydrangea performs best in rich, medium moist, well-drained soil in partial shade. The soil must be kept moist if grown in full sun.
Oakleaf Hydrangea (hydrangea quercifolia): This series is also known as Oak-leaved Hydrangea. The plant has white or pink showy flower heads. The flowers have a similar cone-shape to the Panicle Hydrangea. This series blooms best in areas where summers are hot, but it is also hardy farther north than the Big Leaf Hydrangea. This hydrangea also does well in dryer conditions and sandy soil but does not do well when it is too wet. It is very important for the soil to drain well. The foliage is yellowish green to dark green on top and underneath is silvery-white. It is commonly grown in the Southeastern US in woodland locations in North Carolina to Tennessee, south to Florida and Louisiana. US Hardiness Zones 5-9. This hydrangea is the official state wildflower of Alabama.
If you are a hydrangea lover, let us know what types you are growing. Can’t wait for our Big Leaf Hydrangea (Miss Saori) and Smooth Hydrangea (Annabelle) to bloom this year!