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How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Your Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas are among the most stunning flowers in the garden, a gorgeous welcome to summer, and, with the right varieties and care, a party that lasts all season long. Planting may seem like the easy part of caring for your hydrangeas, but giving your plants the best start is of utmost importance. Let's talk about planting hydrangeas.
What are Hydrangeas?
Hydrangeas are a genus of beautiful ornamentals bred for color and form around the globe. Hydrangeas are beloved accent plants and excellent hedges. Aside from their pleasant, well-rounded shape and elegant foliage, hydrangeas have bold, clustered flowers, usually formed into balls or cones. Many hydrangeas bud in early summer, and can bloom all the way to fall.
Types of Hydrangeas
Every gardener seems to have their own vision for what constitutes a perfect hydrangea garden. Luckily, this varied group of plants offers something for everyone. Let's look at a few of the common types of hydrangeas you'll see in North American gardens.
Annabelle or Arborescens Hydrangeas
Arborescens, also known as Annabelle hydrangeas, are among America's most beloved landscape plants. These hydrangeas tend to bloom in white to green tones, but some arborescens bloom in both light and dark pink, or even mauve. Annabelle hydrangeas have attractive foliage and showy displays of pristine mophead flowers. As North American natives, Arborescens hydrangeas are among the easiest to care for, with simple pruning needs and excellent hardiness. They bloom on old and new wood, and are reliably bud hardy, even in cold zones. Annabelles are excellent for adding structure to the landscape.
Macrophylla can also be known as big leaf hydrangea, like the L.A. Dreamin'® Hydrangea. The terms mophead and lacecap refer to the form of the bloom. In some varieties of these pink-to-blue hydrangeas, like Tellers Blue or Elizabeth Ashley hydrangeas, the color of the flowers is influenced by soil pH and the availability of aluminum in the soil. Just as the name suggests, bigleaf hydrangeas are known for their large, lush foliage. Many of these varieties hold leaf color into the late summer, and a few even offer beautiful fall color in the leaves.
Serrata hydrangeas are also called Mountain Hydrangeas. Most serratas have pleasing lacecap forms. Most bloom on old wood, but some newer varieties bloom on both old and new wood. Serrattas can look like a compact version of lacecap macrophyllas, and tend to have delicate flowers.
Just as the name suggests, these hydrangeas are named for the shape of their foliage.Oakleaf hydrangea flowers appear in elongated, cone-shaped clusters, distinguishable from the ovate or heart-shaped leaves of Macrophylla species. Many of these varieties offer beautiful fall color in the leaves-check out Little Honey if you want to see an amazing hydrangea with golden chartreuse foliage color. Oakleaf hydrangea are also a North American species, so they really thrive in American gardens.
How Do You Plant Hydrangeas?
Hydrangeas are a varied genus, so check the recommendations on your specific plants. With the right planning and a good location, these will come back year after year.
When Do You Plant Hydrangeas?
Hydrangeas are best planted in late spring or early fall, while temperatures are generally moderate to cool. Make sure to plant after the final frost of the year, but before summer reaches its hottest temperatures.
Where Do You Plant Hydrangeas?
As with any other plant, picking a location to plant your hydrangea is the first step. Consider sun needs, soil requirements, and the mature size of your hydrangea.
Hydrangeas are relatively easy to site, as long as you have a space that meets their sun requirements. An area that has a combination of morning sunlight and afternoon shade works well for most hydrangea species. Some hydrangea varieties enjoy full sun while others require a more shady location. Not all hydrangeas flourish in heavy afternoon sun, but panicle and climbing hydrangeas can handle it. Panicle hydrangeas need at least six hours of sun to bloom to their full potential. Macrophylla and serrata hydrangeas will burn up in full sun in hotter climates — so, provide those hydrangeas with afternoon or dappled shade. Oakleaf can usually handle full sun in temperate climates, but, in warmer climates, they also require some afternoon shade.
You'll also want to choose a location large enough for the plant to grow to its full mature size. You don't want to miss out on any of those beautiful flowers-or find them bent because your shrubs are running up against a building or another plant. Consider both the mature height and spread of the plant, and whether you'll need room to set stakes for large flowers.
Using Hydrangeas as Hedge Plants
Imagine a living flower wall as the perfect backdrop for your next brunch on the patio. Hydrangeas don't have to work merely as specimen plantings or container shrubs. They can also be used to create vibrant, ready-to-be-talked-about hedgerows. We recommend choosing a medium-sized hydrangea with compact habit for maximum "bushiness". You can also use hydrangeas for low privacy hedges or divider rows.
Installing hydrangeas as hedge rows is not unlike planting them for any other purpose, but you'll need to pay close attention to their mature size and spread.
Situate your plants so that the established hydrangeas are able to touch or intertwine, creating a row without gaps. For most plants, that means spading them so that each hydrangea is given just a few inches less than its full width.
Make sure you'll be able to allot the care and watering needed to keep your hedge happy and healthy-a bunch of hydrangeas use more resources than just a single plant, and you'll need to provide consistent watering and nutrition to ensure the plants grow at the same rate.
Prepping the Soil for Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas prefer rich, well-fertilized soil that drains well. The first step in loving your hydrangeas? Giving your soil some love.
- Work the soil to at least six inches deeper than you plan to plant your hydrangeas. If your hydrangeas come in a 12 inch tall pot, you'll need to aerate and amend the soil to a depth of one and a half or two feet.
- If your soil is poor in quality, rocky, sandy, or made up of heavy clay, break up the soil well. Use the native soil as much as possible, and add in compost sparingly. Organic compost or aged manure, will add nutrients to the soil and help to aerate.
- If you're working with pink-to-blue varieties of hydrangeas, you may find yourself inspired to amend the soil to reach your color goals. Some hydrangea varieties change their coloring based upon soil pH. To play with soil pH, read more about pink-to-blue hydrangeas here.
- Plan ahead for mulching. Hydrangeas perform better when given a winter dressing of mulch or other organic matter. Mulching protects the roots from winter's chill, and it introduces new nutrients into the soil as the mulch breaks down.
How to Plant Hydrangeas: Step by Step Instructions
Once you've chosen the perfect spot for your hydrangeas and prepared the soil, you're ready to plant. For best results when planting hydrangeas, follow these steps:
- Create a hole twice as wide as the plant's root system, and about six inches deeper than the plant's pot. Break up the soil a bit before you plant to help the roots easily establish themselves. Score, or rough up, the sides of the hole before planting your hydrangea. This allows the roots to enter the existing soil more easily.
- Now, unpot your hydrangea. Check to ensure that the roots look healthy, and trim or break up any pot-bound roots.
- Next, you'll place the plant into the hole at about the depth at which it was set in its shipping container.
- Begin to backfill the soil, and water in the plant when you've refilled the hole halfway. Watering helps to eliminate any air pockets and settle the plant in. Then, fill the rest of the way.
- Water the plant in well. If any soil settles and exposes the root ball, add more soil until the roots are covered again.
- If you're performing spring mulching, set a layer of mulch 2-3 inches thick over your planting site. Be careful to not crowd the mulch up against the base of the plant.
Congratulations-you've planted your hydrangeas. Let's talk about what to look for next.
How to Care for Hydrangeas
Do hydrangeas bloom in the first year? Many hydrangea varieties bloom in the first year, especially if they develop flower buds while growing in their pots. However, some hydrangeas prefer to become established before blooming, and should bloom the following spring season with proper care and pruning. Regardless of your hydrangea variety, plan to give your new plants a little extra attention in their first year.
New hydrangeas need plenty of moisture, but check the soil before watering. If the soil is dry one to two inches below the surface, then water. If the soil is sufficiently hydrated and the plant is showing signs of stress, lack of water may not be the cause. Overwatering of hydrangeas can cause just as many issues as under-watering. Remember that while hydrangeas prefer and thrive in moist soils, they will not tolerate wet, soggy and/or poor draining spots in the landscape.
While your hydrangeas may not need pruning in their first year, it's prudent to plan for pruning needs. You'll need to know whether your hydrangea blooms on old wood or new wood, to determine which season is the best for pruning. And you can prune at the end of the first season to remove any damaged or mis-guided shoots. Read more about pruning hydrangeas in our hydrangea pruning guide.
Hydrangea Pests and Diseases
Hydrangeas don't suffer from many diseases, but they are susceptible to grazing by deer and other mammals over the winter. Deer will browse all hydrangea species, and, depending on other food sources available, they can go after them quite heavily. To a lesser extent, rabbits, mice and voles can also cause damage to tender shoots and leaves.
Oakleaf and arborescens hydrangea are particularly prone to deer browsing. Prior to winter, wrap the accessible parts of the hydrangea with a deer cage or wire. If that doesn't deter your furry friends, try a commercial deer repellent.
Recommended Hydrangea VarietiesThe wide variety in the hydrangea genus makes for plenty of options-and, occasionally, decision paralysis. Check out a few of our favorite new hydrangeas and classics.
- Skyfall is a new, more compact hydrangea for lovers of Limelight and other green-white paniculatas. Exceptionally large flower clusters on a mid-size plant open in early summer, with the shape of classic hyacinths.
- Little Spooky is a beautifully compact paniculata, similar to Limelight or Skyfall but smaller. A true dwarf hydrangea, Little Spooky can be planted in groups along small borders, but offers a big punch of pleasant green color.
- Incrediball Hydrangea offers huge, fairy-tale-esque blooms at nearly 12 inches wide. This is a remarkable Arborescens hydrangea, with strong stems that won't break even under the weight of those magnificent flowers.
- Berry White is a beautiful example of a white-to-red paniculata. Its large, white, conical flower heads mature to a rich dark pink to red, but variance in the shift of individual blooms gives a lovely multi-hued look to the landscape.
- Summer Crush is another option for lovers of rich tones. It's one of the truest red hydrangeas yet grown in the United States. This macrophylla blooms in deep raspberry tones, and it's incredibly cold-hardy.
- Snowcicle an oakleaf hydrangea, starts with white double florets, creating a cascade of texture. Those flowers age to soft rose-red, then change to a light green hue as the season goes on.
- Twist N Shout Hydrangea, a lacecap macrophylla, features a lovely periwinkle blue tone in its blooms in acidic soil, and a pretty bluish pink in alkaline. Luckily, you won't find yourself short on these blooms, since this macrophylla blooms on both old and new wood.
- Magical Chocolate is a unique hydrangea, with thick latex-like sepals and a deepening red color tinged with chocolatey hues.
No matter what kind of hydrangea you choose, Spring Hill is here to help you make this year's garden your most successful yet. For more hydrangea help, check out our gardening guides.