How to Care for and Choose Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas come in a staggering array of shapes, sizes, and varieties. Knowing which of these flowering shrubs will do best in your backyard is the first step to success with this beautiful bloomer. Plus get tips on how to care for hydrangeas.
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Hydrangeas can generally be broken down into two main groups: mopheads and lacecaps. Each group contains a gorgeous assortment of species and varieties. We'll discuss some of our favorites and give you ideas about how you can use them in your garden. We'll also show you some other great selections in the hydrangea clan, including oakleaf, paniculata, and climbing hydrangea so you can pick the best ones for you, and give you tips on how to care for hydrangeas, too.
Video: More on Hydrangeas
Watch our video on hydrangeas to learn more about these beautiful flowering shrubs.
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Mophead hydrangeas offer big dome-shape clusters of flowers in blue, pink, or white. Most mopheads bloom in late spring or early summer but make their flower buds the year before you see them. As you care for this type of hydrangea, know that it is best to prune them is in early summer, right after the flowers fade.
Most mopheads grow best in a spot with moist, well-drained soil and a bit of afternoon shade.
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One of the showiest mophead hydrangeas you can grow, Big Daddy Hydrangea macrophylla features huge (14 inch-wide) clusters of blue or pink blooms. The long-lasting flowers are great for cutting because they have strong stems. It grows 6 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-9
One note: Because the flowers are so large, the stems can flop if you grow the plant in extra-rich soil or too much shade.
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A relatively new mophead variety, Pink Shira Hydrangea macrophylla is a favorite for its strong stems, compact habit, and long-lasting blooms. Its flowers start out a lovely shade of lime green then turn pink or lavender (this one doesn't go blue. It grows 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Zones 5-9
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Cityline Paris Hydrangea macrophylla is another recent mophead introduction that stands out because of its upright stems and compact habit. It features bright fuchsia-pink flowers that last a long time then fade to a lovely shade of green in summer. It grows 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Zones 5-9
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A sister to Cityline Paris, Cityline Berlin Hydrangea macrophylla offers larger flowers on the same tight habit and strong stems. The flowers on this mophead aren't as brightly colored as its sister, but they last just as long. It grows 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide. 5-9
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Black-stem hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nigra') has beautiful mophead flowers, but as its name suggests, the stems are what stand out. They are a dark purple-black color that contrasts against the green foliage and pastel blue or pink blooms. It grows 6 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-9
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Sun Goddess Hydrangea
Flowers aren't the only reason to grow hydrangeas; some have stunning foliage, as well. Sun Goddess Hydrangea macrophylla is one great example; this mophead features bright golden-green foliage that lights up the shade garden. Sun Goddess grows 5 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-9 Other hydrangeas that feature golden foliage include Lemon Daddy and 'Lemon Zest'.
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Lacecap hydrangeas give the garden a more delicate look. Instead of producing a one big rounded cluster of showy florets, they form a flower head composed of a ring of colorful florets surrounding a lacy cluster of small florets. Lacecap hydrangeas have similar cultural needs as their mophead cousins, mainly differing in flower form.
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Bits of Lace
Bits of Lace Hydrangea macrophylla features lacecaps of large white florets that are strongly blushed with pink. The large florets surround a lacy group of smaller pink ones. This selection also offers sturdy stems and dark green foliage. As you learn how to care for hydrangeas, make sure to understand their hardiness zone restrictions. This one grows 5 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-9
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Considered one of best lacecaps, Hydrangea macrophylla 'Lanarth White' shows off large clusters of white florets faintly blushed with blue or pink. Its stiff stems keep the spectacular flowers standing upright. It grows 4 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-9
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Rough-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea villosa) is a favorite of gardeners in areas of the South and Northwest and is a little more exotic-looking than your average lacecap. It features long, narrow, hairy foliage and blooms in late summer and fall. It's also much larger, growing to 12 feet tall and wide. Zones 7-9
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You'll love this hydrangea's beautiful foliage, even if it doesn't bloom for you. Light-O-Day Hydrangea macrophylla features rich green foliage broadly edged in white. The white lacecap flowers are an attractive complement to the foliage. This shrub grows 5 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-9
'Mariesii Variegata' also offers white-edged foliage; 'Lemon Wave' features a wide banding of mottled white, cream, and yellow around the leaves.
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A handful of mophead and lacecap hydrangeas have the ability to produce flowers on new growth. Because of this, they tend to rebloom throughout the summer and into fall. They're a good choice for gardeners in Northern regions because you don't need to worry about cold temperatures killing the flower buds during the winter.
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Endless Summer Hydrangea macrophylla is one of the most famous rebloomers. Introduced in 2004, it allowed gardeners in Northern climates to be able enjoy hydrangeas in their gardens. It features big mophead clusters of blue or pink flowers and grows 5 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-9 Note: There's also a lacecap version available; it's called Endless Summer Twist-n-Shout Hydrangea macrophylla.
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A low habit and ability to rebloom in summer and fall sets Spreading Beauty Hydrangea serrata apart. This lacecap hydrangea offers pink or blue flowers in late spring or early summer. The blooms are great for cutting. It grows 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Zones 5-9
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Blue Bunny Hydrangea involucrata shows off blue clusters of lacecap flowers from midsummer to frost. It's a strong grower with slightly hairy foliage and unique acorn-shape flower buds. It grows 4 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-9 Note: Because it blooms on new wood, the best time to prune this lacecap hydrangea is in late winter or early spring.
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Let's Dance Starlight
Like Endless Summer Twist-n-Shout, Let's Dance Starlight Hydrangea macrophylla is a lacecap that produces showy flowers for months. It also has rich, dark green foliage and a compact habit. This variety grows 3 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-9
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About Flower Color
Mophead and many lacecap hydrangeas are sensitive to soil pH, and the blooms reflect this. In acidic soils, flowers tend to blue; in more alkaline soils, blooms tend toward pink. So if you'd like to change the color of your blooms as you learn how to care for your hydrangeas, know that you have to add soil sulfur to make them more blue and lime to make them more pink.
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About Fall Foliage
Mophead and lacecap varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla typically feature attractive fall foliage in shades of red and burgundy. The coloration varies from type to type, so if a fall show is important to you, shop in autumn or research which selections color up the best at the end of the growing season.
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A cousin to mopheads and lacecaps, 'Annabelle' hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle') is one of the hardiest types. It blooms in summer, producing large snowy-white clusters of showy florets. For that, it's sometimes called snowball hydrangea. 'Annabelle' is also one of the best hydrangeas for deep shade. It blooms on new wood, so the best time to prune it is late winter or early spring. It grows 4 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-9 Note: Hydrangea arborescens is native to areas of North America.
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White Dome Hydrangea
A unique variety, White Dome Hydrangea arborescens features flowers that look like fluffy clouds floating above dark green foliage. Like 'Annabelle', it blooms in summer on new wood. It grows 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Zones 4-9
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Another beauty native to areas of North America, oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) offers cone-shape clusters of creamy white flowers in summer. But the show goes on -- the lobed leaves create wonderful texture in the garden and the peeling, cinnamon-color bark provides winter interest. It grows 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide. Zones 5-9
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Snowflake Oakleaf Hydrangea
A standout among oakleaf types, Snowflake Hydrangea quercifolia shows off large heads of double flowers. The flowers often turn rosy-pink before maturing to a rich brown in fall. It grows 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 5-9
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Vaughn's Lillie Oakleaf Hydrangea
Bold only begins to describe stunning Vaughn's Lillie Hydrangea quercifolia. This selection features exceptionally full flower heads. It also tends to bloom more profusely than the average oakleaf hydrangea and has a compact habit. It grows 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Zones 5-9
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Fall Color on Oakleaf Hydrangeas
Oakleaf hydrangeas tend to be the most spectacular types for putting on a brilliant show of late-season color. In autumn, their leaves turn shades of crimson, burgundy, and purple. They seem to glow when backlit by the sun.
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Have sun? Don't worry -- Hydrangea paniculata doesn't mind. In fact, it blooms better in full sun. It also tends to be large; some varieties can grow 25 feet tall. This summer-flowering hydrangea blooms on new wood, so it's best pruned in late winter or early spring. Zones 4-8
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'Limelight' Hydrangea Paniculata
Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' is unique because its cone-shape flowers open a lovely shade of chartreuse then fade to rich pink in fall. It's a vigorous shrub that's great for informal hedges, as well as a top-notch cut flower. It grows 8 feet tall and wide. Zones 3-9
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'Tardiva' Hydrangea Paniculata
A fast-growing selection, Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva' features pointed clusters of white flowers that fade to pink as they mature. It's great for cut flowers, and the blooms hold up well if left on the plant in the winter. It grows 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 3-8
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PeeGee Hydrangea Paniculata
One of the largest hydrangeas, you can grow PeeGee (Hydrangea paniculata 'Grandiflora') as a small summer-flowering tree. It grows to 20 feet tall (or more, if really happy) and 8 feet wide. The large clusters of blooms appear in summer and often fade to pink in fall. Zones 4-8
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Pinky Winky Hydrangea Paniculata
Pinky Winky Hydrangea paniculata bears large clusters of white flowers in mid- and late summer that quickly fade to a rich rose-pink color. The strong stems hold the flowers up, even in heavy rains. It grows 8 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-8
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Fall Color on Hydrangea Paniculata
Most types of Hydrangea paniculata offer attractive fall color. Their leaves usually turn shades of gold (often suffused with purple) at the end of the season
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Most hydrangeas are shrubs, but climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris) is a large vine with clusters of fluffy flowers in summer. This variety establishes slowly, so be patient. It may take a few years, but once it's ready, the vine puts on a big show. It climbs to 50 feet. Zones 4-9
More Must-Try Hydranges
See more great hydrangea varieties.