Heavenly White Hydrangeas

Grow Hydrangeas
White hydrangeas are rockstars of the shrub world. Not only do they provide midsize structure to your garden design, their beautiful blooms, comprised of multiple small flowers, provide four-season interest when you let them dry on the plant. That's always a tough choice, though, since white hydrangeas are great cut flowers and dry as beautifully in a vase indoors as they do outside.

White Hydrangeas in the Garden

White is an important color in the garden. It can be used to light up a shady area, imbue a space with a sense of calm, act as a neutral foil against other colors, and serve as an exclamation or focal point. White hydrangeas fill this need admirably.

"If you have no white in the garden, well, you are missing something," says Nicholas Stadden, director of new plant introductions for Monrovia Growers. "White is a pure, wonderfully refreshing color, not just in the garden, in a container on the patio or inside as a fresh cut."

You cannot change the color of white hydrangeas to pink or blue, although some begin with white blooms, then age to a pink or tan color.

Choosing the Right White Hydrangea

When choosing a hydrangea shrub, remember there are many types, each needing specific locations and care to perform best. Although there are at least 49 species of hydrangea, these are the four types most often grown:

Smooth (H. arborescens): 'Annabelle' is the most popular variety. Smooth hydrangeas flower best in full sun, but southern gardeners should site the plants in part shade.

Bigleaf (H. macrophylla): Bigleaf hydrangeas are the classic florist types of hydrangea that everyone loves, but not everyone can grow. Bigleafs grow best with partial shade in moist, well-drained soils. Most are hardy to Zone 5 or to Zone 4 with winter protection. 

Panicle (H. paniculata): Tough and easy to grow, panicle hydrangeas grow cone-shape flowers. They prefer full sun and survive in all but the coldest climates (Zone 3). Panicles bloom later than other varieties, usually midsummer. Heights can range from 3–4 feet to 8–10 feet.

Oakleaf (H. quercifolia): These plants are loved for their oak-shape leaves, which turn eye-catching shades of burgundy, rust, or orange in the fall. The white flower heads usually transform to pink or tan as weather cools. Cultivars of this native species, usually hardy to Zone 5, do well in dry soils and in sun to partial shade. 

'Annabelle' Smooth Hydrangea

'Annabelle' is a bit like Garrison Keillor's famous Lake Woebegone, the little town that time forgot that the decades cannot improve. Smooth hydrangeas are native in much of the eastern United States, so changes were bound to occur. In the 1960s, a horticulture professor discovered that a smooth hydrangea growing in Anna, Illinois, grew bigger white flowers than the traditional species. Since then, the decades cannot improve this stalwart performer.

Name: 'Annabelle' (Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle')

Hydrangea type: Smooth

Growing conditions: Sun to part sun. Provide extra water in extreme heat. Prune in late winter to early spring to encourage new growth and blooms. Flower heads may flatten with heavy rain and stalks may splay if the flower heads grow very large. Support blooms and stems with fencing or plant several shrubs close together, spacing about 3 feet apart, so they hold each other up.

Size: 5 feet tall and wide

Zones: 3 to 9

Source: Widely available

Incrediball Smooth Hydrangea

Incrediball hydrangea is 'Annabelle' with even bigger flower heads, as large as 12 inches wide, held on sturdy stems. This shrub is tall and wide, making it perfect as a screen or focal point in the landscape. Like 'Annabelle', it is cold-hardy, so a tough winter won't affect its summer blooming performance. It may perform slightly better in northern climates than in the south.

Name: Incrediball (Hydrangea arborescens 'Abetwo')

Hydrangea type: Smooth

Growing conditions: Sun to part sun. Provide extra water in extreme heat. Prune in late winter to early spring to encourage new growth and blooms.

Size: 4 to 5 feet tall, 4 to 5 feet wide

Zones: 3 to 9

Source: Proven Winners

'Haas' Halo' Smooth Hydrangea

Imagine 'Annabelle' if you took the bloom and stretched it so it was about 14 inches wide and an inch or two deep. That would describe 'Haas' Halo' with "some of the loveliest dried flowers I've seen in a long time," according to Angela Treadwell-Palmer, founder of Plants Nouveau, which introduces new plants. 'Haas' Halo' was selected by Frederick Ray, a former horticulture professor at Delaware Valley College in Pennsylvania, from a batch of seedlings he got from Philadelphia-area plant lover Joan Haas. This white lacecap smooth hydrangea is touted as drought-, humidity- and heat-tolerant.

Name: 'Haas' Halo' (Hydrangea arborescens 'Haas' Halo')

Hydrangea type: Smooth

Growing conditions: Full sun to part shade; prefers morning sun, afternoon shade.

Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and wide

Zones: 3 to 9

Source: Plants Nouveau

Image: Plants Nouveau

Snow Queen Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf hydrangeas are native to the southeastern United States, so you can guess already that they tolerate hot, humid weather and that they're not quite as cold hardy as other types of hydrangeas. Snow Queen's 4- to 12-inch-long white panicles, change to a rosy shade by fall, when they coordinate with the red-burgundy-purple color change of the leaves. Attractive peeling cinnamon-color bark adds interest in the winter after the leaves have dropped.

Name: Snow Queen (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Flemygea')

Hydrangea type: Oakleaf

Growing conditions: Part shade to sun (tolerates more sun the farther north it grows). Prune to 1 to 2 feet tall in late winter to promote new growth and blooms. Prefers well-draining soil with average moisture.

Size: 7 to 10 feet tall and wide

Zones: 5 to 9; may need winter protection in northern gardens

Source: Widely available

Image: Doreen Wynja for Monrovia

Gatsby Gal Oakleaf Hydrangea

If you like Snow Queen oakleaf hydrangea but don't have quite enough room, take a gander at Gatsby Gal. The white flower cones are oversize for the shrub's dimensions and held upright on strong stems, making what Tim Wood, product development manager at Spring Meadow Nursery, a Proven Winners partner, calls "a showy flower display."

Name: Gatsby Gal (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Brenhill')

Hydrangea type: Oakleaf

Growing conditions: Plant in moist, well-drained soil in sun to part sun. Avoid pruning; blooms form on last year's growth.

Size: 5 to 6 feet tall and wide

Zones: 5 to 9; may need winter protection in northern gardens

Source: Proven Winners

Image: Proven Winners

Gatsby Moon Oakleaf Hydrangea

The individual flowers on the upright cones of Gatsby Moon are packed so tightly together they present an attractive quilted look that makes you want to run your fingers across them. The white panicles age to green as time goes on, and the foliage turns a shiny burgundy in the fall. This is a white hydrangea that will seem to glow in the evening garden.

Name: Gatsby Moon (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Brother Edward')

Hydrangea type: Oakleaf

Growing conditions: Plant in moist, well-drained soil in sun to part sun. Avoid pruning; blooms form on last year's growth.

Size: 6 to 10 feet tall and wide

Zones: 5 to 9; may need winter protection in northern gardens

Source: Proven Winners

Image: Proven Winners

Gatsby Star Oakleaf Hydrangea

When it comes to double-flowered oakleaf hydrangeas, the beautiful Snowflake has been a great choice since it went on the market in the 1970s. Now, Gatsby Star is ascending, sporting gorgeous white double petals that are pointed instead of rounded. In the fall, the flower color turns pink and the leaves transform to burgundy. This is a white hydrangea you'll want to see up close.

Name: Gatsby Star (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Doughill')

Hydrangea type: Oakleaf

Growing conditions: Plant in moist, well-drained soil in sun to part sun. Avoid pruning; blooms form on last year's growth.

Size: 5 to 6 feet tall and wide

Zones: 5 to 9; may need winter protection in northern gardens

Source: Proven Winners

Image: Proven Winners

'Ice Crystal' Oakleaf Hydrangea

This compact hybrid, just 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, bears scores of pure white panicles from spring to fall. With beauty like that it's hard to believe that the decorative leaves, which turn red in autumn, are the true stars. The leaves, smaller than other types of oakleaf hydrangeas, show resistance to pests and diseases. "So by the end of fall when most other varieties look pest-damaged, 'Ice Crystal' maintains its beautiful foliage with less damage and colors up really well into fall," says Ball Ornamentals Product Marketing Manager Brooke Ryan.

Name: Ice Crystal (Hydrangea quercifolia 'HQOPR010')

Hydrangea type: Oakleaf

Growing conditions: Part shade (provide more sun in the North and more shade in the South). Plant in well-drained soil. Provide extra moisture in drought.

Size: 3 to 6 feet tall and wide

Zones: 5 to 8

Source: Ball Ornamentals

Image: Ball Ornamentals

'Bombshell' Panicle Hydrangea

By panicle hydrangea standards, this cultivar is downright tiny, reaching only about 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Its strong stems easily support the weight of its many cones of white flowers that begin blooming much earlier than most other panicle hydrangeas.This white hydrangea performs best in milder summer climates and needs almost no pruning to keep its figure trim.

Name: 'Bombshell' (Hydrangea paniculata 'Bombshell')

Hydrangea type: Panicle

Growing conditions: Plant in full sun to part shade. May not need pruning but if needed, cut in late winter or early spring before growth begins. Average water requirements. Tolerates drought. Fertilize in early spring with a time-release fertilizer for trees and shrubs.

Size: 3 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide

Zones: 3 to 8

Source: Ball Ornamentals

Image: Ball Ornamentals

Honeycomb Panicle Hydrangea

If you plant 'Bombshell' for blooms that begin early in the season, you might want to plant Honeycomb for its large, pure white blooms that are stars of the late-season show. Honeycomb is not well known in the United States, but it's a hit in Europe. The panicles grow about three times larger than most others, reaching 12 to 14 inches long.

Name: Honeycomb (Hydrangea paniculata 'Levana')

Hydrangea type: Panicle

Growing conditions: Plant in full sun to part shade. May not need pruning but if needed, cut in late winter or early spring before growth begins. Average water requirements. Tolerates drought. Fertilize in early spring with a time-release fertilizer for trees and shrubs.

Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and wide

Zones: 3 to 8

Source: Ball Ornamentals

Image: Ball Ornamentals

Magical Candle Panicle Hydrangea

It was only a matter of time before someone noticed that some panicle hydrangeas' blooms are conical but more rounded, like a candle flame. Magical Candle's large white flower heads seem to glow, even as they age to a soft yellow to lime green color. Great as a cut flower, Magical Candle shows off from midsummer to fall.

Name: Magical Candle (Hydrangea paniculata 'Bokraflame')

Hydrangea type: Panicle

Growing conditions: Plant in full sun to part shade. May not need pruning but if needed, cut in late winter or early spring before growth begins. Average water requirements. Tolerates drought. Fertilize in early spring with a time-release fertilizer for trees and shrubs.

Size: 6 feet tall, 4 to 5 feet wide

Zones: 3 to 8

Source: Plants Nouveau

Image: Plants Nouveau

'Little Lamb' Panicle Hydrangea

'Little Lamb' is as cute as its namesake. White panicles with tiny, densely clustered blooms begin blooming in midsummer. It's small enough to plant in a large container. "'Little Lamb' may take a year or two to look its best, but this dwarf hydrangea is special because of its delicate, petite blooms that turn a rich pink in autumn," says Tim Wood, product development manager at Spring Meadow Nursery, a Proven Winners partner.

Name: 'Little Lamb' (Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Lamb')

Hydrangea type: Panicle

Growing conditions: Plant in full sun to part shade. May not need pruning but if needed, cut in late winter or early spring before growth begins. Average water requirements. Tolerates drought. Fertilize in early spring with a time-release fertilizer for trees and shrubs.

Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and wide

Zones: 3 to 8

Source: Proven Winners

Image: Proven Winners

Polar Ball Panicle Hydrangea

You want it supersize? Look for Polar Ball, standing 6 to 8 feet tall with "outrageously oversize" white flowers. "I'd say the sepals -- the large decorative petals -- are about four times as large and the flower head is 50 percent larger [than an average white hydrangea]," says Tim Wood, product development manager at Spring Meadow Nursery, a Proven Winners partner. It's a panicle that's likely bigger than your head!

Name: Polar Ball (Hydrangea paniculata 'WRHPBB2')

Hydrangea type: Panicle

Growing conditions: Plant in full sun to part shade. May not need pruning but if needed, cut in late winter or early spring before growth begins. Average water requirements. Tolerates drought. Fertilize in early spring with a time-release fertilizer for trees and shrubs.

Size: 6 to 8 feet tall and wide

Zones: 3 to 8

Source: Proven Winners

Image: Proven Winners

White Diamonds Panicle Hydrangea

Diamonds are among the toughest substances on the planet. While this white hydrangea can't be used to drill holes, it stands up to heat and drought better than some others. Upright, sturdy stems hold white panicles that transition by fall to a pale tan.

Name: First Editions White Diamonds (Hydrangea paniculata 'HYPMAD I')

Hydrangea type: Panicle

Growing conditions: Plant in full sun to part shade. May not need pruning but if needed, cut in late winter or early spring before growth begins. Average water requirements. Tolerates drought. Fertilize in early spring with a time-release fertilizer for trees and shrubs. Prune or deadhead after final frost or in early spring to encourage strong stem growth and encourage bloom development.

Size: 4 to 5 feet tall, 5 to 6 feet wide

Zones: 4 to 8

Source: Bailey Nurseries

Bobo Panicle Hydrangea

If you have room for a large container, you have enough space to grow Bobo, a dwarf that reaches 3 feet if it's feeling tall. But its small size belies its impact. "Bobo is a show stopper that literally glows in the garden," says Tim Wood, product development manager at Spring Meadow Nursery Inc., a Proven Winners partner. "This dwarf hydrangea has so many flowers it looks like a little puff ball of blooms; you can hardly see the leaves."

Name: Bobo (Hydrangea paniculata  'ILVOBO')

Hydrangea type: Panicle

Growing conditions: Grow in part sun and afternoon shade. Prune in spring before growth begins. Deadheading flowers encourages more blooms but don't prune the shrub unless necessary. If you do prune, clip in late summer just after they are done flowering. Grows best in evenly moist, well-drained soil. Apply a controlled-release fertilizer in early spring. Apply mulch to conserve moisture.

Size: 3 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide

Zones: 3 to 8

Source: Proven Winners

Image: Proven Winners

Wedding Gown Bigleaf Hydrangea

Say "I do!" to Wedding Gown, a bigleaf white hydrangea that starts out as a lacecap but fills in to become a mophead. Each of the small blossoms that forms the flower head features double petals, like a wedding bouquet on a stem. This smaller garden variety also works well in containers.

In the future, watch for Double Delights 'Peace' hydrangea, a double white mophead that blushes pink and Next Generation Snow Storm ('White King') with pure white flowers that bloom earlier than other bigleaf varieties.

Name: Wedding Gown (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Dancing Snow')

Hydrangea type: Bigleaf

Growing conditions: Grow in part sun and afternoon shade. Prune in spring before growth begins. Deadheading flowers encourages more blooms but don't prune the shrub unless necessary. If you do prune, clip in late summer just after they are done flowering. Grows best in evenly moist, well-drained soil. Apply a controlled-release fertilizer in early spring. Apply mulch to conserve moisture.

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall, 3 to 5 feet wide

Zones: 5 to 8

Source: Ball Ornamentals

Image: Ball Ornamentals

Avant Garde Bigleaf Hydrangea

Find this new variety in potted form, with one pure-white basketball-size flower head grown on a single stalk as a patio tree. As it ages, the individual flowers mature to a light pink followed by pale green.

Name: Avant Garde (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Savant')

Hydrangea type: Bigleaf

Growing conditions: Keep this potted plant in part sun with afternoon shade. Soil should be moist, not waterlogged.

Size: 3 to 6 feet tall and wide

Zones: 7 to 9

Source: Ball Ornamentals

Image: Ball Ornamentals

Magical Pearl Bigleaf Hydrangea

You'll want a whole string of them: Clear white orbs even brighter than pearls are borne on strong stems of this lovely bigleaf hydrangea. Wait a few weeks and the white ages to a chartreuse green that looks great in bouquets or as a dried flower. Flowers are formed on both old and new wood, so hold off on pruning unless necessary, although you can clip these white hydrangea flowers any time to make way for more.

Name: Magical Pearl (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Napo')

Hydrangea type: Bigleaf

Growing conditions: Grow in part sun and afternoon shade. Prune in spring before growth begins. Deadheading flowers encourages more blooms but don't prune the shrub unless necessary. If you do prune, clip in late summer just after they are done flowering. Grows best in evenly moist well-drained soil. Apply a controlled-release fertilizer in early spring. Apply mulch to conserve moisture.

Size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

Zones: 4 to 8

Source: Plants Nouveau

Image: Plants Nouveau

Blushing Bride Bigleaf Hydrangea

This daughter of Endless Summer hydrangea blooms on both new and old wood. Round white blooms about 6 inches wide age to a pretty pale pink or Carolina blue, depending on the soil pH. Very strong stems keep the large white mopheads upright. Pruning can be done in fall or dried blooms can be left on the stems for winter interest until spring.

Name: 'Blushing Bride' (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Blushing Bride')

Hydrangea type: Bigleaf

Growing conditions: Grow in part sun and afternoon shade. Prune in spring before growth begins. Deadheading flowers encourages more blooms but don't prune the shrub unless necessary. If you do prune, clip in late summer just after they are done flowering. Grows best in evenly moist, well-drained soil. Apply a controlled-release fertilizer in early spring. Apply mulch to conserve moisture.

Size: 3 to 6 feet tall and wide

Zones: 4 to 9

Source: Bailey Nurseries

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