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Everything to Know About Hydrangeas

This Old House landscape contractor Jenn Nawada explains why she loves hydrangeas so much and where to plant and care for them.

Landscape expert Jenn Nawada shares her love and knowledge of hydrangeas. After explaining how these bushy, bright flowering plants’ hardiness and versatility can work in almost any landscape, she examines the different types of hydrangeas available while visiting a local nursery.

Hydrangeas are Versatile

Hydrangeas work in almost any landscape. They’re hardy to various soils and climates, allowing them to flourish in growing zones 4 through 9. As general rules, most hydrangeas thrive in partial sun and well-drained soils.

Hydrangeas Range in Color

Hydrangeas will range in colors from blues and purples to pinks and whites based on the soil's acidity. Blue flowers indicate that the soil is more acidic, while pinks and whites indicate that the soil is basic or alkaline.

How to Care for Hydrangeas Depends on the Variety

The right time to prune, how to shape, the appropriate sunlight, the best soil, and other factors all depend on the type of hydrangea. It’s important to know which kind of plant you have and how to care for that specific variety.

Five Kinds of Hydrangeas

There are essentially five types of hydrangeas:

Bigleaf Hydrangea

Endless Summer hydrangea
Endless Summer hydrangea
iStock

Bigleaf hydrangeas, or hydrangea macrophylla, have two types of flowerheads; mophead (rounded) or lace cap (flatter). Bigleaf hydrangeas typically bloom on old wood. The best time to prune this variety is after the flowerheads are spent, nipping them right above a healthy set of nodes (where two leaves meet along the main stem).

Smooth Hydrangea

Annabelle hydrangea
Annabelle hydrangea
iStock

Smooth hydrangeas, or hydrangea arborescens, have smooth leaves and the flowerheads range from lime green to white. These plants do well in shaded and dappled light areas of the yard. These plants can be cut to the ground at the end of the season like a perennial.

Panicle Hydrangea

Sweet Summer hydrangea
Sweet Summer hydrangea
iStock

Panicle hydrangeas, or hydrangea paniculata, have cone-shaped flowers that range from lime green to brilliant white. The best time to prune panicle hydrangea is late winter or early spring before the leaves emerge.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Munchkin Oakleaf hydrangea
Munchkin Oakleaf hydrangea
iStock

Oakleaf hydrangeas, or hydrangea quercifolia, leaves are shaped similarly to those on an oak tree. This is one of the earliest blooming hydrangeas, often flowering in June and ending in July. Wait until the flowerheads are spent to prune them to the next healthy node. These hydrangeas work well in shade gardens and create beautiful fall foliage.

Climbing Hydrangea

Climbing hydrangea
Climbing hydrangea
iStock

Climbing hydrangeas, or hydrangea petiolaris, is a vine variety, and it will climb walls, fences, trellises, and other structures. These plants bloom in June or July, and they need pruning right after they flower. They have aerial roots that attach to the structure and climb.

There’s a Variety for Every House Style and Landscape

There is a hydrangea for almost any setting. After identifying the variety, they’re easy to take care of, and they can make a great addition to any garden.

Resources

Expert assistance with this segment was provided by Stonegate Gardens.