Hydrangea Happiness: How to Grow Hydrangeas

Chose the right type of hydrangeas for your area, and these flowering shrubs will always make you smile.

Hydrangeas are some of the most popular and sought-after flowers. But because of the variety of hydrangea species, they often cause great confusion. This article will simplify these beautiful flowering shrubs and explain how to grow hydrangeas. Success with hydrangeas comes down to three things. The first is choosing the perfect type for your region. Second, planting them in the right location. And finally, knowing how to care for them.


How to Grow Hydrangeas: The Best Type for You

When most people choose to grow hydrangeas, they choose specific varieties with the flowers they want in their garden. This might backfire when it comes time to grow hydrangeas, however, because some of the species behave very differently, which affects blooming. Knowing which type you’re considering, and matching it to the weather in your area, is key to seeing flowers on your plants.


hydrangeas are a featured shrub from Nature Hills Nursery


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Those Big Blue or Pink Mopheads

Yes, the large flowers on Hydrangea macrophylla varieties are amazing. When these plants are grown in places where the winters don’t get too cold (basically below 10° Fahrenheit) and the summers don’t get too hot (much above 90° for any length of time) these shrubs bloom well for most of the summer.

But since they form their flower buds for the following year in July or August, if the winter temperatures are too cold the germ of those blooms gets zapped. In this situation the plants grow new stems from their roots but won’t produce flowers. Even the varieties that bloom on new stems may not flower in areas where frost comes early enough to kill those developing blooms.

Blue flowers on an Endless Summer mophead hydrangea
Endless Summer is a blue mophead hydrangea shrub that grows about five feet tall and wide. The majority of flowers on Endless Summer are formed the summer before, so a show of many blooms like this depends on a mild winter where the temperatures stay out of the single digits.

Those who garden in the perfect climate for mophead hydrangeas will get the most long-lasting flowers if these shrubs receive morning sun and afternoon shade. You can find mophead hydrangeas at NatureHills.com and Amazon.com.


Pruning Hydrangea macrophylla

Because the buds for the following year are already there in the summer, there is no time when you can cut the canes down that won’t affect flowering for the next season. The only pruning that should be done on Hydrangea macrophylla plants is the removal of dead canes in the spring.

Once the buds formed the previous year have started to open and there are green leaves the size of a dime, cut out any cane or top of the stems where there is no new growth. If these hydrangeas are cut back to “neaten them up” or attempt to make them smaller in the fall or the spring, you will have many fewer flowers the following summer.


How to Grow Hydrangeas: Root Hardiness versus Bud Hardiness

When it comes to the cold hardiness of Hydrangea macrophylla, there’s a difference between the root hardiness and the ability of the buds to make it through the winter. That’s why the plants may not produce flowers in colder climates.

Many of these plants are root hardy in USDA Zone 4, but the flower buds that are formed the year before won’t make it through the winter. In places where the temperatures go below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the plants will grow back from the roots. But the flower buds on the stems will be killed. Most mopheads are root hardy in Zones 4 or 5 but only bud-hardy when winter temperatures stay above 10° Fahrenheit.

If you live in areas too cold to keep the flower buds alive through the winter, grow these magnificent plants in pots and pull them into a garage or cold basement for the winter. As long as the temperatures in the building don’t go below freezing, and you check the soil for moisture periodically, these shrubs go dormant inside and will leaf out and produce flowers the following summer. Varieties that are bred to be shorter are especially successful in pots.


Lacecap Hydrangeas

blue flowers on a lacecap hydrangea shrub
This lacecap has dark blue fertile flowers that the bees love, surrounded by the larger petals of infertile blooms. In the background is one of the white panicle hydrangeas in full bloom.

Lacecaps are the hydrangeas that produce lacy flowers. They have tiny fertile flowers in the center of the bloom circled by the larger, infertile petals. These are either the mountain hydrangeas (H. serrata), or the bigleaf types (H. macrophylla). Hydrangeas in the serrata species are slightly more bud hardy than others, Unfortunately, winter temperatures in the single digits or below can still kill the buds.

Close-up of the flowers on a Lacecap Hydrangea 'Tokyo Delight' plant.
Close-up of the flowers on a Lacecap Hydrangea ‘Tokyo Delight’ plant.

Grow these lacecap hydrangeas in partial shade for the longest-lasting flowers. Like the mopheads, they are root hardy in Zone 4 to 5, but not necessarily bud hardy in those regions. Shorter varieties of lacecap hydrangeas can be grown in containers. Then, move them into the garage during the winter if you live in Zone 6 or below.


White to Pink Panicles

If you live where the temperatures dip down below zero on the Fahrenheit scale, you can still grow hydrangeas. The panicle varieties may not be blue, but they are beautiful and reliable. Unlike the mopheads and lacecaps, varieties of Hydrangea paniculata form their flower buds in the spring and early summer. The plants will still flower even if the temperature drops to -15°. Or if someone cuts them back in the fall or spring.

flowers of the vanilla strawberry hydrangea plant
Flowers of the vanilla strawberry hydrangea plant.

Some panicle-type hydrangeas have flowers that stay white most of the season. Occasionally the flowers get a blush of pink in the fall. Limelight, Bobo, and the classic PG are three varieties in this category. Other panicles turn pink, often while some petals are still white, creating a two-tone look as the flowers age. Vanilla Strawberry, Fire Light, Quick Fire, and Pinky Winky are four large-growing panicles that turn a brilliant pink as the summer progresses. Little Quick Fire and Fire Light Tidbit are two cultivars that turn pink but stay smaller. These varieties are perfect for foundation plantings and smaller gardens.

Most panicle hydrangeas are hardy in a Zone 4. Since they don’t form their flower buds the year before, you don’t have to worry about bud-hardiness. You can find hydrangeas at NatureHills.com and Amazon.com.


Grow Smooth Hydrangeas: Round White, Pink or Green

Hydrangea arborescens is another species of this shrub that produces flowers on new growth. These smooth hydrangeas are especially cold hardy.  They are native to the southeast United States and are even more cold tolerant than the panicles. Although Annabelle, ‘Grandiflora’ and Incrediball are the most widely known arborescens varieties, there are new cultivars being introduced frequently.

Invincibelle Spirit II and Pinkerella have pink flowers and grow to about four feet tall. Mini Mauvette is also pink, but shorter, and Wee White only grows a foot or two high. Limetta is a newer introduction with flowers that open as a lime green and age to a softer shade of jade. Most smooth hydrangeas are hardy in zones 3-9.

pale pink flowers on Invincibelle Spirit II hydrangea bush
The flowers on pink smooth hydrangeas, like this Invincibelle Spirit II, start out dark pink and age to a paler color.

The panicle and smooth varieties grow and bloom best in full to part sun. They can be pruned early in the spring by removing dead wood, crossed branches and stems that are growing into the center of the plant instead of toward the outside.

Make sure to group your hydrangea shrub with other plants that like a deep soaking every few days. Also, mulch the beds to retain moisture in the soil. Fertilize with an organic fertilizer in the spring. One application is usually enough, because too much fertility will create larger flowers that are more prone to flopping. You can find hydrangeas at NatureHills.com and Amazon.com.

white flowers of a smooth annabelle hydrangea
Annabelle is one of the best known varieties of smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens). To keep the flowers from falling over into the mud after a heavy rain, don’t over-fertilize and don’t cut the plant back too far in the spring since newer growth is weaker. These plants can also be staked to support flopping stems, or the largest, heaviest flowers can be cut and brought inside for bouquets.

This is how you grow a happy hydrangea! If you need info about fertilizing this gorgeous plants, read How to Fertilize Flowering Shrubs and Perennials.



  1. Susie says

    Hello… I love reading your articles about hydrangeas! I received a beautiful blue hydrangea in a pot when my daughter passed away in late March. After the flowers died off, I cut the plant down and transferred it into a bigger planter and have had it outside all summer. I have kept it watered, and it has really taken off with beautiful green leaves. My question now is, do I plant in the fall? I live in Pennsylvania.

    1. Randy Schultz says

      We’re so glad you enjoy our stories! Yes, fall is a great time to plant perennials such as hydrangeas. Try to get it planted four weeks before the first frost. Good luck!

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