Companion plants for hydrangea

There’s no doubt that hydrangeas can hold their own in the garden. With big colorful blooms and beautiful green foliage, summer’s favorite flower makes a bold statement in any garden.

But, why not pair them with delicate foliage, bold flowers or subtle ornamental grasses for more variety? If you’re looking for ways to make your hydrangeas pop even more, try these companion planting tips.

When planting hydrangeas, be sure to use Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter Plus for best results.

Foliage

It’s hard to go wrong when choosing a color for companion plants. Try pairing hydrangeas with foliage in different hues of the same color. This adds subtle dimension and almost creates a 3-D effect in the garden.

If your hydrangeas are pink, pair them with Rose Glow Barberry shrubs. The deep pink and purple foliage emphasizes the pastel pink flowers and contrasts perfectly with the green leaves. Try planting Blue Star Juniper alongside blue hydrangeas for a beautiful display. This low-maintenance shrub provides beautiful bluish-green foliage that complements any blue flowering plants.

Flowers

When planting flowers with flowers, timing is everything. Be sure to choose a summer blooming flower that will blossom around the same time as your hydrangea. You can choose to plant similar hues or bright contrasting colors. If you’re looking to create a dramatic contrast in the garden, choose a flower that comes in a variety of colors.

Begonias and geraniums are beautiful flowers that come in many different shades, making them a perfect companion for hydrangeas. Create a colorful rainbow garden by pairing blue hydrangeas with pink geraniums or white hydrangeas with scarlet begonias.

Grasses

If you want the focus of your garden to be mainly on hydrangeas, opt for more subtle ornamental grasses that simply enhance their beauty. Most ornamental grasses are low-maintenance and easy to grow, giving you more time to spend perfecting your hydrangeas.

Fountain grass is one of our favorites because it provides pretty feathered plumes that dance in the wind. Green and yellow Japanese forest grass also complements hydrangeas very nicely.

Let us know what you’ll be planting with your hydrangeas this summer! And watch this video on planting hydrangeas.

Clockwise from top right; Light o’ Day, Pistachio, Bloomstruck, Limelight

On a recent trip to the Bellevue Botanical Gardens I was blinded by a dazzling display of a golden barberry paired with a kaleidoscopic Pistachio hydrangea – which got me thinking. What other plants make good companions for hydrangeas?

So in the interest of helping your create artistic plant combinations and have another excuse to go plant shopping here are a few ideas from my photo library that you may like to try.

Using Foliage

Consider repeating the color of the hydrangea flower with a foliage plant to add emphasis.

In the image below the marbled pink leaves of Rose Glow barberry set the scene for this vibrant pink hydrangea

Rose Glow barberry is a perfect foil to this mophead hydrangea

For a softer look, blades of a white variegated grass such as Miscanthus are perfect behind white panicle flowers such as the peegee hydrangea.

Design by Birgit Piskor, Victoria, BC

Or use a softer toned grass as a carpet to skirt a large hydrangea, hiding the bare shrub ankles without distracting the eye from the seasonal beauty of the blooms

Design by Mary Palmer, Snohomish, WA; grasses hide the bare ankles of a Hydrangea aspera

For grab-your-sunglasses drama what about this combo seen at the Bellevue Botanical Garden that proved to be my inspiration for this post? Rather than repeat the raspberry pink bloom color, or even the secondary blue-lavender eye within these Pistachio hydrangea blooms, these designers opted to highlight the yellow-green notes of emerging blooms for a high intensity color punch.

Pistachio hydrangea meets Sunjoy Gold Pillar barberry – WOW!

Now see the same concept played out in a much gentler way with All Gold Japanese forest grass tucked under this soft blue lace cap hydrangea.

Design by Mitch Evans, Redmond, WA

Using flowers

Timing is everything when you want to combine flowers with flowers.

Below is the same hydrangea that you saw with the Rose Glow barberry, viewed from a different angle. Here you can see how the crisp white blooms of an adjacent hydrangea soften the scene. Since this is a pond-side planting the white adds to the visual cooling – rather like adding ice cubes to your cocktail!

Use white to temper intense colors – design by Joanne White, Redmond, WA

Want something more subtle? Loved this hebe whose flowers perfectly matched the lilac hydrangea bloom behind. Delightful.

Hebe and hydrangea. Design by Helena Wagner, Portland, OR

Or here’s an easy one from my own garden. Rozanne geranium blooms for so long you can’t help but get this right! This hardy geranium is also a real mingler so its tendrils will weave their way along hydrangea branches with little assistance from you.

Design by Le jardinet; Rozanne geranium and Firelight hydrangea

Looking ahead

Many hydrangea blooms change color as seasons progress. Consider planning a companion planting to highlight those dusky fall shades. Angel’s Blush peegee hydrangea turns from white to a delightful rose shade which echoes the color of Gateway Joe Pye weed looming overhead, the scene brightened with the yellow ox eye sunflower (Heliopsis) daisies planted to one side. A scene to look forward to.

Late summer glory; Design by Le jardinet

Watch out for my new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, January 2017), coauthored with Christina Salwitz, where we have several amazing combinations using hydrangeas including some winter ideas!

Final thoughts

What about pairing the hydrangea blooms with the colors of berries, stems or even bark?

The warm cinnamon colored bark of a paperbark maple is a clever component of this design by Helena Wagner, Portland, OR

Wondering which hydrangea to choose? I can’t even begin to help you there as there seem to be a gazillion to select from! I recommend deciding what size and color you want first, then the flower shape. From there ask a nursery professional to help you select the best varieties for your area and to give you tips on successful cultivation.

I also like to know who has grown my plants. There are several excellent hydrangea growers that sell to the nurseries and stores including Proven Winners and Baileys Nurseries that sells the Endless Summer collection of luscious hydrangeas so look for their branded pots.

Who can resist the Endless Summer series of hydrangeas?

What are YOU pairing your hydrangeas with? Leave a comment below or post a photo to me Facebook page for us all to enjoy!

Lovely Pairs

It’s easy to see why hydrangeas have long been a staple in southern gardens.

Ideal for the shady border, hydrangeas are happiest when located where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade. However, they will tolerate a good bit of sun, provided they receive adequate moisture.

With their big, billowy blooms, mophead selections of Hydrangea macrophylla are excellent both in the garden and for flower arrangements. Typically, the blooms are blue when the plants are grown in acidic soil, and pink when the soil is alkaline.


‘Big Daddy’ and Dear Dolores™ are two selections sure to delight. ‘Big Daddy’ Hydrangea’s 12- to 14-inch blooms will turn heads both in the landscape and indoors as cut flowers. Dear Dolores™ is a warm weather stunner, re-blooming spring through fall.

For a cohesive design, plant ‘Big Daddy’ and Dear Dolores™ with other trees, shrubs and perennials. When planning, think of your design as painting with plants to create lovely

Here are some tips for selecting plants that will complement your hydrangeas:


Choose medium-sized trees, like Empress of China® Dogwood, to provide light shade and offer handsome flowers, foliage and bark.


The Delta™ Series of crapemyrtles add rich appeal with burgundy foliage and vivid, colorful blooms all summer.


Or, shape one of the hollies from our collection – Oakland™, Robin™ or ‘Scarlet’s Peak.’ These evergreen beauties offer a perfect anchor of waxy, deep green foliage with a pop of red color when berries appear.

2. Plant a mixture of evergreen and deciduous shrubs to create a dynamic display.


Yewtopia® Plum Yew is evergreen and provides a strong vertical accent.


Or consider a more compact shrub like ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia. This graceful evergreen offers fine, textured, almost feathery foliage – a perfect contrast to the wide leaves of the hydrangeas.


For more formal gardens, consider boxwoods like Baby Gem™. It is ideal for edging or planting in groups as evergreen anchors. You may also grow Baby Gem™ in containers, allowing it to serve as a transportable accent.


Finally, for fragrance and pure white blooms, mix in ScentAmazing™ and Jubilation™ Gardenias for multisensory appeal.

3. The carpet layer.

Plant groundcovers, bulbs or both under your hydrangeas.

Purple Pixie® Loropetalum works well as a groundcover, and adds a nice pop of purple foliage, which will complement the both the leaves and blooms of the hydrangeas.

Also consider perennials like ‘Twilight’ and ‘Solar Eclipse’ Heucherella. ‘Twilight’ Heucherella’s sophisticated charcoal hue and velvety texture will lend elegance as an underplanting or groundcover, while ‘Solar Eclipse’ Heucherella’s citrus-hued border will look fresh paired with the bright hues of the hydrangeas.

If you’re seeking a bright, floral accent, try Evergreen Stella™ Daylily. Its sunny yellow blooms will beautifully contrast against the blue blooms of hydrangeas in acidic soil. Both will brighten your garden all summer long.

Remember – don’t limit yourself. Think of every season and choose a variety of plants to grow with your hydrangeas. Not sure where to start? We’re here to help with a large selection of plants that are bound to please!

Hydrangea Plant Companions – Tips On Planting Next To Hydrangeas

It’s easy to understand why hydrangeas are so popular. Easy to grow and tolerant of sun and shade, hydrangeas bring stunning foliage and big blossoms to your garden. Increase the enchantment of these flowering bushes by carefully selecting hydrangea companion plants. If you are thoughtful about planting next to hydrangeas, you’ll find shrubs and flowers that complement these plants. Read on for some tips on what to plant with hydrangea.

Planting Next to Hydrangeas

When you are considering hydrangea plant companions, look for plants that are similar to hydrangea and those that are different. You focus on hydrangea features by repeating them in companion plants or contrasting them with garden neighbors.

For example, the popular mophead hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) grows naturally as a rounded, mounding shrub with large, rounded leaves. You might choose other plants with rounded

foliage as companions for hydrangea, like hosta. Its teardrop leaves repeat the shape of mophead foliage, and you can find hosta with foliage in different colors.

It is also effective to pick plants with very different foliage for companions for hydrangea, such as lacy, delicate ferns. Or consider the delicate evergreen ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia for hydrangea companion plants. The feathery texture of the foliage contrasts nicely with the wide hydrangea leaves.

More Hydrangea Plant Companions

Hydrangeas will survive in full sun with adequate irrigation. They are much happier, however, in a location with shade during the hottest afternoon hours.

When you are considering planting next to hydrangeas, consider taller plants like small or medium size trees that could offer the shade the shrubs prefer. Some cultivars of dogwood trees might be the right size to offer shade as hydrangea plant companions. They bring attractive blossoms, foliage and bark to the mix as well.

Low plants can look great as hydrangea plant companions. You can use either perennials or annuals as companions for hydrangea, depending on your preferences. Be sure to choose something that loves – or at least tolerates – shade.

Mass a bed of the shade-tolerant flowers in front of the hydrangea. Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) grow tall stalks lined with bell-shaped flowers. Pansies (Viola wittrockiana) might also work well and come in myriad shades. Or go with heucherella. Its foliage works well with the green foliage of hydrangeas, especially dark, exotic cultivars like ‘Twilight.”

Last Updated on August 1, 2019

Hydrangeas are an incredibly popular plant because they are easy to grow and very tolerant of both sun and shade. The big flowers and stunning foliage they bring to any garden is enough to make you swoon. Of course, you can increase the overall enchantment that you are hydrangeas bring by finding the perfect companion plants.

Hydrangea companion plants

Good hydrangea companion plants should be things that are similar but at the same time slightly different. Similarity should exist in terms of things like soil or water especially if you are planting everything in the same garden bed or soil. This is not necessarily a concern if you are using pots because you can alternate the soil structure and water content much more easily in pots.

In terms of the appearance, it is always good to go with something slightly different, things that contrast the general features of the hydrangea blooms. If you have, for example, a mop head hydrangea in your yard, you get naturally rounded shrubs, flowers, and leaves. So you might want to pick something with rounded foliage as a companion plant for your hydrangea.

  • One example is the Hosta with its teardrop-shaped leaves and foliage very similar in shape to that of the mop head hydrangea. Moreover, you can find plenty of flower colors similar to the variety of colors you can get with the hydrangea.
  • Delicate ferns make for beautiful hydrangea companion plants for those looking to complement the design and structure of the hydrangea.
  • Another beautiful option is an evergreen Mahonia, the soft caress variety which has textures and its foliage that contrast the larger hydrangea leaves quite well.

As mentioned you are going to want to be cognizant of plants that utilize some of the same growing requirements. Hydrangeas need full sun and some shade in the afternoon with adequate irrigation so any plants that you put next to the hydrangea should be something that is either tall enough to provide afternoon shade for your hydrangea, or shaped such that its position doesn’t block morning sunlight access for the hydrangea.

Some gardeners prefer things like dogwood trees next to their hydrangeas so that they can provide afternoon shade. Lower plants also make wonderful companions such as perennials. If you pick lower plants to be the companion make sure that they’re tolerant of shade because most of the plant will likely be covered by the hydrangea.

There are things like foxgloves that will grow very tall stalks and can be perfect for lining a flower bed around a hydrangea and you can find them in many different colors.

Image by Mahnoor Qadri from

Hydrangeas for Your Garden

It is a banner year for hydrangeas at Gibbs Gardens. Weather conditions have been favorable and the season is still going strong. There are over 1,000 blooms to see including both native and cultivated varieties. With the mild temperatures and spring rains, many hydrangeas are flowering about two weeks ahead of what is considered their normal bloom time.

Oakleaf, mophead and Annabelle hydrangeas in June.

I have always been charmed by the old-fashioned blue mophead hydrangeas and the many different variations. I especially like them in combination with common orange daylilies, sometimes called ditch lilies (maybe because they grow along roadsides and don’t require any special care). Bigleaf hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars, thrive in high shade, with lots of light but protection from hot afternoon sun. Japanese maples and dogwoods provide the ideal canopy for theses hydrangeas. Shrubs like Anise, Illicium species, make good companions along with ferns and shade loving perennials. There are both mophead and lacecap varieties of bigleaf hydrangeas and the flowers can range from blue to pink to lavender. In acid soils (low pH) flowers tend to be blue. Pink flowers occur when the pH is higher, often when the plants are grown near limestone. White flowers don’t change colors.

Lacecap hydrangeas in June.

A handsome native that is always popular (and with good reason) is the oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia with oak-leaf shaped leaves and large white flowers, beginning in June or earlier, depending on the year. The blooms persist for weeks and often turn tinges of rose as they age. A real bonus is the cinnamon peeling bark in winter and the colorful autumn foliage in shades of red and burgundy. While oakleaf hydrangea is a predominant species that occurs throughout North Georgia, the cultivar ‘Snowflake,’ a selection with double flowers, is planted throughout the Gardens. Flowers on the oakleaf hydrangea occur on second year growth. You don’t have to worry about pruning unless plants get too large for the area where you have them planted. If space is limited, you may be better off with one of the dwarf cultivars like ‘Pee Wee’ or ‘Sikes Dwarf.’ Both of these selections typically reach heights of 2 to 4’ tall and wide compared to the species which can easily attain heights of 8 to 10’ tall.

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’ in June.

Another native hydrangea with white blooms that occur on current season’s growth is the smooth hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens, known to many for one of its selections ‘Annabelle.’ The flowers, anywhere from four to six inches across and up to twelve inches in diameter, remind me of lace. The Annabelles are one of the easiest hydrangeas to grow provided they receive adequate moisture and protection from full sun.

Annabelle hydrangeas in June.

In addition to the hydrangeas blooming now in June, there are varieties that take center stage later in the summer including Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tardiva’ and Hydrangea paniculata “Vanilla Strawberry.’

Hydrangea ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ in August.

Tips for Growing Hydrangeas

  1. Grow a variety of types so that you have a long season of bloom.
  2. Fertilize once or twice in the summer but not after August. Follow directions on the package for amounts and don’t over fertilize.
  3. Don’t fertilize sick or unhealthy plants.
  4. Keep plants watered during dry spells.
  5. Prune mophead types as soon as they finish blooming but don’t overdue it.
  6. Hydrangea paniculata types can be pruned back to about 12 inches tall, early in the season (March) before new growth begins. If you prune later the flowers will be delayed.
  7. Combine hydrangeas with evergreens and perennials for the best effect.
  8. Hydrangeas make great container plants- adjust the watering and fertilizer as needed.

The Best Companion Plants For Hydrangeas

Ralph Lee Anderson

It’s an established fact that the hydrangea is the Queen of the Southern Garden. As long as they are protected from the blazing afternoon sun and given adequate shade, fertilizer, and water, hydrangeas will give you big, bouncy blossoms and deep green foliage all summer long. Every queen needs her court, however, so increase the enchantment of these flowering bushes by carefully selecting companion plants that will enhance and complement your garden. Read on for some tips on what to plant with hydrangeas.

More Flowers

Too many flower gardens act like supernovas – they shine brightly for a few weeks, then quickly burn out. To ensure long-lasting color, plant an assortment of flowering plants that will blossom before, during, and after the blooming season of your hydrangeas. It is up to you if you want to plant similar hues or bright contrasting colors. A combination of sun-loving spring and summer flowering perennials, such as zinnias and snapdragons, will not only add eye-catching appeal to your hydrangeas, but will give you a convenient cut-flower garden, as well. Take a look at the entire area of your garden -if you have space behind your hydrangeas, say close to a brick wall or fence, a sprinkling of tall sunflowers will afford an explosive pop of color throughout the summer.

Ornamental Grasses

If you want the focus of your garden to be mainly on hydrangeas, consider the understated elegance of ornamental grasses. Typically low-maintenance and easy to grow, these grasses subtly enhance the beauty of the flowers without calling attention to themselves. Anchor the corners of your garden with the tall and handsome, burgundy-colored, fountain grass; a sun-lover, its showy purple plumes will float in the breeze and provide a bit of shade for the hydrangeas. Blue fescue, which forms bluish-gray tufts, loves full or partial sun, just like hydrangeas. These tufts will grow anywhere from 4-11 inches and is an ideal choice for edging your garden.

Hosta Plants

The real glory of a hosta is the foliage. The thin spikes of trumpet-shaped flowers that appear in the summer are just an added benefit. Native to Asia and introduced to American gardeners in the mid-19th century, hosta plants share hydrangea’s love of morning sun and afternoon shade. There is an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and colors to choose from. While many varieties of hostas can tolerate the sun, hostas generally prefer shade, which is why this plant works well growing under the canopy of hydrangea foliage. New selections of hostas enter the scene in droves, and names change periodically. To be sure you get the hosta you want, buy the plant in full lfeaf or deal with an expert.

Trees and Shrubs

When you are considering what to plant next to a hydrangea, (or even where to plant a hydrangea) consider taller plants like small to medium sized trees that could offer the shade the shrubs prefer. Some varieties of dogwood trees, such as the Tatarian Dogwood, which reaches about 10 feet high, and the Pagoda Dogwood, which reaches 20 feet high, are just the right size to provide essential shade to neighboring hydrangea plants. Dogwoods also offer attractive blossoms, foliage and bark. Reeves Spirea, or double bridal wreath, is a popular, easy-growing shrub. Reaching 5 to 6 feet, its arching, white-flowered branches also provide protection from the mid-day sun for the hydrangeas. If planting a hydrangea close to an existing tree, check with your local nursery as to how close to the tree you should dig a hole. You want to avoid nicking or destroying an existing root system.

WATCH: Grumpy’s Best Tips for Rooting Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are beautiful on their own, but there are other plants that can enhance the visual appeal of these Southern garden favorites. Whether you want to provide additional color, ground cover, or shade, consider planting a companion plant.

Designing With Hydrangeas

The last two posts focused on the cultivation of hydrangeas. In short, what hydrangeas are available, and under what circumstances do they perform. Most of them are easy to grow, and willing. Some are marginally hardy. Some are not at all hardy in my zone. Some represent better than others. Growing hydrangeas is a much different and much easier topic to discuss than designing with hydrangeas. One could grow no end of them-as I do. I have 50 in my front yard. Putting them together in a coherent and satisfying way-this would be garden design. A garden or landscape design implies an idea, a scheme, or a plan. The purchase of a hydrangea is easy. Designing a place for it in a landscape-not so easy. Any plant that I have a mind to include in a landscape gets a thorough vetting. By this I mean-what does this plant require? How much space does it take? Where will it thrive? How can this plant be integrated into the whole? Once I have an idea for a space, is a hydrangea the best plant to express that idea? The picture above depicts a planting of limelight hydrangeas, before the bloom. This is the perfect moment to think over their addition to your landscape. Flowers can be very seductive, and distracting. A big growing coarse leaved shrub that needs plenty of space-that would be a hydrangea. A hydrangea planted in too small a space is like being occupied by an army-beautiful flowers notwithstanding. This is the simple and working description, not the romantic one.

Flowers are just but one aspect to consider. There are the green times. The winter times. The fall color. The early spring. Make it a point to be intimately acquainted with anything you plan to introduce into the garden, should the overall design be important to you. This planting of hydrangeas works well with certain other elements in the landscape. The yews are dense, and clipped. The boxwood is denser, and more closely clipped. The peonies have big leaves. The lady’s mantle blooms at ground level in a sumptuous way. The hydrangeas? They preside over all-given their height and exuberance. Hydrangeas have a density and bulky aspect that makes them ideal for garden situations where they cannot overwhelm their neighbors. Small leaved or delicate perennials can be visually and physically overrun by a neighboring hydrangea. Stout evergreen hedges can give a crisp look to a blowsy growing shrub. Yews can help support the lax stems of hydrangeas.

Annabelle hydrangeas will flop over in an instant. If you plan to make them part of a landscape design scheme, stake them early. This client loved the big growing rangy shrubs with their giant flower heads-but he equally loved the design of his landscape. These Annabelles were staked first thing, in the spring. The boxwood provides an orderly edge to the space. They also provide some green interest in the winter months.

Hydrangeas are big growing. They need lots of space. This planting of Annabelles has a grass border. The slender simply textured blades of grass contrast and highlight the big leaves and rangy growth of the hydrangeas. The ivy was part of an existing bed when we renovated the space-I did not see any reason to get rid of it. The texture of the grass with the hydrangeas is more pleasing than the texture of baltic ivy.

The flowers of hydrangeas are overwhelmingly beautiful. And overwhelming. They need a big space to be. They are a perfect match with massive architectural features, as a stone wall or flight of stairs. Their sheer bulk, strong presence and white flowers makes them ideal for expressing a long sweep, or directional line in a landscape. The white flowers make a great backdrop for other flowers, either perennial or annual. Their height, which can be somewhat controlled by pruning, makes them ideal for facing down other larger landscape elements, like trees.

A hedge of Limelight hydrangeas is a soft way of defining a space. You need the room to let them grow up to be what they are destined to be. A long run of them can enclose a space, in a friendly way.

A landscape dominated by evergreens, and deciduous trees at a distance, can be leavened, brightened, by hydrangeas. The leaf is a medium green, and the white flowers can be seen from blocks away.

Hydrangeas develop woody legs, over time. Face them down with shorter growing ornamental grasses-or in this case, Honorine Jobert anemones. Your design may ask for layering. A design is not about this plant, or that plant. It is about a community of plants, the interaction of all with the weather and the seasons.

Great design is intimately associated with the relationship a designer assigns from one plant to another. The relationship of the plants to the space. What defines that relationship? Color, mass, texture, line, volume, weather-all of these design elements figure into the design of a landscape. A design that accommodates, makes use of, and features the habits of the plants involved is design that is visually sensitive.

The most important element in design? The gardener in charge. It is easy to grow hydrangeas. It is much harder to design successfully with them. But when the design plan is well done, a beautiful shrub goes on to help create a breathtakingly beautiful space.

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