Hydrangeas that like sun

Growing and Caring for Beautiful Hydrangea Flowers

If you’re looking for a garden flower with show appeal, hydrangea flowers are truly stunning. Large globes of flowers cover this shrub in summer and spring. Although their appearance may seem high maintenance, with the right conditions and care, hydrangeas are actually fairly easy to grow. So grab your garden gloves, because our growing hydrangeas guide will have you ready to plant in no time.

  • What Are Hydrangeas?
  • Planting Hydrangeas
  • Hydrangea Care Tips
  • Types of Hydrangeas
  • Common Questions About Growing Hydrangeas

What Are Hydrangeas?

Blooming in spring and summer, the hydrangea is considered a shrub. But despite their ability to be rather large showstoppers in your yard, how to grow hydrangeas isn’t a question even the novice gardener will need to ask – these beauties all but grow themselves. Reaching up to 15 feet in height, the hydrangea grows quickly and often fills in a space in just one summer. You’ll find hydrangeas growing in hardiness Zones 3 to 7 as perennials. With flowers starting in spring and often last throughout summer into early fall, hydrangea flowers can be the foundation plant of your landscape.

Planting Hydrangeas

As with most things in your garden, learning the basics of how to plant hydrangeas can save you time and money. By choosing the proper location, getting the soil just right and planting correctly, you’ll increase your chances of enjoying large, colorful hydrangea blooms for years to come.

  1. Best time to plant hydrangeas

    Fall is the best season to plant hydrangeas, followed by early spring. The idea is to give the shrub plenty of time to establish a healthy root system before blooming. The best time of day to plant is early morning or late afternoon. The cooler parts of the day offer protection against heat stress. Keep new plants well-watered until established.

  2. Where to plant hydrangeas

    Knowing where to plant hydrangea shrubs is an important first step. Many people plant hydrangeas in beds next to their homes or fences. This is because hydrangeas love the warm morning sun, but they dislike the heat of the afternoon. The best place to plant hydrangeas is in a sheltered location with sunny mornings and shady afternoons. You often find this on the north or south side of your home. Avoid planting directly underneath trees, which can lead to competition for water and nutrients. High winds can rip and damage leaves and destroy the flowers.

  3. Best soil for hydrangeas

    Hydrangeas grow well in soil containing an abundance of organic material. Good drainage is vital. While hydrangeas like moist soil, they cannot tolerate being waterlogged. Soggy, poor draining soils can cause root rot. In just a few weeks, your hydrangeas can quickly die. If you have heavy soil, consider mixing in plenty of compost prior to planting to improve soil quality.

  4. How to plant hydrangeas

    To plant hydrangeas, simply dig the planting holes 2 feet wider than the root ball. Keep the depth of the hole consistent with the size of the root ball so your plant sits level with or just higher than the surrounding soil. By creating a slight mound, you help increase water drainage away from the base of the plant.

  5. How to propagate hydrangeas

    One hydrangea can turn into many through simple propagation techniques. Bigleaf and panicle hydrangeas are best propagated through layering in early to mid-summer. All you have to do is:

    • Dig a small trench near your hydrangea plant.
    • Bend a branch down to the trench so it touches the soil in the middle of the branch (six to 12 inches of branch should extend past the trench).
    • Make scratches in the bark where the branch touches the trench soil.
    • Fill in the trench and place a paver, brick or stone on top.
    • With time, the branch will form its own root system and may be transplanted to a new location.

Smooth and oakleaf hydrangeas put out new shoots through underground stems. Just dig up the young plant and separate it away from the main plant. It can then be transplanted to a new location.

Hydrangea Care Tips

Although the hydrangea’s leaves and flowers appear delicate, they actually don’t require a lot of tender care. These tips provide all you need to know about how to care for hydrangeas.

  • Water at a rate of 1 inch per week throughout the growing season. Deeply water 3 times a week to encourage root growth. Bigleaf and smooth hydrangeas require more water, but all varieties benefit from consistent moisture. Use a soaker hose to water deeply and keep moisture off the flowers and leaves. Watering in the morning will help prevent hydrangeas from wilting during hot days.
  • Add mulch underneath your hydrangeas to help keep the soil moist and cool. An organic mulch breaks down over time, adding nutrients and improving soil texture.
  • Apply fertilizer based on your specific hydrangeas. Each variety has different needs and will benefit from different application timing. The best way to determine your fertility needs is by using a soil test.
    • Bigleaf hydrangeas need several light fertilizer applications in March, May and June.
    • Oakleaf and panicle hydrangeas do best with two applications in April and June.
    • Smooth hydrangea plants only need fertilization once, in late winter.
  • Protect against pests and disease by choosing cultivars with resistant traits. Leaf spots, bight, wilt and powdery mildew can all appear on hydrangeas. Pests are not common on hydrangeas, but can appear when plants become stressed. Possible pests include aphids, leaf tiers and red spider mites. Properly caring for hydrangeas is your best defense.

Types of Hydrangeas

There are four different types of hydrangeas grown in the United States:

  • Oakleaf hydrangeas thrive in warmer zones. If you live in Zone 5 or warmer, oakleaf hydrangeas are a great choice, as they’re able to withstand the heat of summer.
  • Bigleaf hydrangeas are the most common of all. They’re often found growing in Zones 5 through 9.
  • Panicle hydrangeas are hardy to Zone 3. They’re easy growers, reaching up to 15 feet tall.
  • Smooth hydrangeas are also known as snowballs because of their large white clusters of blooms. They’re an excellent choice in cold climates.

Consider planting these popular hydrangeas in your garden landscape:

  • French Hydrangea – This traditional bigleaf hydrangea is also known as the florist’s hydrangea for its large, vibrant blooms.
  • Mophead hydrangea – This variety of bigleaf hydrangea features large, round blooms.
  • Lacecap hydrangea – Large flowers surround smaller buds with the appearance of being only half bloomed for a lacy, delicate look.
  • Endless summer hydrangea – Discovered in the 1980’s, this unique bigleaf hydrangea variety has the ability to withstand the cold winters of zone 4.
  • Peegee hydrangea – While often trained to look like a tree, the Peegee (P.G.) is technically the Grandiflora cultivar from the panicle hydrangea family.
  • Blue hydrangea – Blue hydrangeas from the bigleaf family are only blue because of the soil they are grown in. You can purchase a blue hydrangea and find it blooms a different color next year.
  • Pink hydrangea – Pink hydrangeas range from hot pinks to barely blushing and can be found in several different types.

Common Questions About Growing Hydrangeas

When do hydrangeas bloom?

The hydrangea blooming season depends upon the type and cultivar as well as your planting zone. Most new growth hydrangeas put on buds in early summer to bloom in the following spring, summer and early fall seasons. In hot climates, hydrangeas may stop blooming in the heat of summer, but will rebloom in the fall.

How do you cut back hydrangeas?

When hydrangea plants are given plenty of growing space in the garden, they don’t need pruning. All that is required is the occasional removal of dead wood.

Do you need to deadhead hydrangeas?

Deadheading hydrangeas will keep your plants blooming into fall. You don’t have to wait until the flower wilts – hydrangeas make excellent cut flowers. Leave those early fall blooms in place to fade on their own. You don’t want to encourage new growth close to your freeze date.

How do you control hydrangea color?

Hydrangeas are unique in that you can control their color. But keep in mind, not all hydrangea types are capable of color adjustments. Bigleaf hydrangeas, H. macrophylla, react to changes in soil pH. A low soil pH allows hydrangeas to absorb aluminum, which turns the flowers a beautiful blue color. To increase blue hydrangea flowers, lower your soil pH by adding sulfur or peat moss to the soil. You can also add additional aluminum sulfate to your soil throughout the growing season. Pink and red flowers shine when you add ground limestone to increase the pH.

A soil pH test can help you accurately adjust your hydrangea color. Avoid pH levels above 7.5 to prevent damage to the plant. No matter what adjustments you’ve made, all hydrangeas will naturally fade in the fall. Don’t worry – the plant will showcase fresh, colorful blooms again in the spring.

Can hydrangeas grow in shade?

Hydrangeas like dappled or occasional shade, but they will not bloom in heavy shade. It isn’t so much a question of do they prefer sun or shade, but rather more of a question of how much sun do hydrangeas need? The further north your garden is located, the more sunlight your hydrangeas need. An average rule of thumb is six hours of sunlight per day. However, hydrangeas growing in the south can perform on only three hours of sunlight.

Can hydrangeas grow in full sun?

Hydrangeas like morning sun, but do not do well if they’re in direct, hot afternoon sun. Partial shade in the later parts of the day is ideal for these beauties.

Can you grow hydrangeas in pots?

Even if you lack the space in your garden to grow hydrangeas, knowing how to grow hydrangea in a pot means you can still enjoy these beautiful blooms. The process is relatively simple, as long as you follow the basics of hydrangea care. Choose a large enough pot for the mature size of your specific hydrangea – at least 18 inches in diameter. Look for non-porous containers to help hold the consistent moisture level require by hydrangeas. Drainage holes will allow excess water to drain properly. Consider planting dwarf hydrangeas, such as Little Lime, Mini Penny and Buttons ‘n Bows.

How do you keep hydrangeas from wilting?

Regular watering in the mornings can help prevent wilting. Some varieties of hydrangeas simply can’t handle the heat. It won’t matter how much water you give them – they’ll wilt a bit in the heat of afternoon. A thick layer of mulch can help retain moisture and keep soil cool. If your hydrangeas perk back up once the day begins to cool, you don’t need to worry. It’s better to have a little mid-day wilting than to overwater and drown your hydrangeas.

A few days ago a chap came up to me with a worried look on his face. “It’s my hydrangea,” he confessed. “Its leaves are going crisp.” I asked him what sort of soil it was growing in. “Sandy!” he replied. And there was the reason for his distress.

Hydrangeas are not bog plants by any means and they need good drainage, but one look at those fleshy stems and succulent leaves will tell you that they are heavy drinkers. Dry, sandy soil in a sun-baked position cannot provide them with the sustenance they need.

If you are planting a new one, make sure that the soil in which you plant them has been beefed up with plenty of well-rotted garden compost or manure, which will act like a sponge and hold on to moisture when the surrounding soil is drying out. Water new hydrangeas copiously during the first weeks of their establishment at this time of year.

They can cope with full sunshine provided that the soil in which they are growing is not likely to dry out, so if you are on lighter stuff give them a spot in dappled shade where they are likely to be less stressed.

If you are growing them in pots and tubs, water them every day in summer – morning and evening when it is hot and sunny – adding liquid feed once a week in spring and summer.

On chalky soils even blue hydrangeas will turn pink; the blue varieties stay blue in acid soils. In containers – and in the garden if you are desperate – you can water them with hydrangea colourant if you want to keep them blue.

One hydrangea which does equally well on chalk is the variety ‘Annabelle’, which has frothy white heads of flower. True, her stems can be a bit feeble, but if you push one of those circular flower supports over her shoots, you will find that the invisible corset is much to her liking. And when you see ‘Annabelle’ in bloom, she will blow you away!

Don’t miss Alan’s gardening column today and every day in the Daily Express. For more information on his range of gardening products, visit alantitchmarsh.com.


Fact Sheet: Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are wonderful, hardy shrubs that would certainly have to be included on a list of the ten best flowering plants in the world. Some people remember hydrangeas growing in their grandmother’s garden, and think of them as old fashioned plants. Those old varieties did have one downside: a lot of them tended to be too tall and lanky. The great news is that in recent years plant breeders have developed some excellent new varieties which are more compact and come in a range of sizes.


Old fashioned varieties such as Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’ grow about 1.5-2m (5-7′) tall or more, and can look floppy. Medium growers including the white flowered Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bichon’ reach about 1.5m (5′) tall. They are more compact and have more flowers. Dwarf varieties like Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blauer Zwerg’ (usually sold as ‘Lavblau’) only grow to around 1m (3′) tall. Flowers cover the whole bush. Mini growers are perfect for balconies. For example Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Pia Mina’ has pink flowers and grows to 60cm (24″) high.

Blue or pink?

Hydrangeas are amazingly versatile in that you can actually alter the flower colours to suit your needs. The flower colour in most forms relates to the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. In acid soil (pH 5 or less) hydrangeas are usually always blue. As the soil pH climbs towards the neutral and alkaline end of the scale (pH 7 or more) hydrangeas turn mauve, pink and red. A blueing tonic (containing aluminium and iron) will turn pink or mauve hydrangeas blue. It should be applied once a month in March and April and again in August, September and October, following the directions on the pack. A cup of lime (calcium carbonate) added to the soil in spring will cause blue or mauve hydrangeas to turn pink. White flowering hydrangeas will remain white regardless of soil pH.


For ease of growth hydrangeas are best in a semi shaded position, but some hardy varieties will tolerate full sun. The most important thing to remember is not to let them dry out, or they will wilt. They need regular watering, particularly in late spring and through summer. Give hydrangeas growing in the ground a deep soaking once or twice a week. Plants in pots need daily watering and it’s a good idea to have a saucer containing water under the pot.

In most areas hydrangeas can be pruned in March or April. Don’t cut back into old grey wood. If hydrangeas are pruned too fiercely year after year flowering will be reduced to 10% or less, so just cut back the green, current season’s growth to two plump eyes or leaf buds. Leave stems that have not flowered as these will flower the following season. If you want to pick the flowers for indoor arrangements by all means do so, that is really good for the plants. Some of the modern varieties are naturally compact and need less pruning.

Getting started

Hydrangeas are sold in flower at nurseries throughout the early summer months (December and January). They are available in 200mm (8″) pots for about $16, up to 300mm (12″) pots for $60. Hydrangeas also strike very easily from soft tip or hardwood cuttings.

One of my favorite summer flowers is the old-fashioned, pompom shaped Hydrangea macrophylla. I can remember as a child being drawn to the cool shaded area on the north side of the house where my mother had a bank of blue hydrangeas planted. The giant blooms were as big as my head and such a clear, deep blue they seemed to belong in a velvet-lined jewel box rather than casually hanging around the garden.

Old-fashioned hydrangeas are easy to grow if you follow a few simple guidelines. Most varieties are cold hardy to zone 5, which means they will tolerate minimum winter temperatures between -10 and -20 degrees F.

Hydrangeas are traditionally known as shade garden plants, but too much shade can result in reduced bloom production. Ideally they should be situated in areas of light shade to partial sun. If you live in a cool climate you can even plant them in full sun.

Hydrangeas are woodland plants so they prefer to be in consistently moist, well-drained, humus-rich soil. A generous application of mulch will help keep the roots cool and retain moisture. Little pruning is required with old-fashioned hydrangeas. In fact, improperly pruned bushes can result in bushes not producing any blooms. Old-fashioned hydrangeas set their flowers on previous year’s growth, or what is referred to as old wood. So, in late summer and early fall, your shrub is preparing blooms for next year. In early spring you can tidy up the plant by removing any dead wood and old flower heads. Learn more about pruning hydrangeas.

In my Mid-south garden, I fertilize my hydrangeas twice during the summer with a slow release fertilizer, usually in June and then again in August. In cooler climates, this can be done once, usually in June. Follow the directions indicated on the fertilizer package. Just remember that too much nitrogen will result in an abundance of lovely leaves at the expense of blooms.

Fun in the Sun: Best Hydrangeas to Grow in Full Sun

Most hydrangeas prefer only morning sun. Yet one type of hydrangea can soak up the sun all day: the panicle hydrangea. While they can stand the sun, these do just fine in partial shade, too. Plus, panicle hydrangeas are the hardiest hydrangeas. To learn more about hydrangeas visit our total guide to growing hydrangeas.

Here are the best hydrangea varieties to grow in full sun.

Pinky Winky Hydrangea – As fun to say as it is to look it. The Pinky Winky is everything ombre was meant to be. Its two-tone flowers come back every year and thrive in urban gardens.

Hydrangea Type: Panicle

Shrub Type: Deciduous

Light: Full-part sun

Size: 6-10’ H x 6-8’ W

Zone: 3-8

Blooms: Mid-summer-first frost. 12-15” blooms that open white then transform into a hot, irresistible pink


  • Fast growing
  • Blooms every year
  • No drooping blooms
  • Can be a hedge or small tree

Soil: Prefers moist, well-drained soil. Will grow in nearly any soil

Limelight Hydrangea – As refreshing as a lime in summertime! This cool-colored hydrangea is super unique and performs reliably year after year. The Limelight is not picky about much. And, there’s any even cuter, dwarf Limelight!

Hydrangea Type: Panicle

Shrub Type: Deciduous

Light: Full-part sun

Size: 6-8’ H x 6-8’ W

Zone: 3-8

Blooms: Mid-summer-fall. Refreshing, cool chartreuse blooms that fade to pink then beige


  • Heat tolerant
  • Can be a hedge or small tree
  • Grows in containers
  • No drooping blooms
  • Deep-red fall foliage

Soil: Prefers moist, well-drained soil. Will grow in nearly any soil.

Quick Fire Hydrangea – A super-fast grower with sizzling blooms! This hydrangea blooms a full month before other hydrangeas. Then it re-blooms in late fall. Quick Fire, or its dwarf sibling, love to bask in the sun!

Hydrangea Type: Panicle

Shrub Type: Deciduous

Light: Full-part sun

Size: 6-8’ H x 6-8’ W

Zone: 3-8

Blooms: Mid-summer-early fall. Blooms open white then turn a sweet salmon color


  • Drought tolerant
  • Repeat bloomer
  • Can be a hedge
  • Works in container gardens

Soil: Prefers moist, well-drained soil. Will grow in nearly any soil.

Now start growing! Want more? Find out which hydrangeas bloom all summer. Learn about the best hydrangeas for beginners. Find out even more about hydrangea care in our Ultimate Hydrangea Guide!

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