How to grow hydrangeas (2024)


There are compact varieties for smaller spaces or containers, double-flowered and bi-coloured choices, and varieties that offer a change of colour as the flowers mature. There are even varieties that flower on old and new wood, flowering twice. Some have scented flowers, others have beautiful autumn foliage. This means there's a hydrangea for every garden, whether you're looking for a more traditional style for a cottage garden or shrub border, or a more contemporary or urban look.

Take a look at our comprehensive guide on hydrangea care. Learn more about the different types of hydrangea, where and when to plant hydrangeas and how to care for them.

How to grow hydrangeas

Jump to section:

  • Where to grow hydrangeas
  • How to care for hydrangeas
  • How to prune hydrangeas
  • How to propagate hydrangeas
  • Hydrangea problem-solving
  • Best hydrangeas to grow
  • Advice on buying hydrangeas

More on growing hydrangeas:

  • How to grow climbing hydrangeas
  • Nine white hydrangeas to grow
  • Panicle hydrangeas to grow

Where to plant hydrangeas

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Hydrangeas do best in moist, well-drained soil and dappled shade – not too sunny and not too shady. Avoid south-facing positions, especially if the soil is very dry. For a very shaded spot, such as a north-facing wall, grow the climbing hydrangea Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris. The young growth is prone to frost damage in spring, so avoid planting in a frost pocket and plant away from strong winds.

Hydrangeas will thrive in most soil types, including alkaline and acidic soil. However, the pH of the soil will change the colour of the flowers of some varieties. Some plants that usually offer pink flowers will appear blue if the soil is acidic.

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When to plant hydrangeas

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The best time to plant hydrangeas is in spring or autumn, when the soil is warm and moist. Planting in summer is doable, but you'll have to keep an eye on moisture levels in the soil.

How to plant hydrangeas

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Hydrangeas do best in moist soil, so if your soil is light, bulk it up with moisture-retaining organic matter such as well rotted manure or compost before planting. Water the plant well an hour or so before you plant it. Never plant a hydrangea deeper than it was in its original pot. Water in well. Mulch after planting, ideally with leaf mould; alternatively use well-rotted manure or compost. Keep the plant well watered throughout its first spring and summer.

When planting climbing hydrangeas, train them initially onto galvanised wires. After a season of growth they'll make their own way as they have self-clinging roots.

Watch Monty Don's guide to planting lacecap hydrangeas, in this clip from Gardeners' World:

Where to buy hydrangeas online

Hydrangea Care Tips:

  1. Water at a rate of 1 inch per week throughout the growing season.
  2. Water with rainwater to keep hydrangeas blue.
  3. Hydrangeas do best in moist soil and can wilt in hot weather, so keep well-watered during hot spells in summer.
  4. Mulch hydrangeas every year in spring, with leaf mould, well-rotted manure, or compost. They don't need feeding, as this encourages leafy growth at the expense of flowers.
  5. You can change the colour of the flowers on lace cap and mophead hydrangeas and Hydrangea serrata from pink to blue by feeding with a fertiliser low in phosphorous and high in potassium.
  6. You can grow your plant in a pot of peat-free ericaceous compost and water with rainwater to keep the flowers blue.
  7. Changing hydrangea flowers from blue to pink is trickier. You will need to raise the pH by adding dolomitic lime. It's quite common for a plant to produce a few different coloured flowers on one plant in the first year of growth. Few gardeners concern themselves with trying to change the flower colour – but it's interesting to know why plants may vary.

How to prune hydrangeas

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Hydrangea macrophylla (lacecap and mophead hydrangeas) and Hydrangea serrata:

Prune in mid-spring. They produce their flowers on old wood, so don’t prune them back hard, or this summer’s flowers would be lost. Traditionally, the old flowers are left on over winter as it protects the new growth beneath. Cut back the flower head to just above the top set of plump buds that are forming under the dead flower head. This is where the new flowers will form. If you have an overgrown plant, cut some of the stems off at the base.

Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea aborescens:

Cut back in early spring. Pruning is not essential, but left unpruned the plant will get taller with most of the flowers at the top. These two types of hydrangea produce flowers on new wood, which means that you can cut them back harder without losing this year’s flowers. Prune last year’s growth back to a healthy framework that’s between 30cm and 60cm high, depending on how tall you want your plant to be. Prune to just above a pair of healthy buds on each stem.

Hydrangea aspera and Hydrangea quercifolia:

Lightly prune in spring – just remove old or crossing stems and old flower heads.

Climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea petiolaris:

Prune in summer after flowering for best results. Cut back the flowered shoots to a pair of new buds.

Read our full guide on how to prune hydrangeas.

Watch Monty’s tips for pruning different types of hydrangea here:

You will need:

A sharp pair of secateurs is the right tool for this task. If you're looking to update your kit, our experts have been busy testing thebest secateurs, so you can buy with confidence.

In a hurry? Here are some of the best buys from this tests:

How to propagate hydrangeas from cuttings

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Take softwood hydrangea cuttings in spring. In the morning look for young, non-flowering shoots that have three sets of leaves. For best results prepare cutting material straight away. Alternatively, keep them in a plastic bag in a cool shed.

  • Remove the two sets of lower leaves and shorten the stem of the cutting, cutting just below a node.
  • Insert the cuttings into a pot of cutting compost. More than one cutting can be placed in a pot as long as the leaves don’t touch.
  • Water in and cover with a clear plastic bag. Ideally keep them in an unheated greenhouse.
  • Once you see clear signs of growth pot on plants, keeping them in a shady spot.

Growing hydrangeas: problem solving

Hydrangeas are very easy to grow and there are few problems that affect them.

A lack of flowers is likely to be due to pruning at the wrong time of year. Check the type of hydrangea that you have, and follow our pruning advice, above.

Climbing hydrangea not flowering? Discover possible causes in our Quick Tips video:

Brown or blackened foliage or buds in spring are due to frost damage. Prevention is better than cure – plant your hydrangea in a sheltered spot, leave the faded flowerheads on over winter and prune at the correct time. If your plant has been affected by frost, it's unlikely to have killed the whole plant. Give it time to recover when the weather warms up and only prune out dead or damaged areas in late spring.

Purple leaves can be due to a sudden decrease in temperature in spring or autumn. In spring, the leaves may turn purple if temperatures plummet but should revert to their usual green once the weather has warmed. Late in the season, the leaves of some hydrangeas change colour as the plant begins to go dormant in autumn. Purple leaves can also be a sign of phosphorus deficiency, which is particularly common on plants where the flower colour has been changed. Adjusting the pH or applying a fertiliser high in phosphorus may help.

Hydrangea scale is a sap sucking insect found on hydrangeas. In severe cases it can cause poor growth and leaf loss. You may spot the eggs, covered in a white waxy material, in early summer. The mature scale insects look like brown blobs. If the problem is serious, spray in July with an organic insecticide based on plant oils or fatty acids.

Vine weevils can attack hydrangeas that are growing in pots. You may see chunks bitten out of the leaves, but the main problem takes place beneath the soil, where the c-shaped white grubs eat the roots. This can cause the plant to decline rapidly.

  • How to control vine weevil

Advice for buying hydrangeas

  • Check that hydrangeas grow well in your area before buying – a quick look at local front gardens will give you an idea of soil type and suitability
  • Bear in mind that the flowers of some hydrangeas may change colour once planted in garden soil – consider growing in a pot of ericaceous compost if you're fussy about flower colour
  • Check the eventual height and spread of the hydrangea, and its general growing requirements before buying, to ensure you have the perfect conditions for your hydrangea to thrive

Where to buy hydrangeas online

Nine of the best hydrangeas to grow

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Ayesha'

Mopheads are the hydrangeas to grow if you want bold colour. The blooms last for months, finally ageing to muted tones before drying to brown over the winter. Held in small, silvery lavender flowerheads, the florets of Hydrangea macrophylla 'Ayesha' have unusual curled edges.

Height x Spread: 1.2m x 1.2m

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Zebra'

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Large, white mophead flowers, near-black stems and rich green leaves give this plant a dramatic look.

H x S: 1m x 1m

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Miss Saori'

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You'll get two flushes of the double pink and white flowers from this previous Chelsea Plant of the Year winner.

H x S: 1m x 1m

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Veitchii'

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Lacecap varieties are more delicate than mopheads and are generally very hardy. Hydrangea macrophylla 'Veitchii' is a free-flowering lacecap with large white florets that turn pink with age, set around a mass of small blue flowers.

H x S: 1.5m x 1.5m

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Jogasaki'

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The ray florets range from palest pink through lilac to icy blue. It offers vibrant autumn leaf colour, too.

H x S: 2m x 2m

Hydrangea serrata 'Bluebird'

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As well as pink or blue florets around flat clusters of tiny blue flowers, this lacecap hydrangea offers fiery autumn foliage.

H x S: 1.2m x 1.2m

Hydrangea paniculata 'Phantom'

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Hydrangea paniculata varieties have large, conical flowerheads that start of white or green, then become clear white, then pink or even red. The large flowerheads of Hydrangea paniculata 'Phantom' have yellow-tinged tips.

H x S: 1.5 x 2m

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

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Hydrangea aborescens varieties have huge domed flowerheads in white or pink. Full of impact, the huge white flowerheads of Hydrangea aborescens 'Annabelle' fade to lime green.

H x S: 2.5m x 2.5m (shorter with regular pruning)

Hydrangea quercifolia

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Hydrangea quercifolia varieties have large, oak-shaped leaves that turn fiery shades in autumn, along with large conical heads of double ray florets.

H x S: 2m x 2.5m

Hydrangea 'Limelight'

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Limelight hydrangea is an upright shrub with yellow-green leaves, grey-green stems and large green flowers, fading to creamy white before turning pink in autumn.

H x S: 2.5m x 2.5m


Frequently asked questions

Can I grow hydrangea in shade?

Hydrangeas do best in partial shade and dappled shade. In warmer climates, they can tolerate full shade in the afternoon, as long as they recieve sun in the morning. However, if they recieve too much shade they won't flower well and their stems may become weak and floppy.

When is the best time to move a hydrangea?

The best time to move a hydrangea is in autumn, when it is dormant. In cooler regions this is usually from November, but in milder regions it's best to wait until December or January to move your hydrangea.

What compost should I use for a hydrangea in a pot?

Hydrangeas work well in pots. Use a soil-based compost such as John Innes number 2. Make sure your container has drainage holes at the bottom so any water can drain from the pot and prevent waterlogging.

How to grow hydrangeas (2024)


How to grow hydrangeas? ›

Hydrangeas do best in moist soil and can wilt in hot weather, so keep well-watered during hot spells in summer. Mulch hydrangeas every year in spring, with leaf mould, well-rotted manure, or compost. They don't need feeding, as this encourages leafy growth at the expense of flowers.

How do you grow hydrangeas successfully? ›

Hydrangeas do best in moist soil and can wilt in hot weather, so keep well-watered during hot spells in summer. Mulch hydrangeas every year in spring, with leaf mould, well-rotted manure, or compost. They don't need feeding, as this encourages leafy growth at the expense of flowers.

How well do hydrangeas grow? ›

As rapid growers—averaging about 2 feet of growth per year—larger varieties of hydrangeas can reach up to 15 feet tall. Applicable in growing zones 3 to 9, hydrangeas are a low maintenance plant that will return year after year with proper care.

What do hydrangeas need when planting? ›

Most hydrangeas prefer partial sun with full sun in the morning, followed by some afternoon shade. This is especially true for the Bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla). Some varieties are more tolerant of full sun. Most hydrangeas will thrive in fertile, well-draining soils that receive plenty of moisture.

Where do hydrangeas grow best? ›

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.

What do I put in my soil before planting hydrangeas? ›

If you are planting them in a pot, start with a good, rich soil and compost. The thing about hydrangeas that I've found is that they need A LOT of water, so you want your soil to be able to hold that water. BUT, you also want to make sure you have good drainage so the roots don't sit in water and get root rot.

How long does it take for hydrangeas to fully grow? ›

However, most varieties of hydrangeas take two to four years to mature to full size.

Are hydrangeas difficult to grow? ›

It's not hard to grow beautiful and healthy Hydrangeas as long as you plant them where they will be happiest: in rich, evenly moist soil, in partial shade from afternoon sun. One of the keys to growing stunning Hydrangeas is knowing when and how to prune particular varieties for the best flower display.

Do hydrangeas like coffee grounds? ›

If you're growing hydrangeas, use coffee grounds to affect their color. Coffee grounds add extra acidity to the soil around hydrangeas. On a chemical level, this increased acidity makes it easier for the plant to absorb naturally occurring aluminum in the dirt. The effect is pretty blue clusters of flowers.

Is Miracle Grow good for hydrangeas? ›

Avoid feeding hydrangeas after August, especially in regions with cold winters. A slow-release plant food works well. For best results, try Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® Flowering Trees & Shrubs Plant Food, which feeds for up to 3 months.

What not to plant with hydrangeas? ›

Not all plants pair well with hydrangeas. Here are some combinations to avoid: Sunflower prefers full sun and hotter conditions than hydrangeas, which require some shade. Lavender is a sun-loving perennial that performs best in dry conditions and leaner soil, so will not thrive near hydrangeas.

Do hydrangeas grow better in pots or in the ground? ›

They flourish when planted in the ground. But if you enjoy the look, go for it! For a temporary planting, pick a hydrangea that's already the physical size that suits your needs. It will grow a bit throughout the season, but not very much.

How far should hydrangeas be from the house? ›

Most of the varieties in Endless Summer will reach 3-4′ wide at maturity. I would give them at last two feet away from the foundation. Or even a little more if you don't want them touching the house. Summer Crush is the most compact, so you can plant that one a little closer.

What side of the house should I plant hydrangeas? ›

Try to plant your hydrangea on the north or south side of your home. Don't put them directly under trees, however, because they'll compete with the bigger plants for water and nutrients. Avoid a spot that risks being windswept, as those high wind speeds can tear through leaves and destroy your flowers.

How do you keep hydrangeas blooming? ›

Avoid Direct Sunlight

It is believed that hydrangeas bloom better when there is morning or evening sun, so they are best planted in light shade. We all know that most hydrangeas require a bit of shade. But while it is possible for your hydrangea to get too much shade, it can also get too much sun.

What do hydrangeas need to flourish? ›

Hydrangea Care

Most hydrangeas can adapt to a wide range of growing conditions. They are generally hardy from USDA growing zones 5 to 9. And as long as they are planted in well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter, they should grow well. Plan to water your hydrangeas regularly, especially in hot and dry weather.

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