Hydrangeas are among some of the longest-blooming, hardiest, low-maintenance shrubs for Pacific Northwest gardens.
With a long list of species and cultivars, most of these deciduous shrubs are summer bloomers with a lengthy flowering season and do best in partial or filtered sunlight with adequate moisture. This large group includes climbing varieties, dwarf cultivars, plants with great fall color, and selections with tolerance for sun and drought. They are also great for fresh cut or dried flower arrangements, plus they attract bees and butterflies!
New introductions of hydrangeas have been showing up at nurseries over the last several years, bringing us larger flowers with richer colors, repeat blooming, and compact growth habits—finally! If you’ve been wanting a hydrangea, but don’t think your garden has enough space, you are in for a surprise. Our garden centers regularly stock several different hydrangea varieties. No matter the size of your garden or how much sun it gets, there is a hydrangea for you!
We’ve outlined the different hydrangea types below to help you find the right one for your space.
Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
Also known as mophead or lacecap hydrangeas, bigleaf hydrangeas are fast-growing, rounded shrubs that begin blooming in early Summer with large flower clusters frequently lasting until Fall. Size varies by cultivar, but on average, these shrubs grow 3–6 feet tall and wide, and they do best in dappled sun or partial shade with regular moisture. They are known for their ability to change color based on the pH of the soil (acid soil = blue flowers; alkaline soil = pink flowers; white flowers tend to stay white). Old fashioned varieties flower on previous year’s growth, while “next generation” cultivars bloom on both old and new wood.
‘Endless Summer’ Series – Notable series of classic bigleaf hydrangeas that includes several cultivars known for their ability to bloom on both old and new wood, extending the bloom season.
- ‘The Original’ Hydrangea is a hardy, disease-resistant, compact mophead variety with classic blue or soft pink flowers; grows 3-5 feet tall and wide.
- ‘Summer Crush’ Hydrangea is a smaller mophead variety suitable for containers; grows 18–36 inches tall and wide; profusion of big raspberry red or neon purple blooms.
- ‘Twist-n-Shout’ Hydrangea has deep pink or periwinkle blue lacecap flowers on a 3–5 feet tall and wide plant; sturdy stems are also vivid red for added interest.
- ‘BloomStruck’ Hydrangea is prized for its repeat-blooming rose-pink to blue-violet mophead flowers, sturdy stems, disease resistance, and heat tolerance; features red-purple stems and great Fall color; 3–4 fet tall by 4–5 ft wide.
- ‘Blushing Bride’ Hydrangea has big, round, pure white semi-double flowers that mature to blush pink or Carolina blue; compact shrub stronger stems; grows to 3–6 feet tall and wide.
‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangea – One of the most popular and widely recognized varieties of bigleaf hydrangea; produces large, rounded flower clusters in intense blue color (prefers acidic soil conditions); rapidly grows to at least 6 feet tall and wide.
Summer Crush Hydrangea
Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)
Panicle hydrangeas are low-maintenance, fast-growing, large deciduous shrubs that are hardy to Zones 3 to 8. They feature elongated, cone-shaped blooms in white or ivory that last from mid-Summer into Fall and often change colors with age, usually finishing with shades of pink. Panicle hydrangeas are generally more tolerant of sun and heat compared to other types. They are best used in borders, privacy screens, and hedges, but occasionally grown as standards in tree form.
‘Limelight’ Hydrangea – Highly regarded for large, cone-shaped flower heads that emerge lime green in mid-Summer and gradually turn creamy white and then blush pink as they mature until frost; known for strong stems and large stature, growing 6–8 feet tall and wide. A compact version of ‘Limelight’, ‘Little Lime’ Hydrangea grows to 3–5 feet tall by 3–5 feet wide and is perfect for smaller gardens or containers.
‘Diamond Rouge’ Hydrangea – A relatively new introduction, ‘Diamond Rouge’ boasts striking red stems and large, elongated flower clusters that start white and age to a rich, deep pinkish-red; grows 4–5 feed tall by 3–4 feet wide.
‘Vanilla Strawberry’ Hydrangea – Enormous, cone-shaped flower clusters start creamy white, gradually changing to blush pink and finally to deep strawberry red. New blooms emerge as older blooms change color, giving the plant a multicolored effect in late Summer and early Fall; grows 6–7 feet tall by 4–5 feet wide. For smaller spaces, try ‘Strawberry Sundae’ Hydrangea which grows 4–5 feet tall by 3–4 feet wide.
‘Quick Fire’ Hydrangea – Blooms about a month before other panicle hydrangea varieties and flowers every year! Flowers open white then turn pink as summer progresses. This super hardy shrub grows to about 6–8 feet tall and wide. For smaller gardens, try ‘Little Quick Fire’ Hydrangea, which grows 3–5 feet tall and wide.
Little Lime Hydrangea
Quick Fire Hydrangea
Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
Oakleaf hydrangeas are upright, coarsely textured, large shrubs known for their oak leaf-shaped foliage. Later-blooming than macrophylla types, flowers tend to be cone-shaped and creamy white as they emerge in mid-Summer, slowly aging to shades of pink into Fall. The leaves turn orange, red, and burgundy in Autumn, and the bark peels with maturity, adding seasonal interest. These shrubs grow best in dappled or partial sun, but can tolerate full sun if given plenty of water.
‘Queen of Hearts’ Hydrangea – Large plant at maturity, growing to about 6–8 feet tall and wide; bred to have sturdy stems with flowers that won’t weigh down the branches.
‘Jetstream’ Hydrangea– Grows to 5–6 feet tall by 4–5 feet wide; bred to have sturdy stems with flowers that won’t weigh down the branches.
‘Pee Wee’ Hydrangea – A compact dwarf cultivar ideal for smaller gardens or containers, growing to 3–4 feet tall and wide; feature large, showy flower clusters that start white and mature to soft pink; excellent fall foliage color.
‘Munchkin’ Hydrangea – Compact and well-suited for smaller landscapes at 3–4 feet tall and wide; enjoy a profusion of robust flower clusters that open white and age to pink on sturdy, upright stems; foliage turns brilliant mahogany in fall.
‘Ruby Slippers’ Hydrangea – This variety stands out for its compact size and vibrant flower color; cone-shaped flower clusters open white and gradually turn deep pink, resembling ruby-colored slippers; foliage turns a stunning burgundy in the fall.
Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris)
Climbing hydrangea is a fabulous, self-clinging vine that can grow up brick and stone walls, arbors, trees, or any other structure. Slow to get established, this vine will take off after a few years and can scale heights of 60–80 feet, but can be maintained at smaller sizes. Late spring or early summer lace-cap style flowers are white and lightly fragrant. Older stems develop a peeling texture and a cinnamon color, adding winter interest. Climbing hydrangeas can grow in full sun or shade with adequate moisture, and do best on east or north exposures.
‘Miranda’ Hydrangea – Known for its variegated foliage with yellow to creamy white margins, this vigorous vine clings walls and can also be used as a groundcover; showy, fragrant, white blooms in late Spring to early Summer; features reddish brown bark for winter interest.
Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)
Smooth hydrangea is a rounded shrub featuring enormous white flowers (up to 12 inches across) blooming June through September on new wood. It grows 3–5 feet tall and wide and is best cut back in late Fall or early Spring. Smooth hydrangeas grow best in dappled sun or part shade, but will take more sun with sufficient moisture.
‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea is a cultivar with exceptionally large flowers and is resistant to slug and snail damage.
How to Plant & Care for Hydrangeas
Hydrangea Sun Exposure
Most species of hydrangea are tolerant of full sun if given adequate moisture, but they are not suggested for areas with reflective heat such as against a sunny wall or on a hot deck or patio. The best exposure is east-facing in morning sun with dappled, late day sun or afternoon shade. Hydrangeas will grow in total shade, but often only flower lightly, if at all.
Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars are most sensitive to hot sun, but ‘Glowing Embers’ is fairly sun-tolerant with leaves that resist scorching and flowers that don’t tend to fade in full sun. Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and varieties of Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea quercifolia are more tolerant of sun and heat than the macrophylla species.
Hydrangea Soil Needs
Hydrangeas grow best in rich, well-draining soil; they do not like standing water or heavy clay soil conditions. They thrive in cool, coastal conditions, but if grown in sandy soil, watering may need to be done more frequently to avoid leaf scorch. Add organic soil amendments at planting time such as compost, peat moss, or decomposed manure to improve soil and create the rich, moist, well-draining conditions preferred. Mulch to keep roots cool and reduce water evaporation from soil surface G&B Soil Building Conditioner makes a great mulch.
Flower color is affected by the pH of surrounding soil; alkaline conditions produce pink blooms, while acidic soil produces blue. White flowers tend to remain white regardless of soil pH. To change the pH of soil, one must begin a full season or two before seeing desired results—add lime to become more alkaline or Aluminum sulphate (Hydrangea Blueing Formula) to be more acidic. Changing the color can often take a few years to accomplish with more than one application necessary. Our native soil tends to be acidic; try a pH test kit for more details and information.
Hydrangea Moisture Requirements
Newly planted hydrangeas need regular watering until established (2–3 years); water 2 to 3 times per week if planted in the ground and daily if in containers. Established plants will grow best and flower more prolifically if given adequate moisture through the flowering period. Supplemental watering done weekly during the hottest, driest months will keep plants looking their best. Plants exposed to hot, afternoon sun or reflective heat may show a partial wilt during mid-day sun, but this may not be an indication that they need water (I wilt in hot sun too!). Always check soil moisture levels before watering to avoid overwatering and/or causing disease problems.
Winter hardiness and cold tolerance varies by species and cultivar. Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ (USDA Zones 3-9) is widely planted throughout the United States due to its ability to tolerate temps below 0 degrees. Most macrophylla types are hardy in Zones 6–9, while panicle and oakleaf varieties are slightly more cold-tolerant.
Hydrangea Pests & Diseases
Hydrangeas are relatively insect and disease resistant, but can be prone to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew or leaf spot if grown in poor conditions. Some newer varieties have been bred for increased disease resistance. Aphids, spider mites, and caterpillars are the main pests and can all be easily handled with a basic insecticidal soap or with Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew.
Hydrangea Planting & Maintenance Tips
Ideal planting times are spring or fall to give the plants adequate time to establish healthy roots before summer’s heat and dry conditions. Fertilizing is generally done at least twice each year: once in early spring as new growth begins and again in late May or early June as flower buds appear and bloom cycle begins. A slow-release organic fertilizer such as G&B All Purpose Fertilizer is preferred over a synthetic such as 10-10-10, which often causes rapid growth, leading to weak stems and floppy flowers.
How to Prune Hydrangeas
Faded flowers, once no longer attractive, are best removed in fall when the plant is done blooming, though it’s okay to remove a few old twiggy branches to the ground each year or two or prune lightly to retain overall shape. Heavy pruning can ruin the flowering for the following year (‘Annabelle’ is the exception and can be cut to the ground in late winter or early spring). Consult an experienced pruner or seek local, expert advice before attempting substantial pruning.
Before major pruning is done, it is important to know the three ways in which hydrangeas flower—those that bloom on new wood, those that flower on old wood, and now there are some newer selections that flower on new and old wood, and therefore require little or no pruning each year! Old wood refers to branches that have been on the hydrangea since the summer before the current season. New wood refers to the branches that will develop on the plant during the current growing season.
Method 1: For hydrangeas that bloom on old wood (last year’s branches). Prune these plants only in the summer before late August; before they set their bloom buds for the next year. This group of hydrangeas produces flower buds around late August, September, or October for the following summer’s blooms. If those stems are removed (pruned) in the fall, winter, or spring, the bloom buds will be removed and there may be little or no bloom the following summer. Examples: H. macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ or ‘Glowing Embers’, H. quercifolia
Method 2: For hydrangeas that flower on new wood (new branches). Prune these plants in the late summer after they have bloomed. They should not be pruned in the spring when they are preparing to flower because you will cut off the buds. Examples: H. arborescens ‘Annabelle’, H. paniculata
Method 3: For hydrangeas that flower on both new and old wood. Prune these plants only if they’re getting too large for the space or if you want to remove old flowers. The best time to prune them is after they flower in late summer. If you prune them much beyond late August, you will risk removing flower buds that are developing on current branches. Examples: H. macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’, ‘L.A. Pistachio’
No matter the size of your garden or how much sun it gets, there is a hydrangea for you. Long-blooming, easy-care, late-season color awaits you—stop in our garden centers to see for yourself!