How to Grow Hydrangeas, AKA the Low-Maintenance Flower Your Yard’s Been Missing

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Raise your hand if you love hydrangeas. We knew we weren’t alone. These gorgeous flowering shrubs are some of the easiest and most satisfying to grow in your garden because of their long bloom time and exceptional flower power from mid-summer to fall. “They’re the perfect celebration of summer,” says Stacey Hirvela, horticulturalist with Proven Winners Color Choice Shrubs. “With their beautiful shape, volume and colors, they’re emblematic of the season.”

Hydrangeas come in an array of sizes and shapes, ranging from petite types that max out at two feet tall and wide to those that reach 10 feet tall. They’re also very neat plants, says Hirvela, since they don’t drop flowers or fruits during the growing season, so they’re a great choice for pool decks or patios where you don’t want a mess.

They’re also super easy to dry and use in arrangements or wreaths. Simply place them in a vase (no water needed), and they will last for months. But if you cut them when they’ve just bloomed, they’ll fade in a few days, so wait until the blooms look “papery” to cut for dried bouquets.

a bush of pink and white hydrangeas
Olga Seifutdinova/Getty Images

What Types of Hydrangeas Are There?

  • Bigleaf (Hydrangea macrophylla), which have stunning, lacey mophead flowers
  • Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), which are cold-hardy and easy to grow
  • Annabelle hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), which are cold-hardy and native to North America
  • Mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata), which tolerate more shade than other types
  • Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), which are the only type that offer brilliant fall color

Here’s what else you need to know about how to grow hydrangeas:

When Is the Best Time to Plant Hydrangeas?

In cooler climates (USDA zones 3 to 6), you can plant hydrangeas from spring throughout the summer, as long as you keep them watered, says Hirvela. For warmer regions, plant in spring or fall when temperatures are more moderate. (Find your zone here).

How Do You Plant Hydrangeas?

Dig a hole about two to three times as wide as the container, and place the plant in the hole at the same depth as it was in the container. Water well at planting and regularly for the first season because you don’t want any newly planted shrub to dry out too much as it’s trying to get established, says Hirvela.

Because hydrangeas have shallow roots, mulch well—though not right up against the stems, which invites diseases and pests—to conserve moisture and protect the roots. Feed once a year in early spring.

a light magenta hydrangea
Jacky Parker Photography/Getty Images

Where Do Hydrangeas Grow Best? And How Much Sun Do They Need?

Depending on the type, hydrangeas grow just about everywhere from USDA Hardiness zones 3 to 9. Just read the tag to make sure you’re choosing one that will survive winters in your hardiness zone, says Hirvela. Most types need a few hours of sun to bloom, but they often prefer some afternoon shade in very hot climates.

how to grow hydrangeas white
Jeffrey Eisen/Getty Images

When Should I Prune My Hydrangea?

The great news is that it’s not always necessary! Some types (panicle and smooth) bloom on “new wood,” or this year’s growth. You can prune those, if you like, cutting back by about 1/3 of its size in the spring just as new growth begins to emerge. But you won’t harm these types of hydrangeas by not pruning them (we vote for this if you’re into low-maintenance gardening).

On the other hand, some types of hydrangeas (bigleaf, mountain and oakleaf) bloom on old wood, so you should not prune them, or you will cut off this season’s blooms. It’s OK to trim off dead branches, however.

If you’re clueless about what kind you have, do nothing. No, seriously—wait for the shrub to leaf out, then just trim off any dead parts, says Hirvela. Or you can try to identify the type by consulting your local university coop extension service (find yours here).

Finally, it’s OK to trim off the papery skeletal flowers in fall or spring. “But it’s not necessary and is strictly an aesthetic decision,” says Hirvela.

Can I Change the Color of My Hydrangea?

Maybe! Despite what “hacks” you’ve read or heard about (banana peels! a rusty nail! coffee grounds!), not just any kind of hydrangea can change colors. Only some bigleaf and mountain hydrangeas can change colors in response to the presence of aluminum in the soil. However, you also need acidic soil (with a soil pH of around 5 to 5.5), too, to make it happen. Soil pH controls the availability of aluminum for plant uptake, says Hirvela.

Because these flowers are so lovely to begin with, there’s no real reason to tinker with the color. But if you’re determined to try this, make sure you have the correct type of hydrangea, get a soil test so you know your pH, then add aluminum sulfate according the package instructions.

a pale violet hydrangea in a vase
Patti Chronert/Getty Images

Ready to get started? Here are three great hydrangeas you can grow:

purewow author

Freelance Gardening Editor

Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce and many other...