What to Plant with Hydrangeas: 10 Best Companion Plants to Try
Hydrangeas are the perfect garden shrub to attract pollinators and add beauty, color and interest to any landscape. With a romantic, cottage-y aesthetic and hundreds of varieties available, you’re bound to fall in love with at least one type. Hydrangeas range in height from a few feet tall to 8 to 10 feet tall and wide, so they’re equally at home in a pot on a balcony garden or as part of beds in your flower garden. Once established, they thrive in almost any climate from USDA Hardiness zones 3 to zone 9 (find your hardiness zone here). Make sure to choose one that is suited to your zone.
Hydrangeas start to bloom in early to mid-summer, depending on the type, and the flowers remain through fall. In many parts of the country, the faded blooms will stay on the plant to provide winter interest in your otherwise bare garden. Hydrangeas also make great cut or dried flowers. Although many people think hydrangeas grow only in shade, most types need at least four hours of sun to bloom well. In warm climates, they prefer afternoon shade to protect them from searing heat. They like well-drained—never soggy—soils but will tolerate many different types from sandy to clay. To round out your garden, plant hydrangeas with companion plants that have similar needs.
Here’s what else you should know about what to plant with hydrangeas and how to care for these gorgeous shrubs:
What kind of hydrangea should I plant?
There are five basic types including bigleaf, panicle, smooth, mountain and oakleaf. There’s also a climbing hydrangea, which will clamber up a wall or large trellis for an amazing display when it reaches maturity in a few years’ time. Each type has its own charms, with varying colors, bloom shapes and sizes. For easy care, it doesn’t get much better than panicle types. Oakleaf types offer crimson leaf color in the fall. Bigleaf and mountain need afternoon shade, or they may wilt. Read the plant tag or description before buying so you’ll know the plant’s needs.
What is companion planting?
The idea of companion planting is part folklore and part science. It’s based on the theory that certain plants help others absorb nutrients better, attract beneficial pollinators, or like the same growing conditions so that they grow well together. In the case of hydrangeas, it’s mostly about choosing plants that like similar light and moisture levels.
Can you plant hydrangeas close together?
A lot depends on the mature size of each plant. If you plant too closely, they’ll interfere with each other’s growth. So, instead of a nicely shaped plant that shows off its natural form, they’ll compete and grow into each other, creating scraggly branches with no leaves or flowers. It’s fine to plant in clusters or groupings, but keep each plant about one plant’s mature width away from the others. That is, if a plant grows to 3 feet wide at maturity, keep it at least that far away from the next plant’s placement.
How far from the house should you plant hydrangeas?
It may be only a tiny 4-inch pot or quart-sized container now, but in a few years, your hydrangea will reach its mature size. As above, plant it at least one plant’s width away from the house. But also make sure it will get some sun because hydrangeas in full shade (with no direct sunlight) will not bloom well.
Here are the best companion plants for hydrangeas:
Dogwoods are medium-sized trees with pretty spring flowers and interesting bark, so they’re a great backdrop to smaller shrubs planted in front. They’ll also provide shade for hydrangeas that need shelter from hot afternoon sun.
2. Crepe Myrtle
Crepe myrtles are large shrubs, which also can be pruned into more of a tree form. They have lovely, showy flowers in various shades of pink or purple, so they coordinate well with most hydrangeas. When trained into tree form, they can provide afternoon shade to hydrangeas.
3. Dwarf Evergreen
Ball-shaped evergreens offer interest and year-round color, while providing a pretty contrast with their rounded shapes and lacey texture to the more freeform feel of hydrangea shrubs. Look for those that keep their round shape without pruning.
Cranesbill, also called perennial geranium, is a lesser-known plant that blooms from spring to fall. It grows in a pretty, mounded shape with delicate flowers “hovering” atop the foliage like butterflies. This perennial tolerates sun or shade, so it’s a great option for planting in front of or beneath larger hydrangea specimens.
Hostas come in many different colors, shapes and sizes, from a few inches across to 6 feet wide. They need mostly shade but perform best with some morning sun, so they’re an ideal companion plant for hydrangeas, which like the same conditions.
These pink, purple, or white flowering shrubs offer pretty blooms in spring, and like hydrangeas, prefer part-sun conditions, making them a great companion planting. Look for dwarf reblooming varieties for months of color.
7. Ornamental Grass
Ornamental grasses offer a contrast of texture and color for hydrangeas. Some types like part sun, just like hydrangeas. Plant them in front to edge a walkway or in clumps to offer interest in mixed border.
8. Spring-flowering Bulbs
Not every flower has to be in bloom all season long. Plant spring-flowering bulbs under hydrangeas; they’ll bloom before the shrubs leaf out, while the hydrangeas will camouflage the fading bulb foliage.
This hardy, mounding perennial has pretty purple, pink or white spikes of flowers that need about 4 to 6 hours of sun a day, and pollinators love them. They’re ideal massed in front of dwarf-sized hydrangeas.
This pretty perennial is grown more for its colorful foliage-- which comes in every shade from lime green to burgundy-- than its unassuming spikes of flowers in mid-summer. The ruffly leaves provide awesome color throughout the season. Plant it in groups in front of medium-sized hydrangeas.