Master the art of hydrangea care! From choosing the perfect variety to preventing common problems, this guide has everything you need.
Hydrangeas are the most asked-about plants in the garden. They grow the prettiest flowers, don’t they?
I’m a huge fan of hydrangeas, I grow several different varieties and have had lots of different experiences with them.
For some years, my hydrangeas struggled to bloom. In other years, they bloomed like crazy.
Sometimes, hydrangeas take a few years after planting to establish before they even start blooming.
If you want to learn how to start growing hydrangeas, I am sharing everything about growing them and enjoying the flowers so you can get the most out of them in your garden.
Learn hydrangea care basics with these simple tips.
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In general, hydrangeas have a USDA hardiness zone of 4-9 depending on the variety you have. Hydrangeas are easy-care flowers with a range of colors that include blues, purples, pinks, whites, and chartreuse.
There are lots of different varieties to choose from. Some are bred to rebloom. While others will bloom once and be done until the following season.
It’s helpful to know what varieties you have in your landscape because that will drive how you care for them.
Hydrangea Care Basics for Beginners and Beyond
Several factors go into properly caring for hydrangeas. Understanding their needs will help you better care for your hydrangea plants and get the most out of their blooms.
Planting Hydrangeas in the Proper Location
Have you ever heard the saying location location location? Well, it certainly applies to planting hydrangeas because they have light and soil requirements that are necessary to get the best blooms. Here’s what you need to know.
Where to Plant Hydrangeas
In general, hydrangeas prefer shadier spots where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade. However, some varieties can handle more sunlight. So it’s important to read the plant tag to see what kind of light conditions your hydrangea needs.
When to Plant Hydrangeas
When planting hydrangeas, it’s best to do it in early spring or fall. Avoid planting in the hot summer months because they don’t acclimate as well and require a lot more care than you’ll want to do.
To relocate an established hydrangea, move it during spring or fall. And if I’m getting really specific here, I prefer fall when the temperatures cool down or early spring before the plan leafs out.
How to Plant Hydrangeas: Soil Matters
Always test your soil before planting so you know what’s in it and how to improve it. You can buy a test kit like THIS but I advise going through your local cooperative extension because they can really help you drill down on ways to improve your soil for the best hydrangea care.
That said, hydrangeas prefer well-draining and rich soil with lots of organic matter like compost and leaf mold. Peat moss and bark are better amendments than animal manure because animal manure is high in nitrogen and can affect flowering. However, well-aged manure is OK to use.
It’s important to understand your soil drainage because hydrangeas do not like wet feet. You’ll know it’s getting too much water when the leaves have brown edges or drop.
Alternatively, if hydrangeas receive too little water, they will let you know through droopy leaves that revive shortly after watering.
How to Plant a Hydrangea
If you are learning how to plant hydrangeas, it’s pretty easy and straightforward to do. Here’s what you need to know.
- Determine the right planting location by selecting an area with fertile soil and ample room for the shrub to grow. Consider what the overall size will be and understand the light conditions of the spot.
- Dig a hole 2x the size of the root ball.
- Prepare the hole and amend the soil if necessary to improve drainage.
- Remove the plant from the nursery container, loosen the roots, and plant at the same depth as the pot.
- Backfill with garden soil. If the soil needs improvement, backfill with high-quality garden soil and compost.
- Spread organic mulch to help retain moisture and improve the quality of the soil over time.
- It’s also a good idea to add some leaf mold if you have some to help improve the soil quality too.
- Bottom water to thoroughly and keep the plant hydrated but avoid over-saturating the plant so it doesn’t sit in water either.
If you want to make your own compost to use with your hydrangeas, here is a great compost recipe you shoud use!
Hydrangea Care: Watering Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas are thirsty plants and crave consistent moisture, especially during hot, dry periods. Ideally, aim to water deeply at the base of the plant, allowing the water to reach the roots. A good rule of thumb is to water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
Avoid overhead watering, as this can encourage fungal diseases. Instead, opt for drip irrigation, soaker hose or slow, deep watering to saturate the root zone. Remember, underwatering can result in wilting and stunted growth, while overwatering can lead to root rot. So, finding the sweet spot in terms of hydration is key to keeping your hydrangeas happy and healthy.
And keep in mind that your watering practices will look different during the different seasons. Here in my New Jersey, zone 6b garden, I don’t manually water as often as I do during our hot summers.
Fertilizer for Hydrangeas
In general, hydrangeas do not need to be fertilized. This might come as a bit of a shock to you because there are lots of gardeners out there who recommend fertilizing them, but I’m not one of them. Therefore, the best fertilizer for hydrangeas is amending the soil with good-quality organic matter.
If hydrangeas are planted closely to grass and you fertilize your grass, keep an eye on the blooms. Because grass fertilizer is high in nitrogen and affects hydrangea blooms if it’s fed too close to plants.
Nitrogen makes plants greener and more lush. So hydrangeas will not flower as much, if at all if, it receives too much nitrogen.
Hydrangea Care: Common Pest and Disease Problems
In general, hydrangeas are pretty easygoing, but sometimes they can have issues.
Hydrangeas that are planted in too shady of an area that receives a lot of water or has poor drainage, powdery mildew, and blackspot are common.
If you notice powdery mildew or blackspot, relocate the hydrangea to a sunnier location with better drainage in spring or fall.
In the alternative, when a hydrangea receives too much sun and watering from overhead, you may see signs of rust spots on the foliage.
This can be corrected by watering more at the base in the early morning or late afternoon. Drip irrigation systems are perfect for this when there isn’t much rain.
And if the hydrangea is getting too much sun? Relocate it to a slightly shadier spot in spring or fall.
Hydrangeas are also susceptible to deer damage so protect them by using these deer-resistant techniques. Because our property is not fenced in, I heavily rely on deer repellent sprays to keep them from nibbling on my hydrangea flowers.
How to Change the Hydrangea Flower Color
Hydrangeas are sensitive to pH in the soil. Testing the soil will tell you the pH of your soil. But you can also tell from the color of your hydrangea flowers.
Except white flowering varieties, acidic soil conditions cause flowers to be more blue or purple. A favorite of mine.
How to Make Hydrangeas Pink
When you see blue or purple flowers, soil pH is generally 6 or lower. If you want to increase the acidity, only try it with well-established plants. And you would do this, by amending the soil with sulfates, like coffee grounds.
How to Make Hydrangeas Blue
Alternatively, more neutral soils generally produce flowers that are pink or red. In general, when you see pink or red flowers, soil pH is around a 6-7.5 pH. To increase the alkaline in your soil, add garden lime.
Soil tests will typically guide ways to improve garden soil. So I always recommend testing it.
As an aside, I don’t play around with the flower color and don’t really recommend doing it. I prefer my plants to do what they want in the environment that they are in.
Because I believe plants do better if we don’t mess with them so much and just leave them be providing the general care they need to thrive.
Hydrangea Care: Pruning Hydrangeas
Pruning hydrangeas is a popular question among my readers. Knowing when and how to prune hydrangeas, is important so your plant flowers.
Therefore, it’s even more important to know what type of hydrangea you have so you know when to prune it.
Three different pruning categories depend on whether the plant blooms on old or new wood. They are:
- Hydrangea Macrophylla which blooms on old wood
- Hydrangea Arborescens and Hydrangea Paniculata which blooms on new growth
- Everblooming or Endless Summer Hydrangeas which blooms on both old and new wood
Everblooming and Macrophylla Hydrangeas that bloom on old wood should be pruned when flowers start to fade. If cut back between fall and early spring, they won’t flower because the buds were trimmed off.
Hydrangeas that bloom on new growth should be cut back in late winter or early spring. I cut my Hydrangea Paniculata back hard the first seasonable day in early spring and it blooms beautifully every fall.
Thus, timing is critical!
If you are not sure what variety you have, reach out to your local cooperative extension or master gardener program and ask them to ID the plant for you. The local cooperative extension and master gardeners are a great resource for home gardeners, so don’t be shy about reaching out.
How to Prune a Hydrangea
Now that we understand when to prune a hydrangea, how do we prune it? Find a budding node and cut it on a 45-degree angle about half an inch to 1” above it.
This is where new leaves and blooms will grow.
When you notice completely woody branches on established hydrangeas, cut these branches to the ground to promote new growth at the base.
I typically wait until the whole plant is lush and green before cutting these particular branches back so I know they are truly dead.
But in general, aside from my hydrangea paniculatas, I don’t prune my hydrangeas much at all and let them be.
When I cut flowers for arrangements or decor, I make the cuts the way I mentioned above. But in general, I leave them alone unless I need to control the overall size.
Click here for more information about pruning.
There are a few different methods for propagating hydrangeas. Each work equally well and it’s a matter of preference how you propagate hydrangeas.
The tutorials for each are detailed in the above posts. They are a bit long to detail here, but very simple to do. So give one a shot if you want to propagate hydrangeas and grow more plants for free.
Hydrangea Care in Pots
Hydrangeas grow well in pots. For them to overwinter well, you’ll need to choose a hydrangea variety that is two growing zones higher than your hardiness zone. And make sure you plant it in a container that is all weather so it doesn’t crack or become damaged during the winter.
When grown in pots, hydrangeas will need consistent watering, particularly during the hotter months of the year. I recommend using a drip irrigation system set on a timer to keep them well hydrated and healthy.
While I don’t typically recommend fertilizers for hydrangeas, they will need additional nutrition when grown in pots as the nutrients tend to wash out every time you water.
Hydrangea Care: Overwintering Hydrangeas
If you are growing hydrangeas that bloom on old wood and you live in a colder climate with harsh winters, it might be a good idea to cozy up your hydrangeas with a layer of burlap or creating a b burlap screen to help protect the buds from winter damage.
Choosing the Right Hydrangea for Your Garden
Hydrangeas are an incredibly popular choice for gardens, offering vibrant blooms and lush foliage throughout the season. However, with so many varieties available, choosing the right one for your garden can be overwhelming.
To help you navigate the world of hydrangeas, here’s a quick starter guide to consider when making your selection.
Consider Hydrangea Care: Sunlight Needs
Before choosing the right hydrangea for your garden, you’ve got to assess the light conditions you have on the property. Keep in mind that while some varieties can thrive in shadier conditions, you may get fewer flowers.
- Full Sun: Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) are the classic choice for full sun locations and offer stunning mophead or lacecap blooms in shades of pink, blue, and purple.
- Part Sun: Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) thrive in part sun and offer fragrant white blooms in early summer followed by decorative peeling bark in winter.
- Shade: Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) flourish in shaded areas and boast unique oak-shaped leaves that turn vibrant shades of red and orange in autumn. I had one that was growing half in sun and half in the shade and the shadier side of the plant had far less blooms.
When Do Hydrangeas Bloom
If you are limited on growing space, consider when you want your hydrangeas to flower before finalizing your selection.
- Early Summer: Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) offer long-lasting, cone-shaped blooms in white or pink that start blooming in early summer and last well into fall.
- Mid-Summer: Bigleaf hydrangeas and PeeGee hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) typically bloom in mid-summer and offer a variety of colors and flower shapes.
- Late Summer/Fall: Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’) bloom in late summer and offer large, snowball-like white flowers that add interest to the garden even after the petals fade.
Consider the Overall Size and Shape
The more well-matched the hydrangea variety is to your garden, the less pruning it will require long term to manage the overall size and shape.
- Compact Shrubs: Ideal for smaller gardens or containers, dwarf varieties like Bigleaf hydrangea ‘Mini Penny’ and Panicle hydrangea ‘Little Lime’ offer vibrant blooms without requiring a lot of space.
- Vining Varieties: Climbing hydrangeas are perfect for covering walls, trellises, or fences, adding a touch of elegance and fragrance to your garden.
- Large Shrubs: For a more dramatic statement, Bigleaf hydrangeas like ‘Endless Summer’ can grow to be quite large and offer an abundance of beautiful blooms.
Consider Soil and pH for the Best Hydrangea Care and Blooms
- Acidic Soil: Blue hydrangeas prefer acidic soil with a pH between 5.2 and 5.5.
- Neutral Soil: Most other hydrangeas will thrive in neutral soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
- Alkaline Soil: You can still grow hydrangeas in alkaline soil, but you may need to add amendments like aluminum sulfate to lower the pH and encourage blue blooms.
Think About What YOU Want
Ultimately, the best hydrangea for your garden is the one you love the most. Consider factors like your desired flower color, bloom time, size, and shape when making your decision.
Don’t be afraid to visit your local nursery or reach out to a fellow gardener on socials. Ask for hydrangea care advice from the experts.
Drying Hydrangea Flowers
If you want to dry hydrangea flowers for decor, wait until the blooms have a vintage papery look which is typically 6-8 weeks after it starts flowering before cutting them.
Fresh flowering hydrangeas do not dry well, so wait until they age a bit before cutting them.
I shared the step-by-step process for drying hydrangeas the easy way here. But in general, cut them when the flowers look vintage, put them in a vase with fresh water that has about an inch of water and don’t refill the vase. Keep it out of direct sunlight and don’t overcrowd the blooms so the hydrangea flowers dry well. That’s it!
If you want a fun fall decorating idea using your hydrangea blooms, I even shared a step-by-step tutorial for makeing a simple hydrangea wreath where they flowers dry right on the wreath form. If you decide to make it, I’d love to see how it looks!
Fresh Cut Hydrangea Care
If you want to enjoy fresh-cut hydrangea flowers indoors, wait until the flowers are completely open before cutting them.
For the best fresh hydrangea care, always cut in the mornings and remove all the leaves from the stem to ensure it retains as much moisture as possible.
If you plan to cut your blooms for a bouquet of hydrangeas, follow there are two ways to prevent hydrangeas from wilting in a vase. So head over to this post if you need to drill down. Oh, and if you hydrangeas already wilted? That same post shares how to revive hydrangeas too.
Hydrangea Care FAQs
Should I Cut Off Dead Hydrangea Blooms?
Yes, it’s a good idea to cut off dead hydrangea blooms so the plant focuses more on root development and overall good plant health over seed production. Therefore, deadheading flowers is always a good practice when growing hydrangeas.
Can Hydrangeas Grow Indoors?
If you buy a hydrangea in the greenhouse from a florist or local nursery, they can do OK for a bit but I’ve not found success growing them indoors. While they are wonderful to receive as a gift, I treat them more like fresh cut flowers and don’t have the expectation they’ll last long indoors.
Yes, you can plant them outside, but they are not guaranteed to bloom as they were grown differently than ones you’d find at your local nursery. So if you receive a hydrangea in foil or gift wrap, keep your expectations low when planting them outdoors.
Hydrangea Care: Why Isn’t My Hydrangea Blooming?
There are lots of reasons hydrangeas fail to bloom. Here are a few things to consider so you can fix why your hydrangeas not blooming.
- Florist or Gift Hydrangea
- The Hydrangea Isn’t Planted in the Right Location
- Pruning at the Wrong Time
- Too Much Fertilizer
- Recently Planted Hydrangeas
- Hydrangea Not Blooming Because Not Hardy to Climate
Are Hydrangeas Deer Resistant?
No, hydrangeas are not deer resistant and will need protection from nibblers in your garden. Whether you erect 8 foot fencing or use a deer repellent spray, they will need protection from deer damage. If you don’t protect them, deer will not only eat the flowers but enjoy the foliage too.
Some hydrangea varieties are more deer-resistant than others like climbing hydrangeas and oak leaf hydrangeas, but they are still susceptible to deer damage. So, therefore, I recommend offering some sort of protection to all types of hydrangeas.
More About Hydrangea Care Basics
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- I like to use a good-quality, potting soil, garden soil, compost, and perlite when planting. While I make my own compost, you can easily buy it ready-made for use.
- I have used this deer repellent with great success. But now, I’m all about this deer repellent that is systemic instead of topical. This means the plant takes it in as opposed to it just smelling bad. If you want to minimize the work and not use repellents, choose plants that are deer-resistant from this list.
- Hands down this is my favorite hand-weeding tool. You can use it to get underneath roots and loosen soil, and it cuts down on the weeding time because you work much faster.
- But I also love this long, stand-up weeding tool to really get around roses from afar.
- I use this organic fertilizer for roses because the blooms are more prolific and it’s organic.
- And I use this organic fertilizer for my vegetables and herbs in the potager garden.
- You’ll need a sharp set of pruners when working with plants and flowers. I buy a few so I can stash them around.
- I use these garden snips to deadhead and cut flowers from my gardens.
- Where pest and disease problems are concerned, if I need to, I generally use this insecticidal soap or neem oil to help control infestations depending on the issue. When using, only apply when pollinators are less active.
- This is my go-to bait for slug and snail problems with my hostas and dahlias.
- This is my favorite set-and-forget slow-release fertilizer for houseplants, annuals, and container gardens.
- Whenever I stake my peonies or other plants, I generally use these grow-through garden supports because they work really well and keep the blooms upright.
- I use this collapsible bin ALL THE TIME. It is invaluable when working in the beds as it’s light to carry around and folds flat for easy storage.
- Drip irrigation set on a timer is your friend! I love these for my planters, window boxes, and hanging baskets.
- And this four way hose bib allows you to split one spicket into four!
Click here to shop my favorite garden supplies!
Want to Learn More About Hydrangeas Care?
- The Complete Guide to Hydrangea Care and Their Flowers
- How to Divide Hydrangeas
- How to Propagate Hydrangeas
- Why Are My Hydrangeas Not Blooming?
- The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Fresh Cut Hydrangeas From Drooping
- How to Dry a Hydrangea the Easy Way
- Are Hydrangeas Deer Resistant?
- How to Make a Hydrangea Wreath for Free
- How to Prune Hydrangeas
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I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. With a deep passion for gardening, I enjoy helping others find their inner green thumb with all things plants and flowers, as well as finding ways to bring the outdoors inside their homes.
Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging here.