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Hydrangea Care Basics for the Beginner

Want to grow hydrangeas in your garden? Learn hydrangea care basics for the beginner with these simple tips.

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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About Hydrangeas

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.

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Hydrangea Care Basics for Beginners

There are several factors that 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.

Plant Hydrangeas in the Proper Location

In general, hydrangeas prefer shadier spots where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade.

However, there are some varieties that can handle more sunlight. So it’s important to read the plant tag to see what kind of light conditions your hydrangea needs.

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 it leaves out.

blue and white hydrangea flowers in the backyard garden in my early summer garden tour in new jersey
Close up of limelight hydrangea flower as blooms fade -9 ways to start preparing the garden for winter limelight hydrangea

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.

That said, hydrangeas prefer well-draining and rich soil with lots of organic matter.

Peat moss and bark are better amendments than animal manure, because animal manure is high in nitrogen and can affect flowering. However, manure that is well-aged 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.

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Limelight hydrangea flowers with benary giant wine zinnia and rudbekia -garden nj in late summer

How to Plant a Hydrangea

  • 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!

close up of lacecap hydrangea flowers
Lacecap hydrangea

Pest and Disease Problems

In general, hydrangeas are pretty easy going, 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.

Pest problems include slugs and snails. If you see holes on the foliage, try using organic slug and snail bait like THIS.

Hydrangeas are also susceptible to deer damage so protect them by using these deer-resistant techniques.

hydrangea paniculata near the potager garden with zinnias and sedum autumn joy
closeup of limelight hydrangea flowers with tall phlox in fallWhy Aren't My Hydrangeas Blooming

Fertilizing Hydrangeas

In general, hydrangeas do not need to be fertilized. Instead, I recommend 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.

Close up of Everblooming hydrangea flowers - hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer

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.

With the exception of white flowering varieties, acidic soil conditions cause flowers to be more blue or purple.

A favorite of mine.

endless summer hydrangea macrophylla in bloom during summer -15 Mistakes New Gardeners Should Avoid

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.

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.

endless summer hydrangea macrophylla flowers as they fade in late summer - garden nj in the backyard in late summer

Soil tests will typically provide guidance on 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.

Cutting hydrangeas for drying - How to Dry a Hydrangea the Easy Way

Pruning Hydrangeas

Pruning hydrangeas is a popular question among my readers.

Knowing when and how to prune it, is really 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.

There are three different pruning categories that 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
white hydrangea flowers

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!

And 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.

close up of phlox and limelight hydrangea flowers

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 really 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.

White and blue hydrangea flowers in the garden

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.

Click here to learn the easiest way to dry a hydrangea the easy way. And click here if you want to make a simple hydrangea wreath drying the flowers right on the wreath form.

endless summer hydrangea that is starting to dryin garden nj
Cut hydrangea branches in basket -How to Keep Fresh Cut Hydrangeas from Drooping

Fresh Cut Hydrangea Care

If you want to enjoy fresh-cut hydrangea flowers indoors, wait until the flowers are completely open before cutting them.

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 hydrangea flowers for a vase, follow these tips to prevent hydrangeas from wilting.

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More About Hydrangea Care Basics

Do you grow hydrangeas? What varieties are you growing? I would love to know more in the comments below.

And don’t miss joining my Gardening DIY and Decorating Community on Facebook for more chatter. And follow along there and on Instagram as well. There are behind-the-scenes daily things that I share on Instagram that don’t make it to the blog. Would love to see you there too!

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Cut hydrangeas for drying in farmhouse kitchen           hydrangea care

Garden Supplies I Use

I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. From pruners to deer repellents, here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

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  1. This is a GREAT post and exactly what I needed. My hubby and I have tried several times to grow hydrangeas with zero luck. I think we have been planting in areas with too much sun. We vowed to give it another try, this spring. Don’t be surprised if you get a private message, with a question or two…or three! lol Thanks for sharing this, Stacy!!!

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful Kim and thank you! You can message me anytime I’ll chat about flowers all day if you want! xoxo

  2. Stacy,
    Mine did so well last year but that was a first! I’m definitely going to take your advise and hope to have a repeat year of gorgeous blooms. I
    ‘m also sharing a link on Sunday.

  3. I love hydrangeas. They are such a huge statement in the garden from spring through fall and I love drying them. Thanks for the great gardening post, Stacy.

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  5. Hydrangeas are my favorite!! I planted some last spring and enjoyed them so much. I’ve especially enjoyed using dried hydrangeas throughout the winter! Thanks so much for this very informative post!!

  6. Thanks so much for this incredibly helpful article, Stacy! I finally found a spot on our property where hydrangeas get the right amount of sun/shade. (after much experimentation!) I am now enjoying beautiful Summer Crush hydrangeas. Definitely saving this article as it answers all my questions! Thank you!

    1. If you’d like to keep hydrangeas in a pot, choose a variety that is two zones higher than your current zone.

  7. How do I take care of hydrangea in a potted bird cage ? My niece gifted me the beautiful flowers. It didn’t come with instructions.

    1. That’s a really good question. Do you have an outdoor living space you can keep it on for the rest of the growing season? You’ll need to keep it watered but ultimately, if you want to keep it, I’d remove it from the birdcage, put an indoor plant in there instead, and plant your hydrangea outside and see how it does. It’s not guaranteed to flower again but you can keep it going easier outdoors than planted in the birdcage. I’ve not found great success with gift hydrangeas when keeping them as houseplants.