Hydrangea Planting Guide

In the landscape, taking center stage in a large container or cut for bouquets, hydrangeas are universally loved. 

In recent years, lots of new cultivars have been introduced and our section includes some of the best hardy paniculata and arborescens varieties; fast growing and adaptable to a variety of sites.

Choosing a Growing Site

Choose a site with full sun to partial shade. Hydrangeas benefit from more sun in cool, northern regions (6-8 hours/day) and dappled light or some afternoon shade in hotter parts of the country (4-6 hours/day). These hydrangeas thrive in protected, non-windy locations. Keep in mind that shrubs live for years, so plan for their mature size.

Soil Prep

Hydrangeas aren't fussy about soil pH and will do well in most soils; loamy, fairly sandy and even those with some clay. Like most plants, hydrangeas require good drainage to avoid root rot. If you're unsure about drainage, dig a bucket size hole and fill with water. If the water hasn't drained away an hour later, this is a poorly drained location. Choose another site.

When to Plant Hydrangeas

Plant outdoors in spring when frost danger has past, and the soil has warmed and can be worked. 

How to Plant Hydrangeas

Dig a hole about the size of a basketball and loosen the surrounding edge soil. Remove your plant out of its nursery pot and set it upright in the hole so that the soil level from the pot is even with the ground soil. Fill with the soil you removed, pat to remove large air pockets and water to settle the soil. Check to make sure your plants hasn't sunk a bit; if it has, correct that. Add a layer of bark mulch to keep the roots cool and lightly moist, the soil temperature more even day to night, and to suppress weeds. Keep the mulch pulled back an inch or so from the main stem.

During the Season 

While your hydrangea is settling in and growing a strong root network, keep the soil lightly moist. (Not wet!) Once established, hydrangeas need about 1" of water per week in most regions, or more if the site is very hot and/or breezy. Many paniculata hydrangeas produce flowers that open white or soft green and take on pink hues as the season progresses. The blooms of paniculata hydrangeas are not affected by soil pH.

At Season's End

Most people leave their hydrangea untrimmed at the end of the growing season so flower heads can dry and be enjoyed in the winter landscape. The hydrangeas here bloom on "new wood" or current season's growth. Because of this, any pruning you might choose to do is best done in later winter, before new growth develops. 

To prune, cut back the plant by about one third to shape and encourage strong stems. Apply a slow release woody plant fertilizer according to package directions in the spring when leaf buds begin to form. For Incrediball hydrangeas, apply a little rose fertilizer in spring.

Insider Tips

  1. To enjoy cut hydrangeas indoors, place cut branches in water immediately (take a bucket outside with you). Trim stems to desired length then snip a 2" cut in the bottom of the stem with sharp pruners. Quarter turn and snip again. (Looking at the base of the stem straight on you will have created an "X".) This helps the cells absorb water and keeps the flowers fresh longer. 
  2. Feel free to let flowers dry on the plant and remain all winter for landscape interest.
  3. There are a number of hydrangea groupings; these are winter hardy varieties, not florist hydrangeas.
  4. Curious about changing flower colors on hydrangeas? Learn about that here: How to Change Hydrangea Flower Colors
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Success Snapshot

Light: Full sun to partials shade, depending on regional location

Soil: Average 

Depth: Same as surrounding soil

Water:  Average moisture

Uses: Mixed borders, hedges, specimen plantings, cutting

Tip: Plan for mature size; some varieties get big

GUIDE: Hydrangeas

They Start Out Looking Like This: