Hydrangea Varieties and Care

Learn which hydrangea varieties to grow in your garden.

Powerhouse Plants

Find more than 500 top-performing, multi-season plants in “Powerhouse Plants.”

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Find plants that look good for more than just a few weeks of the year in Powerhouse Plants (Timber Press, 2013). Author and plantsman Graham Rice shows you how to get the best value from plants that work hard for you, changing beautifully and dramatically through the seasons. In this excerpt, learn which hydrangea varieties you should plant in your garden.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Powerhouse Plants.

Hydrangea

hydrangea
deciduous shrub

spring to fall foliage

summer and fall flowers

A diversity of tough easy-to-grow types, with flowers and foliage in evolving colors

Everyone knows hydrangeas, but not all gardeners are aware of the fascinating possibilities amongst what is an unexpectedly varied range. Representatives of H. macrophylla (bigleaf, hortensia, mophead, and lacecap hydrangeas) are available in the greatest number. We are all familiar with the way their flowerheads evolve from pink or blue in their prime into autumnal russet shades, but a few lacecaps add colorful foliage to the mix. ‘Maculata’ (with white flowers) features leaves irregularly marked in green, gray-green, and white, with the white tending towards the edge of the leaf; ‘Quadricolor’ adds bright yellow to the mix (and pinkish to lilac flowers); the weaker ‘Tricolor’ (with pink to pale blue flowers) has foliage marked in two shades, green and cream. But other hydrangea varieties are increasingly popular and prove to be fine plants in different ways. 

The combination of spectacular summer flowers and the dried winter heads into which they mature is a feature of relatively few shrubs; but along with H. macrophylla, H. arborescens stands out in this respect, in particular in its selection ‘Annabelle’, with its huge heads crowded with white flowers. In fact, the flowers are so huge that the stems arch under the load, especially after rain. They mature to green and then remain tawny or bleached white through winter.

Hydrangea paniculata (PeeGee hydrangea) has impressive cone-shaped flowerheads which, in general, open white or greenish white, then age through blush and rosy shades to deep pink. Most impressive are ‘Pink Diamond’ (‘Interhydia’), ‘Pink Lady’, and ‘Pinky Winky’ (‘Dvppinky’); yellow fall color, if it occurs, is unremarkable. Pruning of H. paniculata varieties has a significant impact on flower size and flowering season. Hard pruning (back to just two buds) produces the latest and largest flowerheads, so heavy that they flop. Very light pruning (simply removing the previous year’s flowerheads) results in far more but noticeably smaller flowerheads opening much earlier. Medium pruning (back to four buds) results in plants intermediate in both flowering time and size of flowerheads.

Hydrangea quercifolia (oak-leaved hydrangea) has many features. Its creamy cone-shaped 4–12in/10–30cm flowerheads open in summer and mature in autumn to shades of pink, even to almost wine red. In the best forms the elegant dark green foliage, shaped like a large version of the American red oak, matures to bright orange-red or burgundy tones; then in winter, once the leaves have dropped, mature specimens reveal lovely cinnamon-colored bark. ‘Little Honey’ (‘Brihon’), a yellow-leaved form of ‘Pee Wee’ and a little slower growing, has exceptionally bright but still subtle foliage color that lasts into summer and then matures to red in fall. ‘Pee Wee’ is a compact form with rosy or purple fall color. ‘Snowflake’ (‘Brido’) is a flamboyant oddity with double florets clustered one on the other, so that while the oldest florets have matured to red, the fresh new florets are white; it too features red fall color. ‘Snow Queen’ (‘Flemygea’) has bold, pure white flowers maturing to pink, with bronze fall color.

Finally, a star amongst hydrangeas, though more popular in Britain than in North America, where Japanese beetle can be a problem — H. aspera var. sargentiana. This large shrub is unsuitable for small spaces but makes a wonderful summer-flowering specimen with broad lacecap flowers, the ring of white florets surrounding a mass of tiny pale bluish mauve florets. The velvety green leaves, up to 10in/25cm long, are big and bold and hairy, the young shoots are attractively bristled, and the cinnamon bark of mature plants peels prettily.

Hydrangea care essentials

• Different varieties are valued as specimens, as container plants, as foundation shrubs, and in shady borders.

• Most are happiest in partial or preferably dappled shade in humus-rich, fertile but well-drained soils, although many also thrive in full sun if the soil is not dry. Many appreciate shelter from drying winds.

• Prune most annually according to variety, or deadhead at the very least. Many appreciate regular mulching, which helps alleviate dry conditions.

Hydrangea varieties

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’
Z3–9
3–5 x 4–6ft
0.9–1.5 x 1.2–1.8m

Hydrangea aspera var. sargentiana
Z7–8
10–14 x 7–8ft
3–4 x 2.1–2.5m

Hydrangea macrophylla
Z6–9
3 x 6ft
0.9 x 1.8m

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Maculata’
Z6–9
5 x 4ft
1.5 x 1.2m

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Quadricolor’
Z6–9
5 x 4ft
1.5 x 1.2m

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Tricolor’
Z6–9
4 x 3ft
1.2 x 0.9m

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pink Diamond’ (‘Interhydia’)
Z4–8
5 x 7ft
1.5 x 2.1m

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pink Lady’
Z4–8
5.5 x 7ft
1.7 x 2.1m

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’ (‘Dvppinky’)
Z4–8
4.5 x 5ft
1.4 x 1.5m

Hydrangea quercifolia
Z5–9
6 x 8ft
1.8 x 2.4m

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’ (‘Brihon’)
Z5–8
3–5 x 3–5ft
0.9–1.5 x 0.9–1.5m

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’
Z5–9
3–4 x 2.5–3ft
0.9–1.2 x 0.75–0.9m

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’ (‘Brido’)
Z5–9
6 x 8ft
1.8 x 2.4m

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ (‘Flemygea’)
Z5–9
6 x 8ft
1.8 x 2.4m

Read more: For more from Powerhouse Plants check out Butterfly Bush Varieties and Care.


Reprinted with permission from Powerhouse Plants by Graham Rice and published by Timber Press, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Powerhouse Plants.