Hydrangea: Sun or Shade?

Sort out the confusion over how much daylight hydrangeas need to grow and bloom.
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By: Julie A Martens

Botanical Names: French hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangeaquercifolia), panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), climbing hydrangea (Hydrangeapetiolaris anomala)

Not sure if hydrangeas need sun? Can hydrangeas grow in shade? Is there such a thing as a full sun hydrangea? Growing these beautiful shrubs can seem a bit confusing, especially when many expert sources recommend planting them in part sun to shade. What does that mean? Learn the ins and outs of siting hydrangeas, including whether you should be giving hydrangeas sun or shade.

As you tackle landscaping with hydrangeas, you’ll quickly learn that these blooming beauties can prove a little tricky to site. Give French hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) too much sun, and you will be challenged to keep it supplied with sufficient water.

On the other hand, tuck most hydrangeas into too much shade, and you won’t get many flowers — unless you plant the one hydrangea for shade: climbing hydrangea (Hydrangeapetiolaris anomala). This woody vine thrives in part to full shade and often is trained to climb tall trees and shady building walls. Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) withstands sun or shade, but in warmest regions, flowers last longest when they receive afternoon shade.

For a full sun hydrangea, plant panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata). This is one of the more tolerant hydrangeas, putting up with heat, cold, drought and full sun. Panicle hydrangeas actually need at least five hours of full sun to flower their strongest. Just make sure you give the plants sufficient moisture. A few popular varieties of panicle hydrangea include ‘PeeGee’ (grows to 20 feet and is the most tree-like hydrangea), ‘Limelight’ (blooms age from white-green topink) and ‘Bobo’ (covered with white flowers that turn pink in fall).

In general, for most hydrangeas except the panicle types, plan to give hydrangeas both sun and shade. Morning sun with afternoon shade works beautifully in the South and warmer regions. In these zones, afternoon sun sizzles and can easily fry hydrangeas. In more northerly gardens, however, you can give hydrangeas full sun and they’ll thrive and bloom.

Practically speaking, this means that in Atlanta, Birmingham or Dallas, avoid giving hydrangeas full sun, but instead aim for morning sun with afternoon shade. For places like Philadelphia, Chicago or Portland, give hydrangeas more shade and you’ll wind up with few flowers. Instead, place hydrangeas in full sun in these cooler areas.

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