Planting Hydrangeas

Get your questions answered about hydrangea planting, including tips for choosing the right site.

Photo by: Anna Zielinska

Anna Zielinska

By: Julie A Martens
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Botanical Names: big leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), panicle hydrangea (Hydrangeapaniculata), oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), climbing hydrangea (Hydrangeaanomala petiolaris)

Give your yard a touch of beauty with the large and lovely flowers of hydrangea shrubs. These spectacular plants are not too difficult to grow, which makes landscaping with hydrangeas a colorful, rewarding proposition. The best place to plant hydrangeas depends on which type of hydrangea you’re growing. Learn where to plant hydrangeas.

Two top considerations rule when deciding where to plant hydrangeas: light and soil. No hydrangea thrives in the deep, deep shade found beneath an established shade tree. Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris), a vine hydrangea, tolerates the greatest amount of shade of all hydrangea plants. This type of hydrangea thrives in the dappled shade found beneath evergreen or deciduous trees.

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) can also tolerate a little more shade than the other hydrangea types. You can even find it growing and flowering in wooded areas. The oak-shape leaves on this type of hydrangea are famous for their fall color. Plants need to receive a little suneach day for the best autumn color to develop.

When you’re choosing where to plant a hydrangea, lean toward a spot that receives more
sunlight if you garden in cooler regions — Northern areas and the Pacific Northwest. In warmer zones, morning sun and afternoon shade provide an ideal combination for most hydrangea shrubs. The sunny exception to this rule is panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), which includes the famous ‘PeeGee’ hydrangea variety. These hydrangeas prefer full sun in all climates.

The other piece of the where-to-plant hydrangeas puzzle is soil. As a rule, hydrangea plants don’t thrive in heavy clay soil that doesn’t drain well. The best place to plant hydrangeas is in soil that’s well-drained. For thirsty Hydrangea macrophylla — both French and lacecaps — soil needs to have a higher amount of organic matter, which helps to retain soil moisture.

Perhaps because they often grow near acid-loving plants like azalea or rhododendron, hydrangeas have a reputation for loving acid soil. As you select where to plant hydrangeas, consider soil pH somewhat. French hydrangea flowers change color with varied soil pH, and oakleaf hydrangea leaves shift to yellow when they’re in alkaline soil. For panicle and smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), soil pH is pretty much a non-issue.

When landscaping with hydrangeas, plant them with other shrubs and perennials that thrive in similar conditions. Boxwood pairs well with taller ‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea, and lacecap hydrangea blends beautifully with rhododendron. The broad leaves of hydrangeas contrast texturally with narrow blades of ornamental grasses. Carex and Japanese forest grass are two types of grasses that work well with hydrangea shrubs.

Draft hydrangeas to plant as a hedge, or tuck a panicle hydrangea tree into a planting area to stand as a focal point with its larger height and heavy flower load. Landscaping with hydrangeas really offers many options, as these shrubs are versatile and can fill many roles. Their presence in the landscape can be almost stately and makes a nice pairing with strong architectural items, likea gazebo, stone wall, patio or house.

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