Types of Hydrangea

Get the scoop on different types of hydrangea, including popular varieties, and learn which is right for your yard.


By: Julie A Martens
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Botanical Names: panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), French or bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Welcome hydrangea shrubs to your yard. Different types of hydrangeas meet any landscape need you might have. Whether you want a hedge, a splash of color in a shrub border, a vine or flowers for cutting, you can find hydrangea varieties to fit the bill. There are even small hydrangeas to suit pocket gardens or containers. The hydrangea scientific name is actually the same as the common name — hydrangea. Look to the species and variety names to finetune your choice ofthese pretty shrubs.

To narrow your search for hydrangea varieties, start by considering the way you want to use it in the landscape. If you need a vine, for instance, then you want climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris). The climbing version of this floral favorite opens white blooms resembling more of a lacecap type, flattened and somewhat fuzzy. It grows heartily in shade to sun, although strongest flowering occurs in a more-sun-than-shade setting.

Some of the most classic types of hydrangea fall into the French or bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) category. These are the showy bloomers with large flower heads. The flowers are divided into two groups: mophead (spherical) and lacecap (flattened). Both thrive in locations with well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Morning sun teamed with light afternoon shade helps coax the strongest growth from these hydrangea types, although in northern growing areas all day sun is okay.

Unlike Hydrangea macrophylla, which craves moisture, panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) is more drought tolerant once established. Large white flower heads open in summer and blush to pink as they mature, lingering well into fall. Frost transforms blooms to a dusky brown. Of all types of hydrangeas, panicle hydrangea is the one you can prune into a tree form.

Hydrangea varieties of the panicle type include ‘Grandiflora,’ commonly nicknamed PeeGee. Plants grow up to 25 feet tall and open flowers up to 18 inches long. Small panicle hydrangea varieties include ‘Bobo,’ which grows a tidy 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide.  ‘Limelight’ is a panicle type of hydrangea that’s won many awards. The blooms start white, shift to cream and finish pink.

One of the most beloved hydrangea varieties is ‘Annabelle,’ which is a smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). This beauty is a native hydrangea type, and it prefers to grow in the classic environment other types of hydrangeas need: morning sun with afternoon shade. Flower heads on ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea measure up to a foot across and can become heavy, pulling stems to the ground. This is one of the varieties of hydrangea that needs support for its top-heavy stems.

For a drier, sunnier spot, plant oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). It’s one of the few types of hydrangeas that can withstand drier soil and a little more sun. Oakleaf hydrangea offers unusual lobed leaves that look similar to oak leaves. In fall, leaves turn shades of purple, burgundy, gold and red. The best fall color develops on plants that receive more sun than shade.

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