Growing Healthy Hydrangeas

By Kate Riley June 7, 2012

I get asked a lot by friends and passing neighbors about the hydrangeas in our front yard.  We’ve been growing ours for over a decade and have several healthy plants that frame the porch ever summer, and I look forward to the multiple and easy bouquets they produce each year. 

There are dozens of varieties of hydrangeas, most are classified as mophead with ball shaped blooms or lacecap with flat delicate clusters.  We have three different varieties of mophead hydrangeas in our yard, the white ‘Anabelle’, the raspberry ‘Pink Shira’ and the delicate pink ‘Macrophylla’ by the front door.  

front yard hydrangeas

Truth is, we got lucky with this mophead variety in our front yard years ago.  We also planted a few bushes in our backyard (which gets hot afternoon sun) and we utterly failed trying to grow them there.  However, these hydrangeas in our east facing front yard grow healthy and tall with dozens of mophead blooms every year, and with minimal effort.  The lesson?  The biggest factor that contributes to healthy hydrangea growth is absolutely location. 

Here are a few other things I’ve learned about growing healthy hydrangeas:   

– Always plant your bush into well drained porous soil whether it’s in the ground, in a raised bed, or in a large container.  

– Plant hydrangeas where they receive morning light and afternoon shade.  They can grow in filtered light too but they will not do well in hot afternoon sun. 

– Water them a lot, and I mean a lot.  Those delicate petals need water to thrive especially in the heat of summer and will quickly wilt on the bush without enough.  Even one forgetful summer day (or two) can kill a young hydrangea plant so if you can manage to get them on an automated watering system, you’re better off. 

– Some varieties of mophead hydrangeas have that chameleon quality of the ability to change color, but it is specific to certain varieties and determined by the pH level in the soil.  in short, acidic soil will make the blooms blue and alkaline soil will make the blooms pink. If you want to change the pH of the soil it is easier done in potted plants than ones in the ground, and you have to start well ahead of the bloom cycle (in late winter).

change hydragea color pH level

In your local garden department, look for dolomitic lime formulas to feed your hydrangeas several times a year to produce pinker blooms.  For bluer blooms, look for aluminum sulfate formulas to increase the acidic levels in the soil.  You won’t see very dramatic results outside containers without several feedings and too many chemicals could damage the plant so consult your local nursery specialist for guidance.  I happen to like mine pink so I’ll give them a scoop of dolomitic lime around the base once a year, but that’s all. 

When trimming hydrangeas for bouquets, clip them low, pull off any leaves below the water line, and place them in water as quickly as possible to avoid wilting.  Most often the blooms from my yard do just fine after they come straight from the garden but they are thicker stems from mature plants.  I usually bring the vessel to the hydrangeas rather than the hydrangeas to the vessel. 

clip hydrangeas place in water right away


If you clip the stems between the leafy attachment part (I’m sure there’s a Latin term for this, but I don’t know it!) and submerge them in water relatively quickly, then your blooms should last for several days.

clip hydrangeas here


Every now and then a single stalk will wilt within a few hours because of the sap like liquid inside that can solidify and prevent the cut blooms from getting enough water. There is a trick I’ve been told about by florists or flower market vendors to ensure your hydrangea blooms stay fresh and it involves dissolving that sap like substance inside the stem to open it up to receive adequate water.  Tonya of Love of Family and Home tested the boiling water trick and explains it in detail for you.  

Hydrangea blooms make effortless arrangements in containers and for the minimal effort produce many months of gorgeous blooms and that’s why I love them (sorry Madonna, I’m a fan!).

pink hydrangeas in vase cg


Hydrangeas also dry beautifully, so if you want to save a few of the mophead blooms for fall arrangements, remove the water after a few days and allow them to dry out completely – dried hydrangea blooms can last for a year, even two!

vase of pink hydrangeas cg


A final note, hydrangea bushes should be pruned in late fall or early winter or they will not perform well the next year, but it’s an easy winterizing task.  Prune them after the last leaves have fallen off and prune the stems of healthy established plants down to 24-36” high which allows for new growth on the canes in the spring.   Prune back the number of new stems in the spring if you want larger and less numerous blooms in summer.

Here are a few more helpful articles on growing hydrangeas:

A Guide to Hydrangea Care

How Tos for Hydrangeas

Danny’s Tips on Caring for Hydrangeas


Have you had success or failure with growing hydrangeas?   What tips or tricks can you share?




  1. Make sure you know if your hydrangea is blooming on old growth or new growth before pruning in the fall. If a hydrangea is an old growth bloomer, then you’ll cut off the buds for the next year, and have a luxuriously green and bloomless shrub. These should be pruned immediately after blooming, or not at all. Many of the newer varieties of hydrangeas are bred to be new growth bloomers, and can handle just about any pruning you give them.

  2. great article Kate! hydrangeas have been my favorite go-to plant for many years. I’ve probably got 15 right now and I definitely agree they are easy care and reward their grower with armfuls of beautiful cut blooms all through the summer. I can cut enough for the whole house and it barely makes a dent on the plant. here in the Pacific NW they are super happy but you’re absolutely right: if we get a very hot day they can get wilty, though they bounce back right away at sunset.

  3. Great article! My grand-aunt used to put a bottle of red wine by the base of the hydrangeas upside down, so it could drain slowly into the dirt. That makes flower more purple…

  4. I mulched my endless summer blue hydrangeas with pine needles and it took the color from pale pink back to lavender and blue!

  5. Favorite flower! Just planted two endless summers in my front, east-facing yard and they are suffering! Guess they need daily waterings! Thanks!

  6. Thanks for sharing this helpful tips… I love hydrangeas. Now I know why my hydrangeas are not doing well. On another subject… did I miss your post on your remodeled guest bathroom? I can’t find it or maybe you haven’t finish it or post it. Can’t wait to see it!

  7. I LOVE hydrangeas but am having a terrible time getting mine to grow. I planted some white ones last year and they did just great all summer. However, are they supposed to look like dead sticks after the winter or did they really die? I’ve been getting some new growth from the base, but nothing off of the older stems, which look dead. I didn’t trim them because I read that they only bloom on old wood and you shouldn’t cut them back until after they bloom. Maybe I just need more water?

  8. Love Hydrangeas, but have no luck growing them. Tried again just last week with 2 pink (for now) of the newer hybrids that grow on old or new wood. We shall see. Fingers crossed! My Mom, who had did NOT have a green thumb, plopped a hydrangea in the ground and away it grew, into a massive bush with amazing flowers. She had a that kind of luck. When we sold my parent’s home after they Father died and my Mother was enduring advanced dementia, we each trimmed a lot of blossoms, dried them, and I still have mine 10 years later. It’s a wonderful and sentimental memory from our former home and i’s beautiful yard.

  9. I love hydrangeas, but I do not have any planted. I have been thinking about it a lot lately because my cousin has gorgeous ones planted in her yard. Thank you so much for all the good information. I would have planted them in the wrong spot. I figure I am too late now, but I definitely want to plant them next year. Would you say that spring is best?

  10. Kate, Thanks for the wonderful tips. We just had Oakleaf Hydrangeas planted by when we had a company landscape the front of your house. We really like them and the landscaper said that they are very interesting throughout the year. I however would love to plant some big blue mopheads across the back of my house and after reading your article it sounds like the perfect spot. I pinned this on my Hydrangea board on Pinterest.

    Thanks again, Lesley

  11. Two things: My mom has a hydrangea and it did just what Robin’s did. She has those old stems that look dead and new growth at the base. Now after reading your article and the links you provided I suppose we were supposed to cut it back to the ground lol Will tell her tomorrow!

    Anyone know of a species that will do well in full sun in the south? I water like clockwork so that’s not an issue. I just can’t seem to find the right variety! I’m in zone 7b and I WANT hydrangeas!

    Thanks Kate! great useful info as always :)

  12. Great tips – we just got our first hydrangea and I didn’t know which side of the house to plant it on, but now I do. Thanks!

  13. Le Hydrangee sono bellissime, ma nel mio giardino crescono con difficoltà. Per avere piante molto belle il mio consiglio è di non fare una grande potatura invernale se non togliere solo i rami secchi o vecchi di 2 anni.

    Volevo segnalarvi questa nuova varietà detta:
    Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Hovaria Hopcorn®’

    E’ bellissima! Come tutte le Hydrangee è sensibile all’acidità del terreno e varia il colore da rosa a blu secondo l’acidità.

  14. Thank you for such a great article. We just bought our final home and it is a cute cape cod style home but other than some poorly maintained shrubs to close to the house, two mature red maples(which my kids want to tap) and a mature oak in the back yard there is no landscaping i.e. blank slate. I have told my husband that I want a private garden on the back side of the house which again is a blank slate. I love hydrangeas but had not put them on my wish list. I realize that due to time and expense that this project will be a few years in the making.

  15. We love hydrangeas! We had dried ones for our October wedding centerpieces many years ago. We actually need to plant some at our new house we bought a few years ago. I’ll be thinking about where to place them very carefully now. Thanks!

  16. @ Lisa, look into the hydrangea paniculata varieties like Limelight, Little Lamb, Peegee, Vanilla Strawberry, Pinky Winky, etc. Those varieties do best in full sun when watered well. The blooms are more cone shaped than the mophead varieties, but are still gorgeous. I just planted a hydrangea tree (of this variety) and can’t wait to see it bloom!

  17. I love hydrangeas!!! We have several varieties in our yard. I enjoy PAINTING them – and last week my daughter said, “Mom, my LEAST favorite paintings of yours are the hydrangeas.” Oh, well! Can’t please everyone!

  18. Thanks for the tips on where to plant. I was going to plant some in my backyard along the house, but they would get hot sun all afternoon. My yard faces west. Not a good idea. Im so glad I read your blog before purchasing. Kinda bummed out, though. I really wanted beautiful hydrangeas near my deck. Oh well.

  19. An old (and easy, inexpensive) trick to turn hydrangeas blue is simply to bury a few rusty nails in the ground beside the hydrangeas. Works every time.

    Also try epsom salts

    • Thanks Harold, I hadn’t heard of that rusty nail trick, once a friend told me about copper pennies though, they work too according to him and he’s grows his hydrangeas blue every summer!

  20. This is one of the very few “western” flowers I can grow in my garden in Sri Lanka. I only have the blue ones and now I think what I have is a mophead. Thank you for the tip about the dolomite. We use dolomite for tea bushes as well so let me go sprinkle a wee bit on one plant and experiment.

  21. I love hydrangeas as well, and received some beautiful ones last year for mother’s day. I of course, planted them in my front yard, where we get the afternoon sun…bummer. I learned my lesson. I think I will try the planter in the backyard instead. Thanks for all of this great tips, I have so much to learn on growing these beauties.

  22. My hydrangeas are a work in progress it seems. We got one HUGE bloom last year (among 10+ plants), and I think it’s because the landscapers pruned them all when they did a fall clean up. But this year we’re getting LOTS of blooms, so I’m really excited about it. I love hydrangeas, and can’t wait to cut them and have them in my home for the first time!

  23. In my country (Argentina) we call them “Hortensia”. Much prettier name, ist it?

  24. I have a question. Does anyone know if it is possible to grow hydrangeas in AZ? We have a North/South exposure. I love hydrangeas and have just been too afraid to try them in the heat.

  25. Endless Summer hydrangeas are bred to bloom on new and old wood …. therefore leave some of the dead sticks on the shrub in the spring. While slightly unsightly for a bit, those old stems will produce new blooms quicker than the new growth starting at the base.

    I just trim 1/3 of the stems of my white annabelles in the fall, the old woody stems that remain help “hold up” the hydrangea from being too floppy.

    And for a great hydrangea in full sun, try Lime Light Hydrangea or Little Lime for a dwarf variety!


  26. Hydrangeas are my favorite flower! I have been growing them for years and learn something new about them with each plant and each year. We recently bought a house on Cape Cod and I promised my husband that I would simplify my gardening routine and just plant hydrangeas wherever possible. So far so good. I have planted them on three sides of the house and they have all done well. Pruning has always been my biggest fear. I have always been told to prune at the beginning of spring. I will try pruning down in the fall to see if there is a difference as some are getting overgrown. I just discovered scale on one of my plants. Anyone have advice or experience on this?

  27. I’ve been thinking about this exact thing a lot lately. When we got married, my horticulturalist MIL gave my husband and me a beautiful hydrangea (our wedding flower). We move a lot (cross-country), so we planted it in a pot. That went well for years, and then our last move killed it: we didn’t have a place in the shade, so it fried. To add insult to injury, some beetles started eating away at it, then some webbing insect finished it off. We tried everything we could, but I think it was doomed the minute it got fried in the sun. Location, location, location! Now, we live with a north-facing patio, and I’d like to get another hydrangea, but I’d hate to give a death sentence next time we move! Oh how I miss the constant bouquets…

  28. I feel like you should add an edit that not all hydrangeas should be cut back in fall. There are many different varieties that require different care. It is not a one size fits all approach. As a matter of fact, Endless summer ones should not but cut at all until the new growth emerges in the spring. Otherwise, great tips.

    • Thanks Martha – the ‘Endless Summer’ are a newer variety, I read somewhere they were recently introduced. It sounds like different varieties have different needs for pruning – we’ve waited until as late as December or January to prune ours but always after they’ve lost every leaf and before they bloom. Thanks for sharing!

  29. We have 3 Hydrangea plants. Thank you for the cutting tips. So some reason this year, our mopheads all are producing such large amounts of blooms that I will be cutting to bring in the house. In NY, they haven’t all opened yet, but soon. Thanks for sharing the other links also. I love the pictures you took. Gorgeous!!! Now I can’t wait to bring mine in the house. :)

  30. my absolute fav flower! It was my wedding flower! Thanks for the awesome post. I planted them in a high noon spot and failed too.

  31. Great tips, Kate! I had horrible luck with our hydrangeas. We had several plants that refused to bloom for 4+ years. I finally went to our local nursery for advice, and they had me test the soil and add aluminum sulfate. It did the trick. All of my plants are bursting with blooms this year!!

  32. Hi Kate, I have the same question as Catherine…. If it’s possible to grow Hydrangeas in AZ? I have an indoor plant I received for mothers day, but would love outdoor plants :)

  33. How timely – my hydrangea bushes are almost in full bloom! Thanks so much for sharing these tips.

  34. Every Spring I put about a cup of bone meal and a bag of potting soil on top of my hydrangeas and they bloom well into Fall. (Endless Summer variety). The one year I didn’t, I only got about 20 blooms all summer. I have also read (and done recently) that they get water through the blooms so you should dunk them in water right after you cut them and then put them in the vase of water. I actually just cut mine down quite a bit last night because they were almost 4 feet tall!

  35. Thanks for all the great hydrangea tips. They’re my favourite flower, and even though I’m not in the right zone for the blue hydrangeas that I love, I’ve had quite a bit of luck with my blue hydrangea plant. Although I don’t think it’ll have many blooms this year – I have a feeling the warm week we had in mid-March got it confused.

    I add aluminium sulphate to the soil around the base once in the spring and once in the fall. the blooms range from pinky-purple to purple to blue – pretty cool to have all those colours on one plant :-) I also have a white hydrangea and last year I planted to Teller Blues – waiting to see how those two perform this summer.

  36. I tried hydrangeas this year but I didn’t follow the cardinal rule of regular watering, so the died quickly. I also don’t think the location was right – too hot with soil that didn’t drain well. Sounds like a broke all of the rules! Thanks for this great post! I’ll be trying again in a different location soon!

  37. This post was greatly needed! My hydrangeas have been blooming for a few weeks now and I have been cutting the bloom for indoors only to have them wilt 24 hours later. I kept thinking “what am I doing wrong?!?” Now I know! Thanks for sharing!


  38. Hydrangeas…my all time favorite flower….mine are a beautiful deep purple…my shrub has flourished this year…and enjoy having multiple bouquets of them throughout the house…I love them so much that I seem to post about them often…I also love to share them with my neighbors…Now, the hard part is keeping the deer away from them….

    Your hydrangeas are beautiful and love the way you displayed them!

  39. Thanks so much for this article and the links. Now I know how to propogate my one hydrangea plant!

  40. Great advice. I love hydrangeas and have several in my flower beds. I love having beautiful bouquets in my home all summer.

    • Thanks everyone for chiming in on your hydrangea tips, great information!!!

  41. we have the bloom all summer variety and made the mistake of pruning them. the next year we had maybe 5 blooms on 3 huge bushes. so last year we did nothing and we again have hundreds of blooms. if you are not getting the blooms you want leave it alone for the winter – it is not very pretty sorry.

  42. Lovelovelove hydrangeas. I have an Annabelle that is my pride and joy, and a climbing hydrangea with flowers that are just okay but I love how it looks climbing my fence. I have not had very good luck getting a pink/blue hydrangea to bloom, so I finally dug it up. I have only so much space so you perform or you’re gone! My Annabelle predicts weather for me – whenever the dinner plate sized flowers bloom, I know a bad storm is coming that will weigh down the blooms until the stems break. I finally bought a large beach umbrella and put it over the plant whenever storms are predicted. Don’t laugh – it works and it looks pretty at the same time!

  43. We have two bright pink hydrangea plants, one in our front and one in our back. The backyard one is definately bigger although planted at the same time because it doesn’t get the afternoon sun like the front one. However, like you said….water, water water! There are even days when I forget to water, they will be extremely wilty, but a few hours after a nice watering, they perk right back up. I have the endless summer ones so I do not prune them since the old sticks will also grow. It is a bit unsightly in the winter, but the leaves grow quick in the spring and the blooms last all summer, so it’s totally worth it!

    Also, remember when planting them, it can take a few years for them to be completely healthy. When I planted my first one, it looked completely dead. I MADE my husband keep it there though. It came back the next year with brilliant green leaves, but did not bloom. The next season after that it had a million blooms! So, don’t be discouraged if you think they are dead.

  44. I love hydrangeas, but unfortunately have an abundance of black walnut trees. They put a chemical in the soil that kills many of my favorites.

  45. I have 5 endless summer hydrangeas, 2 are new this spring and 3 of them I planted 3 springs ago. My 3 year old plants are still relatively small only a foot or 18 inches tall, how long does it take for them to get tall? I want the kind that get to be 5 feet tall, is there a certain variety I need to look for or is it just that they need a few more years to mature? I have them in morning sun and afternoon shade as well. Any tips would be much appreciated!

  46. Don’t know what variety I have as the bushes were established when we bought the house, but I do NOTHING except remove dead limbs in the spring. The bushes produce tons of beautiful blooms in spite of my neglect and their exposure to full afternoon sun, in Georgia, no less! They must be cared for by a magical flower fairy!! Do I have an unusual hybrid perhaps?

  47. Depending on the variety of hydrangea you’re growing, pruning in winter can be a bad idea! If you have a variety that sets bloom on old wood, it will start that process in the fall. In order to avoid cutting the next year’s blooms off, you can prune before August 1st. I tend to wait until early spring and see what old wood gets leaves. If it doesn’t, I clip it to keep the plant a little more tidy.

  48. I have 8 hydrangea bushes planted along the outside of my house in my backyard. They are beautiful. When I bought them (in the pot) they were pink, but since planted in my yard, they are a deep rich purple and have blooms bigger than a desert plate. They are so beautiful, my brother-in-law said I could win an award with them. I love them!!!!

  49. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is buying a good quality plant from a local nursery. The ones you get at the florist or the grocery store have been forced in perfect greenhouse conditions and may not be hardy enough to survive planting outdoors. I thought I was cursed when it came to hydrangeas until my husband bought me a lovely one from the nursery and that made all the difference. It’s survived and thrived for the past 3 years and is covered with blooms. :)

  50. I have dried my hydrangea blooms by cutting in early morning when they look & feel like paper( yes paper) I then put in 2 inch of HOT water and let them stay until they drink most of the water ( a few days )

  51. I have two large plants that sit about 2 feet apart. One is a prolific bloomer and the other has yet to bloom once. Any ideas why?

    • Hi Sarah, did they come from the same nursery? Fed from the same water source?

  52. Yes they did. They were also planted at the same time. They both have beautiful foliage, but only one is blooming.

  53. You can’t be too rich, too thin, or have too many hydrangeas. You can dye the dried flowers with rut dye and they will keep for several years. I put a little dye in water, bring to a boil, and dip the dried flowers. You will think you ruined them, they will look wilted– but hang upside down and let dry a few days, and they’ll be beautiful! Just be sure and cover your floors and work surfaces to keep them from being dyed as well

  54. I have several bushes and dry them every fall. I just cut them and dry each one inside coke bottles , vases,wine glasses…..anything with a small opening so the blooms can dry up on top. Then I arrange them in baskets and they last till the next fall and I start all over again. I may try this dying thing this fall sounds interesting.did you mean rit dye?

  55. I got my first Hydrangia for Mother’s day. Two beautiful blooms. It was only about a foot tall. Now it has made it through the hot summer.Now it will go through it’s first winter. It has gotten to be a really big.It is about three feet tall as well as wide. Getting ready to put in the ground. It well be the center of a new 12ft. bed. The center of attention so to speak.Wish me luck

  56. Love Hydrangias, try “LImelight” for beautiful light lime green flowers, slight cone shaped groups of flowers. They are green to white and dry well.

  57. Hydrangias are my favorite, so for my birthday, my husband purchased Hydrangea “macrophylla”. We live in Arizona, south of Phoenix and I believe that is zone 7. I have them in a pot right now and they have 3 blooms. I have been reading lots of information on the internet, but can’t decide what to do: should I plant them outside or keep indoors? Our house faces North/south, so they don’t get any bright light, but it gets so hot here….up to 120 degrees in the summer. I would appreciate any advice.
    Thank you,

  58. Thank you for sharing all the tips! I hope to add hydrangeas to our yard this year and have been looking online for advice from bloggers. Your hydrangeas are gorgeous!

  59. Hi Kate. I need some help, so I’m hoping you can help! I planted a young hydrangea last year and was told to plant it in a southerly spot in the garden in dappled shade, which I did. Although it did produce a few blooms last summer (here in SE Queensland, Australia – subtropics), the bush hasn’t really grown and looks pretty moth-eaten at best! Having read and digested your marvelous post, I am now keen to uproot and move it to an easterly aspect in the garden which also happens to be the front yard.

    I must add too that the current position is now no longer in dappled shade because we lopped down some nearby overly large shrubs and trees earlier this year, and these had been the primary suppliers of the dappled afternoon shade to this area. My worst fear is the summer heat and intense summer sun still to come later in the year.

    Do you have any tips on the best way for me to transplant my plant, with minimal stress to it? After nurturing my hydrangea all summer, I am keen not to lose it now through stress. Although it is technically winter in Oz right now, up here in the sub-tropics it is still quite warm and manageable. My hydrangea hasn’t even lost its foliage yet – if it ever will!

    All advice very gratefully received!
    Cheers, heather x

    • I think it’s best to transplant in winter when it’s dormant Heather, good luck!

  60. My hydrangeas look like green leafy bushes with dead sticks. We had a bad winter lat year and 1 of them died. Out of 5 that we’re planted only 1 has blooms. What do I need to do to get my other hydrangeas to bloom and continue to bloom. Should I cut the dead sticks?

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