Growing Healthy Hydrangeas

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?



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