5 Ways: Hardy, Happy Hydrangeas

One of the symbols of summer, hydrangeas burst into bloom around July, making them a classic choice for foundations, flowering hedges, and billowy borders.

But why stop there? Hydrangeas come in so many forms, heights, and flower shapes that they’re one of the most useful plants with which to design all around the garden.

When you consider that the five most common types range from 3-5 foot smooth (Hydrangea arborescens) to 4-6 foot tall mopheads (Hydrangea macrophylla) and 8-9 foot tall oakleafs (Hydrangea quercifolia), all the way up to 10-15 foot tall panicles (Hydrangea paniculata) and a lace cap flowering climber with 50-80 foot stems (Hydrangea petiolaris) there’s so much you can do with them in the landscape.

Here are five ways to use them.


If you have a slope that’s a challenge to mow, that’s prone to erosion, or where you just don’t want to fuss with regular maintainence, hydrangeas can be an excellent solution. Unless you want to control their size, most seldom need pruning. As long as the area gets regular watering either by rain or an irrigation system you can easily grow these flowering shrubs.


Whether allowed to scramble up a mature tree, tumble over a large, sturdy pergola, or trained to climb a brick or stone wall, climbing varieties of hydrangeas can be a stunner when they do their thing.  They adhere to surfaces by rootlets that cling to just about any surface and will grow in northern exposures where light is low. Most are slow to get going; expect them to creep along for a few years and then surge in growth (may take 3-5 years to start blooming). Your reward is huge flowers softening the impact of hard surfaces.


We love the look of billowing hydrangeas in cottage gardens where the large blooms amplify the effect of all the other flowers in beds and borders. But, hydrangeas, particularly the smooth (Hydrangea arborescens) and mophead (Hydrangea macrophylla) varieties, are a lovely and not jarring counterpoint to the neat, geometric lines of formal garden beds. Plant any of these three in a mass with sheared boxwoods where you might otherwise plant roses.


Growing hydrangeas in containers has become much easier over the past decade as breeders have responded by producing shrubs that are more compact in size but with the same huge, bodacious blooms of large plants. Potted-up hydrangeas do need a bit of extra care;  due to their large blooms, they require more water so check moisture levels daily and irrigate as needed. We especially love these three which have large, showy, colorful blooms.


In backyards where the lawn transitions to the woodland, hydrangeas, particularly the oakleaf varieties (Hydrangea quercifolia), can ease the transition making it feel more natural and less jarring. Or plant a mass of hydrangeas planted under open canopy trees in a wooded setting and let them naturalize over the years. These three are larger shrubs that produce masses of conical shaped blooms.

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