Hydrangea Varieties for Every Garden

Which Hydrangea is Right for You?

By The Old Farmer's Almanac
Hydrangea - Purple

There are so many beautiful hydrangea varieties—from mophead to lacecap types, with extravagant blooms in magical colors from summer to fall. Here’s an overview of the most popular hydrangea varieties that you can grow in your garden. Find the one that’s right for you!

Hydrangeas are a safe choice for almost any gardener; they’re vigorous, long-lived, work in containers or in the ground, tolerate both wind and salt, and make a great cutting flower. When choosing a type of hydrangea, consider how large it will ultimately get, its growth habit (vine vs. shrub), its hardiness and, of course, its flowers!

Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata)

Named for their fat, coneshape flower heads, this big, gracefully arching shrub is hardy to Zone 3. This is a good choice for a beginner: Simply plant it in full sun, step back, and watch it prosper. The 12- to 18-inch-long clusters of flowers open white, then age beautifully to various shades of warm Victorian rose.

  • Hardy: Zones 3–8
  • Recommended Varieties:
    • The most common cultivar, H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’, or P. G. (“PeeGee”), can be grown either as a 10- to 15-foot shrub or as a small tree. ‘Grandiflora’ is a big, old-fashioned, floppy variety.
    • ‘Tardiva’, ‘White Moth’, and ‘Pee Wee’ fit the scale of small gardens.
    • ‘Limelight’ produces cool-green flowers and grows to a height of 6 to 8 feet.

‘Limelight’ panicle hydrangea. Photo by Proven Winners.

Smooth Hydrangeas (H. arborescens)

The original “snowball” (a reference to its flowers) is native to the United States and one of the best hydrangeas for cold climates, flowering reliably as far north as Zone 3. The flowers of this species look like oversize white pompoms. Although the plant puts on a grand show, a rain shower can cause it to flop under the weight of its blossoms.

  • Hardy: Zones 3–8
  • Recommended Varieties:
    • ‘Grandiflora’ and ‘Annabelle’ produce many large (up to 14 inches across), tight, symmetrical blooms in late summer.

‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea. Photo by Monrovia.

Oakleaf Hydrangeas (H. quercifolia)

A tough native, this graceful plant is a great addition to any landscape. Even though it is native to the Southeast, it exhibits incredible bud hardiness and thrives up to Zone 5. As the name implies, it has large, coarse leaves, shaped like those of an oak tree, which are noted for their spectacular fall colors ranging from red to bronze and purplish burgundy. The flower heads are cone-shape and open white, fade to subtle shades of rose pink, and finally turn a rich brown that lasts all winter.

  • Hardy: Zones 5–9
  • Recommended Varieties:
    • Expect exceptional fall color from ‘Snow Queen’, ‘Snow Flake’, and ‘Alice’.

‘Snow Queen’ oakleaf hydrangea. Photo by Doreen Wynja/Monrovia.com.

Bigleaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla

The most common garden hydrangea shrub is the Bigleaf variety, Hydrangea macrophylla. This showy and popular species can be categorized based on flower shapes: either mopheads (Hortensias) or lacecaps. Mopheads are hardy to Zone 6 and bear large, dense, pompom-type flower clusters composed mainly of sterile flowers. This group has the ability to change flower color based on soil pH. Lacecaps form flattened, round flower heads composed of an intricate combination of tiny, tight, fertile buds surrounded by a bracelet of showy sterile ones. The result is an airy, elegant look. Lacecaps are suitable for Zones 5 to 9.

  • Hardy:
    • Mopheads: Zones 6–9
    • Lacecaps: Zones 5–9
  • Recommended Varieties:
    • ‘All Summer Beauty’ (Mophead) has profuse, dark blue flowers—turning more pink in soils with near neutral pH. If its buds are winter-killed, the plant will form new ones in spring and still bloom.
    • ‘Nikko Blue’ (Mophead) is vigorous, with large, rounded, blue flowers.
    • ‘Blue Wave’ (Lacecap) produces rich blue to mauve or lilac-blue to pink flowers.
    • ‘Color Fantasy’ (Mophead) has reddish or deep purple flowers and shiny, dark green leaves. It grows to about 3 feet tall.

Bigleaf hydrangea lacecap
Lacecap hydrangea

Mountain Hydrangeas (H. serrata)

Considered by some botanists to be a variety of H. macrophylla and by others a distinct species, this type tends to be a small, fine-stem plant, primarily a lacecap, with leaves that exhibit a sawlike margin.

  • Hardy: Zones 5–9
  • Recommended Varieties:
    • ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Diadem’ are two beautiful examples of mountain hydrangeas. 
    • In acidic soil, ‘Preziosa’ produces blossoms of an extraordinary blend of pale shades of blue, mauve, violet, and green.

Image: ‘Bluebird’ Mountain Hydrangea. Photo by Doreen Wynja/Monrovia.com.

Climbing hydrangeas (H. anomala ssp. Petiolaris)

There are few plants that create as much excitement as a climbing hydrangea in full bloom. A strong deciduous vine, it blooms from late June to early July, exhibiting flat, lacy, creamy-white flowers 6 to 10 inches across, which look like fine antique lace against its thick glossy leaves. The blossoms turn reddish brown when fading. 

  • Hardy: Zones 4–7
  • Recommended Varieties:
    • ‘Firefly’ is a newly-patented variety exhibiting variegated foliage. 

Climbing hydrangea. Photo by Doreen Wynja/Monrovia.com.

Which hydrangea variety is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

A Word on Pruning

We can’t write about hydrangea varieties without touching on pruning. If you prune hydrangeas at the wrong time, they won’t flower. To complicate matters, different hydrangeas are pruned at different times. Namely:

  • Bigleaf (H. macrophylla), as well as Oakleaf (H. quercifolia), are pruned AFTER the flowers fade in the summer. These varieties bloom on the previous season’s stems (“old wood”).
  • Panicle (H. paniculata) and Smooth (H. arborescens) hydrangeas are pruned BEFORE flower buds are formed. These varieties blossom on the current season’s stems (“new wood”).

See our page on How and When to Prune Hydrangeas.

And here’s our free and comprehensive Hydrangea Growing Guide.


Reader Comments

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I am new at hydranges' and I am so in love with them. My daughter bought be a FIRELIGHT HYDRANGEA tree shaped hydrangea for mothers day, and it was expensive. bought at Lowes. At first ..I kept it on the porch, not much sunlight, and it did ok until last week, flowers started turning brown. so I planted it in the flower bed which gets about 6 hrs of sun. ....Now it is really in trouble, all the flowers have turned brown (some had arleady started to turn). I don't know whether to cut the flowers off, or how to cut the flowers off, but I need to save this magnificent hydrangea plant. full name of it...Is FIRELIGHT HYDRANGEA Hortensia firelight...hydrangea macrophylla "leuchtfeuer"