Hydrangea Varieties for Every Garden

Which Hydrangea is Right for You?

June 21, 2019
Hydrangea - Purple
Pixabay

“What type of hydrangea do I have?” This is a common gardening question because there are many types, colors, and shapes of hydrangeas. Here’s an overview of the most popular hydrangea varieties—with beautiful pictures! Identify your hydrangea or choose one that’s best for your garden!

Hydrangeas are a safe bet for almost any gardener; they’re vigorous, long-lived, work in containers or in the ground, tolerate both wind and salt, pest-resistant, and make a beautiful cutting flower. See our free Hydrangea Growing Guide for planting tips.

If you are 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.

Bigleaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla

The most common garden hydrangea shrub is known as “bigleaf hydrangeas” Hydrangea macrophylla, also called French hydrangeas. 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.

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Image: Mophead Hydrangea. Credit: Ellen McKnight/Shutterstock.

  • 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.

Bigleaf hydrangea lacecap
Image: Lacecap hydrangea. Credit: Pixabay

Hydrangea Macrophylla Varieties

  • 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.

Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata)

The panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) has been gaining in popularity—for good reason. It’s one of the easiest hydrangea to grow. This is a good choice for a beginner: Simply plant it in full sun, step back, and watch it prosper. It grows almost anywhere, from zones 3 to 9. No other hydrangea can match its tolerance of heat, cold, and drought.

Named for fat, cone-shape flower heads, this big, gracefully arching shrub has 12- to 18-inch-long clusters of flowers open white, then age beautifully to various shades of warm Victorian rose.

Unlike French hydrangeas and oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia), panicle hydrangea blooms on new growth. So you won’t lose a year’s flowers to cold winters or pruning at the wrong time. You simply prune in late winter as you do many shrubs and trees.

Hydrangea Paniculata Varieties

  • Hardy: Zones 3–8
  • Recommended Varieties:
    • Traditionally, the H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’, or P. G. (“PeeGee”), was the most common panicle hydrangea. ‘Grandiflora’ is a big, old-fashioned, floppy variety. It can be grown as a 10- to 15-foot shrub or trained into a small tree. Rounded clusters of white flowers slowly age to pink.
    • ‘Limelight’ has become the most popular gardeners’ choice as of late. It’s a gorgeous shrub that produces cool-green flowers and grows to a height of 8 to 10 feet. A compact version, ‘Little Lime,’ grows 3 to 5 feet tall and wide.

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‘Limelight’ panicle hydrangea. Photo by Ingehogenbijl/Shutterstock​​​​​​

  • For  something different, try Vanilla Strawberry (aka “Vanille Fraise”) which starts out vanilla and reaches a strawberry shade! This hardy, low-maintenance, sun-loving plant can easily reach 6 to 7 feet in height. A smaller strawberry-colored hydrangea is Strawberry Sundae (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Rensun’) which reaches heights of 4 to 5 feet. 

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Credit: Vanilla Strawberry (aka “Vanille Fraise”). Peter Turner Photography/Shutterstock

  • ‘Tardiva’, ‘White Moth’, and ‘Pee Wee’ fit the scale of small gardens.

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.

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Snowball hydrangea. Credit: AylaYildiz/Shutterstock

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’.

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Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Credit: Gerry Bishop/Shutterstock

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.

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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. 

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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:

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

See our page on How and When to Prune Hydrangeas.

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

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hydrangea

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"