Hydrangea: How to Grow Hydrangea
Do you love to grow flowers? There’s something about having a garden packed with blooms that just lifts the spirit and helps get rid of any looming depression you might have. Full blooms like hydrangeas are always a beautiful sight – and they’re not very hard to grow. Here’s how you can add this blooming perennial in your home.
Hydrangea is really a collective term that refers to a genus of flowering plants with around 70 to 75 species. This is why when you go online to search for “hydrangea pictures”, several types of flower heads can pop up. The plant is defined as a shrub and is most notable because of its flowers which form a resplendent flower head. The shades are also in several colors such as blue, white, pink, and red – making them wonderfully stunning during the blooming season.
Facts About Hydrangea
The plant is native in both Asia and the Americas – which just a slight difference in varieties. Compared to the US however, Asia has a greater diversity of these plants – to the point where you can easily confuse a type of hydrangea into a completely different genus. For example – while most types are shrubs, there are those that can form into trees, while others are actually vines. The term “hydrangea” is actually derived from a Greek term which means water vessel.
The plants love the heat, growing well in areas falling in Heat Zones of 6 to 9. As for hardiness, the Bigleaf blooms well in Zones 5 to 9. They can grow well in areas that experience the winter season – but they have to be protected during that time as the branches dry up and the plant loses their blooms.
These plants can be grown directly onto the ground or inside pots. Due to their adult size however, it’s often easier to start them off on the soil and simply protect them during the winter season.
Understand that since there are different types of hydrangea, creating a unified content for all subspecies would be difficult. Despite the fact that they all form part of a single genus – these plants actually want different things in terms of care.
For this reason – this write-up will be focused on a specific type of hydrangea which is the Bigleaf Hydrangea, specifically the subtype Mophead Hydrangea. This is the most common one found in the United States and therefore easiest to grow in a given area. From here on out – all the information provided in this article for the care of the plant will refer to the Mophead Hydrangea.
The plant is defined as a shrub, so don’ expect it to grow overly big. At its peak, the Bigleaf variety can be 1.5 to 3 meters in height with a spread of 1.5 to 3 meters. It takes 5 to 10 years before it reaches full height however, so don’t expect rapid growth.
Since there are several types of hydrangea plants, there are also slight differences on their leaves. The Bigleaf variety can grow anywhere from 4 to 6 inches in length with a width of anywhere from 3 to 5 inches. The leaves are slightly oblong in shape and are rough to the touch. The leaves, like the flowers, have no smell.
Color & Size
The beauty of these plants is in their lush flower heads in varying shades of color. You can actually control the color of the hydrangea flowers based on the pH of the soil. While this is not true for all types of hydrangeas – the Bigleaf variety definitely responds to pH changes in the soil.
For example, if the pH is low – the flowers turn into this beautiful shade of blue. A higher pH leads to pink and red flowers. Many gardeners therefore add different supplements onto the soil depending on how they want the blooms to look during the growing season.
The flower of the hydrangea plant is the primary reason why these shrubs are grown in home landscapes. The actual flowers are small but bloom bunched together - creating a stunning flower head. It looks a lot like a bouquet with the flower head expanding anywhere from 6 to 18 inches. The flowers however, do not give off any scent. As for the color – this can change depending on the acidity of the ground. You can find Bigleaf Hydrangea colors anywhere from blue, purple, pink, and red. There are also white flowers, but this is with another variety of the plant and does not change its color.
Types of Hydrangea
Hydrangea actually comes in different types – and we’re not just talking about colors. There are several patterns as to how the flowers present themselves, a variation in shapes, and even a slight difference in how they grow and the appearance of the leaves. Despite the collective name of “hydrangea” therefore, you want to make that distinction in order to better provide the plant with its specific needs. Here’s what you need to know:
If you’ve ever seen the leaves of an oak, then you’ll know exactly how this type of hydrangea got its name. This particular variety creates delicate white flowers that turn into a resplendent flower head that isn’t quite as lush as the Bigleaf type. It is unique however, in that the leaves of the plant change color during the fall season – something that doesn’t happen with any other type.
When you imagine hydrangeas in your hand – a variety of Bigleaf Hydrangea probably pops up as the image. We say “variety” because while Bigleaf Hydrangea is a type, there are actually further subtypes, specifically the: mophead, lacecap, and the mountain hydrangeas. Collectively, these three are known as “French Hydrangeas”, “Florists Hydrangeas” or “Hortensia”.
Mophead Hydrangeas are perhaps the most common in the United States. The flower heads are large and clumped together in a beautiful shade of purple, pink, and blue. The Lacecap Hydrangeas are closely similar to the Mophead except for the shape of the flowers.
Panicle Hydrangeas are wonderfully distinctive because of the cone-like shape of the flower heads. The flowers are also larger with colors in shades of white to pink. They’re good for areas with cold climate and when allowed to grow, can actually form trees as opposed to other types.
They also go by the name of “Wild Hydrangeas” and have a very bouquet-like feel to them. They’re best grown in hotter areas that fall anywhere from Zone 4 to 7. They can grow quite big – which is why some homeowners prefer to use them as hedges.
As the name suggests, the hydrangeas grow in the form of a vine. They’re often found in Asian countries, displaying a resplendent white color that can fill the vine during its peak growing season. They’re perfect for locations that fall within Zone 4 to 8. The vines can grow up to 80 feet long so it’s important to give them tons of crawling space.
Mountain Hydrangeas are actually a subtype of the Bigleaf Hydrangea but they do deserve an entry of their own. They’re not commonly found – maybe because the flowers aren’t as eye-catching as the other varieties. While the flowers definitely look good, they tend to be smaller and therefore less conspicuous. The great thing about this type however, is that they’re built to last through the cold weather.
How to Grow Hydrangea
For such a delicate-looking plant, the hydrangea isn’t really that hard to care for. Once their roots grow into the soil, they barely need any sort of attention in order to bloom.
Plant your hydrangea in full draining soil with lots of moisture to keep it well-hydrated. They’re not very picky when it comes to soil so there’s no need to be overly-concerned about these plants. As long as the water doesn’t get stuck in the soil – your hydrangea will flourish. Remember though that the acidity of the soil will determine the color of the flowers so you’d want to keep track of that.
Almost all varieties of the hydrangea prefer morning sunlight – which means that you have to put them in an area where they’re shaded from the harsh light of the afternoon soon. One variety however, can soak up the sun for a full eight hours – the Panicle Hydrangea.
These plants require just one inch of water every week during its growing season. Ideally however, you should soak the ground deeply – preferably three times a week using a hose in its soaker setting. Direct the water straight onto the ground – leave the leaves and flowers alone because this can damage the plant.
Ideally, watering is done early in the morning or at night so the plant can absorb all the water instead of losing some to evaporation. This way, you can be sure that all the water is used by the plant.
Temperature & Humidity
Hydrangea plants thrive best in mild temperatures and high humidity – which is why you can see them bloom during summer, fall, and spring. If the weather is too dry – you can try misting around the plant, being very careful around the blooms.
For fertilizer, you want to give the hydrangea an all-purpose 10-10-10 composition or a 12-4-8, depending on what’s available. Both chemical and organic sources of fertilizer would work perfectly for this plant. Once a year, you can also introduce a slow-release fertilizer deep into the soil and the plant will bloom throughout its growing season.
While not fertilizers – you are also welcome to add supplements to the soil in order to control the color of your flowers. Aluminum mellows down the pH of the soil and creates blue hydrangea buds. The same results happen if you add peat moss or sulfur into the soil.
If you prefer a pinker shade however, you can add in limestone for a higher pH. Fortunately, there are soil pH tests today that can help you better control the coloring of your hydrangea. Understand though that these plants naturally fade away during the fall season and then come back again in full form come spring time.
Also note that we’re primarily talking about the Bigleaf Variety when it comes to color changes. Some varieties of hydrangea do not change their colors depending on soil pH.
Pruning is all about timing for the hydrangea plant – especially if you have different varieties. For the Bigleaf, pruning is best done when the blooms start to fade away. This usually happens at the end of the summer season. When you can see the flowers starting to wither, snip them off along with dead wood or weak branches. Don’t cut off all the heavy wood though! Leave some because this will be the base for new growth for spring.
Typically, new blooms are ready to pop out of the wood early in the spring. This is the time when the blooms are already “assigned” on the plant even if you can’t see it yet. If you prune during the early moments of spring, then there’s a strong chance that you’ll cut off the branches with assigned blooms.
Now, other types of hydrangea are pruned on different times of the year. The Panicle and the Smooth Hydrangea in particular need to be pruned late into the winter months, right before new growth comes in.
Hydrangea is best propagated through cuttings of the non-flowering branches. Opt for the branch that did not produce flowers for the year – this will likely give you the best results for root growth.
Step 1: Cut the Branch
Ideally, the cut should be 5 to 6 inches in length. You can also use the nodes as your reference for cutting. Ideally, you should cut on the fifth node – which means that your hydrangea cutting should have four nodes in there.
Step 2: Remove the Leaves
Remove the leaves – but not all of them! Make sure the leaves on the top two nodes are still there. Each node usually has two leaves so there should be at least four there. The lower leaves are often bigger than the ones on top.
Step 3: Cut the Lower Leaves
Cut the two bottom leaves in half while leaving the top two ones intact. Doing this helps concentrate all the plant’s energies into the upper leaves, improving chances of survival.
Step 4: Strip and Inch of the Lower Branch
Grab a knife and slightly strip the outer skin of end of the branch, right around the bottom part of the node.
Step 5: Place the Plant in Substrate
Plant the branch in soil or put it in mineral water to encourage rooting. Either would work but water is often best as it lets you keep track of the plant without having to dig it out of the soil.
The point of slightly removing the outer skin of the plant is to make it easier for the branch to suck in nutrients. The roots however won’t form on the skinned part – it would form on the nodes. Hence, whether you’re using soil or water – make sure the first node is submerged, making sure that there’s room for the roots to grow.
Step 6: Place in a shady area
Put the cutting somewhere with just a small hint of the sun in the morning. Do NOT put it out under the full rays of the sun because this might cook the plant, discouraging root growth. Keep it by the window sill or indoors with just very mild sun exposure. If you have rooting solutions, you can add that to the soil or the water to increase the chances of success. Allow the roots to grow at least one inch before transferring it to a more permanent pot.
While some varieties of hydrangea can withstand winter, there are types that need added protection during the colder season. Now, there are two ways that hydrangea plants are grown – directly onto the soil and via pots. If you’re growing your hydrangea in pots, the best winter protection is to simply bring it outside. Of course, since the plant tends to grow big – this might not always be an option.
So what do you do? Start by pruning the plant but cutting off the dead branches from the base. Once done, build a fencing around the hydrangea and cover up the plant using dead leaves. This will keep the plant warm during the winter season.
Health Benefits of Hydrangea
Hydrangea is also considered an herb – specifically the rhizome and root of the plant. While there are no peer-reviewed research concerning its health benefit, hydrangea has been associated with treatment of health problems such as: enlarged prostate, bladder infections, hay fever, kidney stones, urethral infections, and prostate infections. There are also no set precautions as to how often or how long it should be used, but recommendations suggest that no more than 2 grams of dried hydrangea should be consumed. Also note that there are side effects to it which include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and tightness of chest.
Uses of Hydrangea
Aside from the fact that the blooms provide a pleasant view for their owners, hydrangea plants are also a favorite for landscaping projects because of the lush flowers during summer time. Those who prefer natural health remedies can also use this plant to help with several ailments through proper dosage.
For medicinal purposes, the root of the plant is the primary ingredient. The roots are dried out and prepared as a tea. Using boiling water, steep the roots for about five minutes before drinking. Some people like to combine hydrangea tea with other natural herbal medicine such as dandelion or gravel root to promote its benefits.
Another method of preparing hydrangea roots is by peeling, boiling, and then frying them. Keep in mind however that 2 grams is the limit for its consumption – which means that steeping them in water is often the better way to ingest the plant for medicinal reasons.
Hydrangea is purported to solve different health problems which are already mentioned above. Regardless of what condition you fall into however – the recommended dosage of hydrangea as well as the manner of ingestion does not change.
Note that since there is no sufficient information about their medicinal powers, hydrangea tea should be taken under the advisement of a doctor. If you are taking certain medications or have an existing health problem, it would be best to first seek your doctors’ approval before adding this to your diet.
Hydrangea plants come in different varieties – each one equally beautiful. Caring for this plant therefore requires that you have a fairly good idea about the specific variety of hydrangea that you have. When it comes right down to it however – these beautiful blooms are low-maintenance, needing only the morning sunlight, a few inches of water each week, and minimal pruning. With just a few minutes of your time each week – hydrangeas will reward you with some of the most beautiful blooms for most of the year.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do hydrangeas die in winter?
Hydrangeas don’t thrive during the cold season – but they don’t really die off if you protect them properly. They’re deciduous plants, which means that as fall turns into winter, it’s perfectly normal for the leaves to fall off. This is when winter protection measures must be made if you want to guarantee full blooms by summertime. If left unattended however, it’s perfectly possible for some varieties of hydrangea to die off during the winter season.
How long do hydrangea plants last?
These plants live a long life – around 50 years if you take care of them correctly. Specifically, you need to protect them during the winter season so that they can bloom again come summer time.
When do Hydrangeas bloom?
Hydrangeas bloom all throughout summer, spring, and fall before drying out as the weather turns colder. You will notice the buds start to appear in the summer before turning into full-fledged flower heads later on.