Monday, July 29, 2013

Growing hydrangeas (not killing them)

Hey heyyyy! How was your weekend? Have I mentioned how wonderful our weather has been? One or 50 times? Yeah. It’s been awesome. 51.
I’ve been spending SO much more time outside this summer, I’ve truly enjoyed this season. I’ve been planting a bunch of new things, transplanting some, just enjoying our outdoor space and the flowers.
I wrote last summer about my pathetic hydrangeas and how I was the pretty much the worst hydrangea parent EVER. They hated me. I’ve learned a ton about them since and figured I’d share my new knowledge. (So many great tips in the comments of that post!)
Mine still have a long way to go, but I as long as we don’t have a scorching summer next year, I think they’ll do even better. It’s SO exciting to see them actually grow and bloom this summer! Seriously a thrill after I’ve worked so hard to help them along.
They were sad and pathetic last year, really. The biggest surprise I got a few weeks ago were the start of blooms on my limelight hydrangea. I’ve had it three years people – not one bloom till now. Here is was last summer and now:
how to grow hydrangea limelight hydrangea
It’s now FILLED with beautiful white blooms! They’re all only about half way done too, so in a week or two it will be full of puffy white flowers:
limelight hydrangea
So here’s the first piece of advice – the sleep, creep, leap saying is true. Most plants I have planted follow this – the first year they don’t do much, the second the come along a little bit and the third they leap! I got this guy on clearance at the end of the season two summers ago and last year you can see that it grew, but didn’t do much else.
The third year (this year), it has doubled in size and is full of blooms. I think with hydrangeas you just need to have patience. Which is hard when you buy one full of blooms and then it poops out on you.
Here’s another biggie – you will see hydrangeas everywhere in full sun all the time – I see them at restaurants, stores, churches, drive throughs – everywhere. But mine did horribly in full sun: 
full sun hydrangeafull sun hydrangeafull sun hydrangea 
I showed you these last summer – I’d had them for two or three years at that point? Not one had ever bloomed, they all barely grew, it was just sad. Sad sad SAD.
Now those three look like this:
how to grow hydrangeas
The one on the left has grown a TON from where it was (it was the smallest one) but it’s still not blooming. The other two have done great! They just don’t have a ton of blooms right now because I cut so many of them a few weeks ago. ;)
These are the mophead variety, and they have really strong, beautiful leaves too:
mophead hydrangeagrowing hydrangeas
The leaves on that pink plant are especially hardy, dark and pretty.
Tip two – they do best in morning sun and afternoon shade (or dappled shade). Mine in afternoon shade (these above) do even better than those in the back that get the dappled shade. If you are having problems getting yours to grow – try moving them to a spot where they’ll get some rest from the heat in the afternoon.
I found some PeeGee trees on clearance a couple years ago and was so excited – they are basically a hydrangea tree. The year I planted them they did great for the rest of that season, but last year they looked like butt, like the rest of mine:
Pee Gee hydrangea
Now, they are amazing!!:
Pee Gee hydrangea blooming
They are both blooming and full and doing great.
Here’s the thing (tip three) – hydrangeas need MEGA water. I mean, it’s in their name. :) Last summer was the complete and total opposite of this one here in Indiana – super hot, drought conditions – it sucked. This year we had a really wet early summer and it’s helped tremendously.
I just watch my plants – if they start to wilt at all I know they need water. They need a lot of it, but watch how you water them too. I’ve got one mophead that has a fungus on the leaves (it hit one of my peonies too) because we’ve gotten so much rain. If you can, water them at the base of the plant (not with a sprinkler) so the water goes right to the roots and doesn’t sit on the leaves. (The fungus will not really hurt the plant so I’m cutting off those leaves and letting it be. If it had happened earlier in the season I would have used something on it.)
The Pee Gee tree is a paniculata hydrangea, like the limelight I first showed you. These two have the more cone shaped flowers:
pee gee hydrangea bloom
I much prefer the big round blooms, but these are beautiful too. They turn the most beautiful pink/green in the early fall – they are just gorgeous! I used them in this post a couple years ago: pee gee hydrangea fall
Aren’t they pretty?
I have about ten hydrangea plants out back now, and this one was my most recent addition:
pink hydrangea mophead
I shared it on Instagram – it was in full bloom when I got it and looked amazing! This plant was HUGE (I got it at a local nursery) and was $30 something dollars – you can find them half that size for the same price, so make sure to go big!
Those flowers are now done and are turning brown but the plant is doing great:
pee gee hydrangea
You can see my two PeeGee trees better here – they start to droop a bit as the blooms get bigger. (The one on the left is ahead of the other one by about a week.)
That brings me to another tip (number four?) – plant them in early summer or late fall if at all possible. It’s a lot of upkeep to keep them healthy and hydrated if you plant in the heat of mid-summer. I think the best time would be early summer so you can enjoy the blooms all season, but you can get some killer deals on them later in the fall, so it’s a hard call. I also think if you plant in the early summer you’ll have a better chance at a healthy, blooming plant the next year, since it has more time to get settled.
That huge mophead above was blooming pink when I bought it and the guy at the nursery said they will turn blue in our soil unless I changed the acidity. I have others that are blooming pink so I don’t know if it’s just this type? I was happy with that though because I have white, purple and pink and wanted blue:
blue hydrangea
He was right! ;) The new blooms are blue.
Behind that one is a climbing hydrangea I planted last year:
climbing hydrangea
Again, the plant is doing great, but not a bloom in sight. It’s not going to bloom this year at all, I can tell. I’m moving that one to a different spot soon so we’ll see how it does there.
Around the corner from those are a few more – mostly mopheads and one surprise lacecap:
lacecap hydrangealacecap hydrangea 
This is why you want them to be blooming when you buy. The lacecaps are more delicate – they have little bitty flowers that grow in the middle of the more traditional looking blooms. They are beautiful, but I just prefer the bigger fluffy ones. I am excited to see how these look when they are all blooming though!
Here’s my final big tip – I don’t prune my hydrangeas and they have done great this year. I mentioned earlier this year that I had pruned them and I misspoke a bit – I just (mostly) took all the dead wood off.
This can be tricky because sometimes it’s hard to tell between the normal and dead wood. Most hydrangeas bloom on dead wood – so you want to keep those ugly sticks like mine had last summer:
hydrangea grow on old wood
But I think it helped mine a ton to pull the dead wood out – they just shot up when I did that. I don’t know if it was just coincidence with the timing, but it seemed to help. I just pulled the dead stalks out of the plant – it will give easily if it’s dead. If it doesn’t, leave it.
I did trim down the Pee Gees just a bit though – just some of the tips that were total toast. And it seemed to work! I did this in May of this year – I’ve heard that’s a good time to do it if you’re going to. So I won’t cut them down this winter, and at best I’ll do a tiny bit of pruning next May, but that’s it. Otherwise I’ll leave them alone.
So that’s about it – I’ve learned a lot over the past year! I was determined because hydrangea are one of my all time favorites and I LOVE having them to cut and bring inside:
pink white hydrangea  mophead hydrangea pink white purple hydrangea in wood box dresser as entertainment center
Mine still have a long way to go – most are still tiny compared to a mature plant. But they are doing SO much better than the past. I think I’ve finally figured out how not kill them! Bonus!
Here’s a few other tips:
- If your climate is too warm for hydrangeas, consider the Pee Gee tree. It loves full sun so it should do better for you.
- You can change the color of your blooms with some stuff from the nursery or hardware store, or there are DIY methods too. (I’ve heard nails, pennies, etc.) The color of your blooms depends on the acidity of your soil. (Other than the white ones – those can’t be changed.)
- It seems like they are high maintenance, but once established hydrangeas are easy to take care of – they just need WATER.
- You know those planted hydrangeas you find in the spring/early summer at grocery stores? Yeah, they aren’t really meant to be planted. I had no idea! Go here to read more about that. I still think my one plant that isn’t blooming may be one I got from the grocery that I planted years ago. If it doesn’t bloom next year I’ll replace it.
I hope that helps any of you who have struggled with growing this beautiful plant! Again, I’m no expert but I’m getting there. ;) I think the change I made that made the biggest difference was where I planted them – the afternoon shade is key, at least at our house.
Are you a hydrangea lover? Any great tips I’ve missed? Have you tried and failed at these?

**For more on that DIY wood trough with the flowers in our family room go here!


  1. Hydrangeas are my favorite flowers too! I received one as a birthday present last year but I think it's too far gone to save at this point. It was a small plant, I never took it out of its plastic pot and I read that it needed a good freeze in the winter so I left it outside. (I live in ND, by the way) Now the branches are bare and light brown - not a leaf in sight. I think I killed it! :( I haven't bothered to water it so I'm not sure if I can bring it back to life. What would you do? Think it can be saved? Thanks for all the great tips - I've pinned it to my gardening pinterest board for later.

  2. Thanks for the tips! I'd love to plant some hydrangea. I am thinking of planting some on the north side of my house. Hopefully, that will be a good spot to put them!Hydrangeas make great cut flowers.

  3. Grat post! Your yard is beautiful! I hope to have mine looking this good one day!!!

  4. You've inspired me! I have 2 hydrangeas that have done NOTHING for years. I'm moving them this fall to a afternoon shade location.

  5. I have one of the climbing hydrangeas which I planted next to my oil tank so that it would cover it.... and for three years all it did was grow out the other way! This year it has decided it should behave itself and has started to climb over the tank, but with a really hot spell of around 3 weeks the flowers were out and over in days. Never mind, it looks healthy and is doing what it was meant to do! Some of them take years to flower, I have another which is white with a red edge t0 every petal, and now 7 (yes, s.e.v.e.n) years after planting, it is blooming - Yay!!

  6. Here is what I've discovered over the last five years now of growing these guys. 1.)I don't prune them. 2.) They seem to prefer the north/east facing side of my house that only gets some morning sun. 3.)Hydrangeas whatever cultivar they are, seem to prefer drip irrigation. If I water them from above the sun scorches the leaves. Right now I have 'Wedding Bells' blooming, 'Sister Theresa' and several unidentified pink and blue ones. Love going to Lowe's and 'saving' the Hydrangea's on the clearance rack. I got two for $7 a few weeks ago. My husband says I'm not a plant missionary and obligated to 'rescue' every mistreated plant at big box stores...Ugh. Men.

  7. I'm glad to see your hydrangeas are doing better. Um, I think I am the number 1 worst hydrangea parent, not you. lol. My girls gave me several Endless Summer hydrangeas for Mothers day at least 7 years ago and they look like your pic with the sticks sticking out of them. Last year I moved all but one of them and most of them (even the one I didn't move) has doubled in size and even had a few blooms. I live in Charlotte and everyone around me has huge, fabulous hydrangeas. Oh, and Azaleas too...but my Azaleas won't grow either. Your yard looks fabulous and I hope your hydrangeas continue to grow!

  8. I had gorgeous hydrangeas when I lived in Virginia. They had full sun most of the day but late afternoon had some shade. The hydrangea I planted here in Pennsylvania is just pathetic. I am sure the sun is just too hot for it. I covered it early in the spring with a deck chair just to keep the leaves from burning. In the fall I am going to move it near a tree in the garden. It will still get sun but hopefully not enough to bake it! By the way, my niece got married Friday night. She and her maid of honor carried bouquets of hydrangeas from my sister's garden and I used all hydrangeas (3 different varieties and colors) on the tables at the reception. They were gorgeous...if I do say so myself!

  9. Yours are looking great! My question - do you know if you can move an established hydrangea? We moved in april, and the house has this enormous GORGEOUS blue hydrangea right in the middle of the backyard. I mean...smack dab in the middle. So strange. That said - I love that plant, just not its placement. The plant is easily 5 feet across and just blooms like crazy, the last thing I want to do it kill it, I just wish we could somehow move it?!

    1. Bekah....early spring is usually the best time....right after your last frost...when night time temps are going to be in the 50's

    2. I've read moving them in late fall or winter is best but I think any time when there is no danger of them budding is probably fine!

  10. Hydrangeas are my jam. I want to propogate some from my neighbor's bushes in the Fall then put then along the side of our house next year. It's the perfect spot for them--a little sun in the morning and shade the rest of the day.

  11. I love hydrangeas! The perfect flower. Fresh, in between or dry/drying they are perfect. Seeing your long boxy thing again under the TV filled with the hy's makes me want to make one. You always find the most fun filled things to use in it.

    My hy's had blooms on them when purchased, but it took two years for them to bloom again. The only thing I do is use a hydrangea fertilizer each spring and fall.

    Jake's a Girl

  12. I love hydrangeas too. I tried, unsuccessfully, years ago to grow one. I am renting where I live now and didn't want to invest in plants we would be leaving behind until a neighbour (who owns a landscaping business) offered to get me a decent sized one for really cheap. It is doing great and I love it!!!!

  13. Do you know how to dry them out for dried arrangements???

  14. Beautiful! I love ours. Totally agree...they love water, most hate full afternoon sun, bloom on dead wood. Guess I got lucky, my limelights I planted in May are blooming nonstop!

  15. I'm in southern IL near St. Louis, and the best thing I have found for my hydrangeas was Daconil fungicide. You can get it just about anywhere, and it has made a world of difference on my plants.
    Also, I have the endless summer variety and my husband accidentally cut one of my plants down to the ground when it was dormant early this spring. I thought it was done. Well, now it looks better than it ever has and bloomed like crazy! Guess all varieties are different!

  16. Love seeing your full posts in my reader again! Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Sarah!!!

  17. Your hydrangeas look amazing! I have about 12 and some of them are doing great and some are just creeping along. I try to water them deeply every chance I get. I am wondering if you have ever fertilized yours and what you've used for that if so.
    Also I have never heard of the hydrangea tree that you mentioned but I'm going to look for one this fall. So pretty. Thanks so much for sharing!
    Ashley Rane Sparks

  18. Ohhhh....water. Hmmm...maybe that's why mine has {one} bloom.



  19. Thanks for the tips. I just moved into a new house and am excited to plant some hydrangeas. After reading your post, I will probably wait for Fall.

  20. I didn't know sleep creep and leap applied to anything but ivy. :/ Maybe that is why my one hydrangea looks better than last year but not leaping yet. Hopefully next year. :)If it does good I'll try a second one. My thumb doesn't seem to be very green. Question...where did you get the green lamps in the last photo?

  21. Excellent post! Absolutely love hydrangeas and have a hard time growing them in deep's just so dang hot but mine are in dabbled to full shade all day and I'm keeping them watered so we'll see! Thanks for the tips!!~~Angela

  22. Gorgeous! I thought all the ones under the TV were fake? That is awesome!

  23. I also live in Indiana and have two hydrangea bushes in my front yard. This is the 3rd summer that we have had them planted there. Of course like you said this summer has been wonderful weather, and I was really hoping that they would bloom. The bushes got huge!!!! However, they barely bloomed. Nothing like those big mopheads. My husband and I were thinking about taking them out this fall since they just get to be huge overgrown bushes and not much else. What are your thoughts? Should we stick it out another year?

    1. Hey! Just saw your question, sorry! I would wait one more summer...after that you'll know if they are going to bloom for you! My limelights took years so hang in there one more year! :)

  24. Thanks for the tips. Your Hydrangeas are beautiful.

  25. I really like it that I can scroll through your posts again in my email. Yeah, I am too lazy to click over. This option went away for a while, but I am glad it's back again. Thanks.

  26. Thanks for info. I am getting so discouraged with my plants....ordered from QVC and all 3 have not grown in first 6 months. I wrote the landscape company and they said that is normal for first year but should see a huge growing spurt in spring. They showed those babies on TV getting huge by end of first year. Here is hopping. It is strange to see something stay green and not grow at all. I love, love them so keep your fingers crossed for me:)

  27. We moved into our new home at the end of May, and discovered that the back of the yard is lined with several HUGE hydrangea bushes. They are all blue. ha I love them! I got so many for our table vase, etc. while they were blooming. A lot of the reason we chose our current home was because of the beautifully landscaped yard and huge trees! We love plants. :-)

  28. I love hydrangeas, but I always end up killing them in my Cali heat. This year has been my most successful year yet, and I think it's because they are in my completely shaded front porch. Next year, I'm going to try to plant them in the back yard!

  29. Please DON'T move your petiolaris(climbing) hydrangea, or you will need to strt waiting for blooms all over again. They often don't bloom for at least the first 5 yrs after transplanting.
    Your macrophyllas (Endless Summer) varieties should not be cut back at the end of the growing season, as they bloom on 'old' & 'new' wood. Regularly cutting blooms for bouquets &/or deadheading promotes continual blooming.
    The arborescens (mop heads) can be cut back to 6-8" in late Fall and they will reward you with healthy new shoots each Spring that will support loads of big, fluffy, white to green blooms--they bloom on new wood.
    The paniculata tree varieties should be deadheaded in early Spring & prune out low-growing suckers as they emerge.
    I live in IL, so my climate in z5 is similar to yours in IN. In addition to plenty of water, I have found that macrophyllas reward me with tons of flowers when I mulch them with leaves after the first freeze.
    All hydrangeas require rich, humus-y soil full of organic matter. They definitely don't care for our heavy, clay in the Midwest, so soil prep is key to successful hydrangeas. Happy gardening!

  30. Thanks for the tips. This is one plant I've never been able to grow & I absolutely love them. I have one in a pot on the patio that I've managed to keep alive since Easter. No new blooms since then but new growth.

  31. I love your postings. We landscaped our front yard and we could plant any hydrangeas due to full sun, so I am hoping in spring I would be able to plant hydrangeas in our backyard and side of the house. I love these plants with passion. I really enjoyed your insights.


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