Five tips for growing beautiful hydrangeas {and not killing them}

Hydrangeas are one of my favorite flowers, but I didn’t used to be so great at growing them.  They hated me because I didn’t know what they needed. 🙂 I’ve learned a ton about the beautiful hydrangea over the years and wanted to share my knowledge with you!

Overall hydrangeas are actually very easy to grow and take care of! They need very little care (see what they do need a lot of below) and will give you tons of beautiful blooms.

Tip one: Patience is needed

The sleep, creep, leap saying about plants is so true. The first year they don’t do much, the second the come along a little bit and the third they leap!

This limelight hydrangea is an example of one that absolutely took off after a few years. This is how it looked the first two seasons (it didn’t even bloom):

And the third year it started to take off!:

limelight hydrangea

You can see how much it grew just a couple of years later:

Pergola on deck with lights
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You should see this one now! It covers that whole window.

Overall, with hydrangeas you just need to have patience. Hang in there…they will reward you with beautiful blooms eventually!

Tip two: Don’t give them too much sun 

Many hydrangeas like a good mix of sun and shade. Preferably sun in the cooler mornings and shade in the hot afternoons. These were planted on the afternoon/evening sun side of our home and did NOT do well:

full sun hydrangeafull sun hydrangeahydrangea too much sun 

I’d had these for two or three years at this point. Not one had ever bloomed, they all barely grew, it was just sad.

I moved them to morning sun (afternoon shade) and look at the difference!:

how to grow hydrangeas

The one on the left grew a TON from where it was (it was the smallest one). They don’t have a ton of blooms in this photo because I cut so many. 😉

These are the mop head variety, and they have really strong, beautiful leaves too:

mophead hydrangeagrowing hydrangeas

The leaves on that pink plant are especially hardy, dark and pretty.

Some can handle sun more than others though. I found some PeeGee trees on clearance years ago and was so excited — they are basically a hydrangea tree. These thrive in lots of sun!:
Pee Gee hydrangea blooming

The Pee Gee tree is a panicled hydrangea, like the limelight I first showed you. They have cone shaped flowers that get HUGE:
pee gee hydrangea bloom

Limelights like sun as well! 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.

**By the way…if your plants are not blooming, they probably need more sun. 🙂

Tip three: Water, water, water

Hydrangeas need MEGA water. I mean, it’s in their name. 🙂

pink white hydrangea

I just watch my plants — if they start to wilt at all I know they need water. We are in Indiana and I find they will do fine without regular waterings until about mid July when things get dry and hot. After that I keep an eye on them.

And of course, water newly planted hydrangeas or those in pots often!

They need a lot of moisture, but watch how you water them too. If you can, water 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.

Tip four: Plant at the right time of year

Because hydrangeas need so much water, it’s best to plant them in late spring or 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.

Most of ours were planted in mid-October, when it can get chilly! But it’s a great time because they can take root without fighting against the heat.

You won’t believe how much our plants have grown at this house! Look how tiny they were exactly two years ago:

Best window box flowers
Look at them now!:
How to grow big hydrangeas
The window boxes got hit by a bad frost so they are very slow going this year. (I covered them all well but they still hated it.)
Another before and after — you can see the difference on both sides of our sidewalk: 
gray house white trim

Tips for growing hydrangeas

Early summer planting would be a good bet so you can enjoy the blooms all season, but you can get some killer deals later in the fall too!

Tip five: Hydrangeas don’t need pruning 

I don’t prune (or cut down) my hydrangeas — although you should clean some up a bit. Some hydrangeas grow back from the ground (on new wood), and the stalks they bloomed on the year before can be removed.

This can be tricky because sometimes it’s hard to tell between the two. This is an example of the type that grows on new wood:
hydrangea grow on new wood

The blooms on new wood come from new growth at the base of the plant.

I always pull those old stalks out of the ground (or cut them down) in the spring or early summer. You can leave them, but I think the plants do better when those are removed.

You won’t want to prune these at all during the bloom time in summer. If you’d like to clean them up after the blooms die away, you can do so late summer or winter before the buds start to grow and open.

Some grow right back on old wood — meaning they bud on stalks from the year before. Lace caps and mop heads (big round blooms) are a one that grow on old wood:

lacecap hydrangea

Pee gee hydrangea trees

If you do want to prune old wood varieties, do so immediately after they flower (but don’t do it much past mid-summer). But it’s really not needed — hydrangeas of all kinds do well without much work!

By the way, the endless summer variety bloom on new and old wood — so if that confuses you, they are a great option! Bottom line, you don’t have to touch hydrangeas much to have them do well!

Whew – I’ve learned a lot over the years! I hope these tips help you grow this pretty plant!

I was determined to figure out what made them tick because hydrangea are one of my all time favorites and I LOVE having them to cut and bring inside:

mophead hydrangea pink white purple
hydrangea in DIY long wood box

 DIY wood trough with flowers

The limelights and Pee Gee blooms turn the most beautiful pink/green in the early fall — they are just gorgeous! I used them in this post years ago: 

pee gee hydrangea fall

fall limelight hydrangeas

Here are a couple more tips:

  • You can change the color of your blooms with additives from the nursery. 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.)
  • You know those planted hydrangeas you find in the spring/early summer at grocery stores? They aren’t really meant to be planted. I had no idea! Go here to read more about that. 

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 amount of sun is key with some varieties.

Are you a hydrangea lover? Any great tips I’ve missed?

See my easy tip for plumping up wilting hydrangeas here!:

You can pin this image to save these tips for later!:

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