Did you know that hydrangeas are one of the most searched for genus online?
Even though they are known as a ‘classic’ in garden spaces their popularity continues to increase across the US as more resilient and stunning varieties are being cultivated.
Their versatility from sun to shade and dramatic blooms demand recognition for taking a place in every garden.
At the latest count there are somewhere between 70-75 species of hydrangea native to the US and Asia but only 6 species that are common across the US.
These are largely referred to as Bigleaf Hydrangea (most common), Climbing Hydrangea, Mountain Hydrangea, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Smooth Hydrangeas and Panicle Hydrangeas.
Five of these species each have 30-40 different cultivars so there are plenty different and unique hydrangeas to choose from.
To help you find the ideal hydrangea for your garden space we’ve outlined the six main types of hydrangeas and their distinctive and individualize features including planting, growing conditions, bloom shapes and all the varied bloom colors including some varieties that the bloom will transform color throughout the growing season!
Types of Hydrangeas with Identification Guide and Pictures
1: Bigleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla)
The Bigleaf Hydrangea is the most familiar variety of hydrangeas in our gardens. This group is made up of dozens of cultivars that bloom heavily and live a long life.
Easy to care for, reliable bloomers and their beauty help us to know why they are so popular. There are two subcategories of Bigleaf, Mopheads and Lacecaps that we have previewed below.
Mophead Hydrangeas~ Hydrangea Macrophylla
Mopheads are one of the most popular hydrangeas in our garden spaces. Gardeners love them because of their spectacular blooms, a reliable bloomer and extremely easy to care for.
With their variation of sizes, shapes, and multitudes of color shade they make great back borders and hedges.
The first noticeable feature of the Mopheads are their blooms. Big, showy, and magnificent. The puffy ball blooms can run from blue, pink to white depending on the PH of the soil.
The blooms will then change as the season progresses into fall. The rich blues will turn to wine red, the whites will turn to pale green and pinks possibly to blood red.
The Mopheads fall into the family of the Bigleaf so it will not be much of a surprise that their king-sized leaves can be as large as dinner plates on some varieties. The color of the foliage is a bright green. Between the spectacular blooms and vivid green colossal leaves, it is no wonder they ae so desired.
The Mopheads are fast growers and can grow 6 – 10 feet and be as wide. They do best in USDA Zones 5 through 9.
As with other varieties in cooler zones plant in full sun, but in the hotter regions plant in a location that has afternoon shade. Giving these plants just a little attention will keep them in check and flowering prolifically.
They enjoy being planted in soil with rich nutrients, well drained and moist. Make sure when planting that you keep in mind that they can have a spread up to 10 ft! Plan accordingly.
To create the best grow space for them, make sure to leave them plenty of room. When they are established, they are fairly drought resistant but long extended periods without water can cause leaf wilt.
The Mopheads really have no serious insect or disease problems. Like most hydrangea types, under certain conditions they will be susceptible to bud blight, bacterial wilt, powdery mildew, and rust which can all be handled accordingly.
Produces large, rounded flower heads that can be up to 8 inches across. Bloom colors will be French blue or rosy pink depending on soil PH. The Altona is happy in the sun or shade. Is great for cut flower arrangements. Award of Garden Merit
Cityline Mars ~ Hydrangea Macrophylla ‘Ramars’
A small and compact mophead with distinct flowers. The blooms will range from red or pink with a lime green edge to blue and purple with white edges. The flowers have a variegated look. This shrub blooms on old wood so pruning in the fall or winter will limit blooms the next growing season.
Lets’ Dance Big Easy ~ Hydrangea Macrophylla
This variety is a double bloomer. It sets buds on the old wood and on new wood in the spring. It is a great addition to any garden space with its basically continual color from mid-summer into early fall.
Lacecap Hydrangeas (Hydrangea Macrophylla)
Lacecapsare very similar to the ‘Mophead’ but instead of round clusters of very showy blossoms it grows flowers that resemble flat caps with frilly edges.
Since they have fertile florets and will be pollinated their flowers will fade much faster than mopheads, lasting approximately 1 month. They can have blooms ranging from white, bright pink to a dark wine hue.
Cutting their blooms for arrangements is a great plus with this variety. Being more vulnerable to cold temperatures, they will enjoy a good layer of mulch year-round.
This helps suppress weeds, retain moisture, and reduce temperature fluctuations in the soil. They will grow 3-5 ft tall.
A site with morning sun and afternoon shade is perfect. They enjoy rich well-drained soil and adequate water.
Foundation or hedge planting work well for these. They are easy care and offer decades of beauty.
Endless Summer, Twist And Shout ~ Hydrangea Macrophylla ‘PHIIM-I’ PP20176
This is a reblooming variety of hydrangea. It is a smaller shrub that needs more shade than sun. Blooms range from periwinkle to deep pink. Because if reblooms, you will have flowers from late spring through late fall. Perfect.
Let’s Dance, Diva ~ Hydrangea Macrophylla
This dwarf hydrangea is a pink and blue rebloomer producing outstanding blooms for the entire season. This plant loves the morning sun but needs some protection from the afternoon heat.
If you do have it in full sun be sure to water more often especially during the long hot summer days. A great addition that gives and keeps on giving all season!
Let’s Dance, Starlight ~ Hydrangea Macrophylla
Another beautiful rebloomer. Gorgeous pink and blue blooms produced all summer. The blooms are great for arrangement and bouquets.
Perfect for borders and containers. Plant in morning sun with afternoon shade. Will be a delight all summer long.
2: Mountain Hydrangeas (Hydrangea Serrata)
The Mountain Hydrangea is one of the least common mophead. They are native to Japan and Korea. They grow typically up to 2-4 feet tall and 2-4ft wide.
They are hardy to growing zones 6-9. These are very vulnerable to the cold but not as susceptible to late spring frosts. Part shade is their preference but will tolerate full sun if the soil is consistently moist.
They too love rich and well-drained soils. This variety’s blooms will change colors depending on the soil PH. Strong acidic soils help them to produce blue flowers while a slightly acidic soil will produce pink. They have no serious pests or disease issues.
But do watch for bud blight, bacterial wilt, leaf spot and mildew. They are perfect to plant around the foundation of your home. After they have bloomed it is good the prune them back to a pair of healthy buds. Remove weak or winter damaged canes in early spring.
Mountain Hydrangea Varieties
Tuff Stuff ~ Hydrangea Serrata
Beautiful and sweet and the most reliable for reblooming. Compact double blooms that come in blue or pink. Great pick for gardeners in northern zones.
Let’sDance, Cancan ~ Hydrangea Serrata
This is a very hardy plant and it is easy to care for. The flowers will bloom in a wide range of colors from strawberry pink, lavender to baby blue. These are rebloomers which will bring color to your garden for the entire season.
Tuff Stuff ~ Red ~ Hydrangea Serrata
This mountain variety is a reliable prolific bloomer. It has beautiful red to pink flowers and is a guaranteed bloomer every year. They do better than most mophead hydrangeas in colder climates.
3: Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculate)
Panicles are probably the most consistently blooming, low upkeep, resilient hydrangeas you can grow. This variety blooms on new growth each summer (the buds are formed in the spring) unlike other varieties that form buds on the old wood or during the previous gardening season.
There is no chance for the flower buds to be damaged by winter cold. The outcome for the panicle is an unfailing display of striking blooms every season from mid to late summer into fall.
The Panicle are among the most winter hardy. Some varieties are hardy all the way down to a USDA Zone 3 rating which can withstand temperatures down to -40 degrees.
Their care and pruning is a no stress task, unlike the Bigleaf hydrangeas which must be pruned at certain times. The Panicle hydrangeas are extremely flexible when it comes to pruning and do not even really need to be. They are abundant bloomers with or without pruning.
There blooms are showstoppers all around. The blooms are significant, elongated conical shaped that begin showing up mid-summer. The blooms will remain for an exceptionally long period and as the summer progresses the color change that the blooms demonstrate is amazing.
The Panicle hydrangea adjust to different growing conditions. They do not need a specific PH in the soil to do well nor do they need anamount of shade or sunlight to thrive. If they are planted in a space with several hours of sunlight daily, they will bring color, life, and beauty to any garden area.
Hints For A Planting Success:
Panicle Hydrangea Varieties
Zinfin Doll ~ Hydrangea Paniculate
The Zinfin Doll is one of the first bloomers. The flowers emerge white and then change to bright pink from the base up as they age. Great additions to cut flower arrangements and bouquets. Minimum of 6 hours of sun a day and very heat tolerant.
BOBO ~ Hydrangea Paniculata
This is a dwarf hydrangea that is an eye-catcher. It is consumed by large white flowers through out the summer. As the blooms age, they will turn a soft pink. With its compact and dwarf stems the flowers cover every inch down to the ground. Needs part sun to all sun.
Little Lime ~ Hydrangea paniculata
A relative to the Limelight variety this is a hardy hydrangea. It will grow 3-5 ft and be as wide carrying beautiful lime green blooms. As the blooms age, they will begin to turn a rich pink. As the season progresses, they will turn from pink to burgundy to close out fall.
4: Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
The Oakleaf hydrangea is easy to distinguish by its foliage. The leaves have sections, called lobes and it has a similar look to the Oak tree leaf. Oakleaf are indigenous to the United States, unlike their famous cousins. They are resilient to the coldplus drought resistant helping to make them a versatile choice.
The Oakleaf have something to offer through all four seasons. They begin the growing season as the dark green leaves begin to emerge. The oak-like leaves can grow up to 12 inches depending on the variety.
The flower buds form long, conical shaped clusters that will be a highlight to the garden landscape. Their blooms combine the large showy florets with the small budlike flowers. The soil PH does not affect the color of the oakleaf blooms as it does with the mopheads.
As the season progresses into fall the foliage will transform from the dark green to the rich warm red crimson, purple, orange, gold, and bronze of autumn. In some areas the spectacular fall display will last until winter. As fall moves into winter and the leaves have dropped, the peeling bark with its rich nutmeg color shows beautifully against the snow.
The Oakleaf do require some sun but can also grow in shady areas. But keep in mind that the more sun they have the better the fall flowers will be! The best rule of thumb is to plant them where they will receive morning sun and afternoon shade.
These shrubs do well in cooler regions The Oakleafare among the winter hardy group Some varieties are hardy all the way down to a USDA Zone 5 rating which can withstand temperatures down to -28 degrees. In northern areas, plant in full sun to partial shade and in southern zones plant with morning sun and afternoon shade.
The Oakleaf will thrive in rich well-drained, slightly acidic soil. If the soil is a heavy clay, consider adding an amendment to help with water penetration and drainage. As with the other varieties the Oakleaf likes to have moist but not soggy soil.
By planting the Oakleaf correctly they are not difficult nor hard to care for. They are essentially disease and pest free and once they are established; they are very drought resistant. These plants can grow up to 10 feet and an 8-foot spread. To avoid having to prune plant with adequate space in between the shrubs.
Pruning oakleaf hydrangeas can also help establish a full shrub. Pinch back new growth or else trim older growth if this is your intent. Since these shrubs bloom on the prior year’s growth, do not prune until after they bloom before next year’s buds appear. This gives them time to grow new buds that will bloom again the following summer. If you wait too long you may prune away next years blooms.
Oakleaf Hydrangea Varieties
Gatsby Gal ~ Hydrangea Quercifolia
This is a beauty. White flowers that cover the plant from early summer to fall. Smaller than most typical oakleaf hydrangeas but still gets to be 5-6 ft tall. The blooms on this one start white but as the season progresses turn to pink and then wine-red by fall.
The oak-shaped leaves also turn in the fall like a red maple. The bark provides an extra interest as well. It peels back or exfoliant like the shrubs, Nine Barks.
Snowflake ~ Hydrangea Quercifolia
The blooms on the Snowflakes are awesome. The blooms are large, conical, and doubled, layered on top of another measuring up to 12 inches. The blooms will slowly turn rosy pink as they mature. In the fall the foliage will bronze, crimson or burgundy. The exfoliating bark becomes a winter attraction. This one is truly a year-round prize.
Snow Queen ~ Hydrangea Quercifolia
This one is known for its deeply lobed leaves and showy blooms. It has dense conical blooms that came be up to 8 inches packed with large white ray florets. The florets will begin to take on a pink tinge as the season progresses into fall. The foliage will begin to turn bronze-purple to red as the air cools with the change of season. The Snow Queen is a vigorous grower won’t take it long to be a focal point of any garden.
5: Smooth Hydrangeas (Hydrangea Arborescens)
Smooth hydrangeas are sometimes referred to as wild hydrangeas. They are an attractive looking shrub with giant white blooms. They also are native to the southeastern United States. Growing to be 3-6 feet tall and 3-6 feet wide making a beautiful hedge or back border to highlight your other garden beauties.
The large blooms on the Smooths will first appear a light lime green. As they begin to mature, they will transform into a milky/vivid white color then as fall approaches a light tan.
There are some newer varieties that will sport a pink bloom. Please note, unlike the mopheads, the bloom color of the Smooth cannot be changed by changing the PH of the soil.
As summer ends the blooms will begin to dry and turn a soft tan. The leaves are heart shaped and a dark green that will turn yellow in the fall. Bloom time usually runs between June and late fall.
Even though these plants are native to the southeastern part of the US they can successfully be grown in Zones 3-9 withstanding colder winter temperatures. They can handle full sun depending on the variety. Again, as with the other types, it is best to plant where they will enjoy the morning sun and afternoon shade.
For the best success with a Smooth hydrangea the maintenance and care start by choosing a suitable location in your garden.
A Smooth plant does not perform at its optimal in a full sun and hot area. Choose a spot that has the morning sun but shade during the heat of the day. When you are planting a Smooth, find a spot with well-drained, moist, acidic soil. Once they are planted and have become established you will need to water occasionally.
They can be somewhat drought tolerant but do not do well in extended drought conditions without it causing distress. If you notice the leaves wilting this is usually a sign that they need to be watered.
The Smooth put their buds on new wood (spring growth) so it is a good practice to prune back 6-8 inches above the ground in late winter. If you choose not to do a hard prune, then you can prune back 1/3 of the branch to stimulate new growth late winter or very early spring.
One secret though is the harder the prune in late winter the larger the blooms in the summer! Always remove sick and dead branches that are damaged by the winter at this time.
The Smooth really have no serious insect or disease problems. Like most hydrangea types, under certain conditions they will be susceptible to bud blight, bacterial wilt, powdery mildew, and rust which can all be handled accordingly.
This is an older classic. Everyone recognizes the ‘snowball’ blooms that are large and beautiful. In cold regions where other hydrangeas may not bloom you can always count on the hardy smooth hydrangea like the Annabelle to bloom every year.
InvincibleSpirit~ Hydrangea Quercifolia
It is a reliable smooth hydrangea that blooms every year, even in cold regions. Unlike the Annabelle, this smooth hydrangea has soft pink blooms, strong stems (which means no flopping) and it also reblooms producing flowers all the way until the first frost.
Incrediball Blush~ Hydrangea Quercifolia
Gigantic blooms, sturdy stems this plant is a winner all the way around. It is a reliable bloomer even after the coldest winter weather. A total eye catcher for a hedge or garden focal plant. Native to North America.
6: Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangeaanomala ssp. Petiolaris)
There is only one Climbing hydrangeas variety. These are flowering deciduous vines. They really do climb using the suckers on their branches to attach themselves to walls, trellis or anything that will lend itself! They can reach 50 feet tall at maturity.
In the early part of summer, they will begin to produce a very fragrant, lacecap bloom. These blooms can be up to 5 inches or more in width. The foliage is a medium green through spring and summer turning yellow in the fall.
They are not really known for their fall foliage, but their exfoliating bark provides winter landscape interest.
Using their suckers, they can scale walls, trees, arbors, trellises, pergolas, and fences. As the plant matures, the vines can become heavy so make sure the host structure can support the weight as time goes by. The vines can be pruned and maintained in a shrub form.
Blooming does not occur until the plant is in its 3rd to 5th season.
The climber can also be used as a ground cover. They will take root where their suckers contact the soil. This helps the plant to spread and fill areas to cut down on weed growth.
Hydrangeas have been and will always be a garden classic. Their beauty, reliability and easy carehas given them an untarnished reputation with the garden/landscaping industry. Choosing the perfect one for your space is the most difficult part of the process! Highly recommended for years of joy and beauty!
Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.