When, Why and How to Transplant Hydrangeas

How can you safely and correctly transplant hydrangeas? They can grow into fairly big shrubs, so you can’t always keep them in a pot, or maybe your plants need a better place to flourish optimally, where soil and light conditions are more suitable and healthy for it.

In any case, you need to know exactly when it is best to replant a hydrangea, why it may be necessary and, finally how to transplant hydrangeas.

If you need to relocate hydrangeas, good preparation is key. So this is exactly what we want to talk about, with clear but detailed instructions, and also some tips collected through years and years of experience. So, let’s start!

Why You Should Transplant Hydrangeas

We can start with the reasons why you should consider transplanting your hydrangea shrub.

Why You Should Transplant Hydrangeas
  • You have just bought your hydrangea, and you need to find it a place in your garden.
  • Your hydrangea has outgrown the container it is in; this is in case you grow small and dwarf varieties, or if you had decided to keep it in a pot while it’s young and small.
  • Your hydrangea needs a better place in your garden. This is one of the most common reasons, and we can look at it a bit more in detail.

If you notice that your hydrangea is not well in their current location, it may be the case that you need to change its place. But in cases like yellow leaves, spots on the foliage, pests and other disease, first try treating it and even feeding it.

Why You Should Change the Position of Your Hydrangea in your Garden

Why You Should Change the Position of Your Hydrangea in your Garden

In fact, transplanting a hydrangea should be a last resort. While they are strong shrubs, this process can cause stress to them, especially if they are adults and large.

The place however, may be wrong for many reasons:

  • Too much light, especially in warm regions; you will notice regular yellowing and discoloring of the leaves, burnt tips and flowers, and a general difficulty growing. In this case, move it where it gets morning Sun and afternoon shade.
  • Too little light; the opposite can be true too… This usually results in scarce or lack of blooms, and it is more common in cold regions.
  • Your hydrangea is too close to a large tree; these shrubs love a bit of shade, but the strong roots of large trees may end up using up the nutrients of your flowering shrub. This usually results in stunted growth, lack of vigor and poor blooms or even leaf health.
  • The soil pH is too alkaline; anything above 7.0 will not be good for your hydrangea shrub; and in this case, often the best solution is transplanting. But first, try adding some soil acidifiers to tide it over the growing and blooming season. You will notice it because new hydrangea leaves turn yellow or even white, and you may notice some necrosis, which is dead tissue at the margins of the foliage. This is due to iron deficiency.

In these cases, try feeding your hydrangea, shading it if necessary, but if the problem is serious, you will need to find it a new place to relocate your hydrangeas.

Then again, you may just want to change your garden layout; if you do, please try to act when the shrubs are small; they will adapt better and recover faster from the stress.

And now you know why you may transplant your hydrangea. Let’s see when.

When It Is Best To Transplant Hydrangeas

When It Is Best To Transplant Hydrangeas

By far the best time to transplant hydrangeas is when they are dormant. This is the period that starts late in fall, when your hydrangea shrub drops its leaves, and it ends as soon as you see new buds growing on the branches.

Then again, if you live in a cold region, try to transplant hydrangeas in fall, so the root system of the plant has time to adapt and prepare for the winter. Relocating hydrangea in winter when soil is cold, can adversely affect affect the plant’s ability to adapt and it may even suffer and become ill.

If you live in a warm region, as long as it does not freeze, you can transplant hydrangeas in winter as well.

Basically, you need to be adaptable, choose a time when the plant is dormant, but avoid very cold days.

For this reason, when you notice that, for example, your hydrangea is not growing and it has poor blooms, you want to give it some temporary help and wait for the best time to move it to a a new home.

But can you transplant hydrangeas at other times? Yes, but even here we need to make a distinction:

transplanting your hydrangea from container to soil
  • If you are transplanting your hydrangea from container to soil, it is easier to do it at other times. In fact many of us buy them from nurseries when they are in bloom, or in spring, and we can then put them in our gardens.
  • Transplanting a hydrangea, especially a large one, from a full soil place to another is more risky at other times. You risk damaging the root system, and it is actually more difficult to handle a shrub with leaves on…

In any case, the worst time to transplant a hydrangea is summer, when it’s in bloom. So, even if you have picked it up in a garden center because you loved its flowers, it’s better keep it in its pot until they are spent, then plant it.

And now it’s time to get into the details of how to transplant it.

How To Safely And Successfully Transplant Your Hydrangea

There are some key steps you need to take to make sure that you transplant your hydrangea shrub the right way.

1: Prepared Hydrangea Shrubs For Transplanting

To start with, do not water your hydrangea before transplanting it; the soil should not be fully dry, but only just about a bit humid. Otherwise, the soil will be too heavy, and it will fall off and make your work harder.

2: Dig a Hole in the Garden Bed

Now you need to prepare its new place…

  • Dig a hole that is at least twice as large as the shrub. Check the shrub’s drip line; this is the vertical line that falls from the tips of the outer leaves. The roots will reach this point. Measure it, and double it to to have the diameter of the hole.
  • Dig the hole so that it’s half as deep as large. You won’t need a very deep hole, because hydrangea roots tend to spread outwards rather than deep. 
  • In case it is in a container, dig a hole that is about 50% to 100% deeper than the container.
  • When digging a hydrangea for transplanting, make sure the bottom of the hole is flat. You want the lower roots of your hydrangea to rest on soil, not on an empty hole. Use very well drained humus fertile soil, with lots of coarse sand in it to flatten the hole at the bottom.

3: Gently Dig Out The Hydrangea Bush

Now you have a new home for your hydrangea, the next step is to remove it from its current position. And here too, there is a difference if it is in a container or in your garden.

replant hydrangea from container
  • Tap the container on all sides; this will help you detach the potting soil from the pot itself.
  • Tip the container to one side; make sure you do not damage the branches.
  • Grab the hydrangea from the base of the shrub; do not pull it by its branches, go directly to where your plant comes out of the soil.
  • Gently remove the hydrangea from the pot.

And in case your hydrangea is growing in the soil, here is what you need to do:

  • Mark a line all around the hydrangea with a spade. This should be about 10 to 15% wider than the drip line. Make sure you do this, so you don’t damage the roots.
  • Dig diagonally, keeping under the roots.
  • Gently lift the hydrangea grabbing it at the base. Here too, avoid pulling branches.

4: Minimize Disruption Of The Root System

Now you hydrangea is ready to go to its new place… This is the most rewarding part of the job…

Loosen the tips of the roots out of the soil
  • Loosen the tips of the roots out of the soil; this is especially necessary if it was in a container. We also do this so that the plant adapts to the new soil, recognizing it as food earlier on. But be gentle!
  • Check if there is a root ball, which is a compact clump of soil; this usually happens just under the base of the plant, in the center, and it is very common with all plants you but from nurseries and garden centers.
  • Break the root ball gently, of course, not damaging the roots.

5: Replant the Hydrangea Bush

And now it is really time to replant your hydrangea in place!

replant your hydrangea
  • Gently place the hydrangea in the middle of the hole. Make sure that it is even, and adjust it accordingly, always with great attention. You don’t want to damage the roots with friction.
  • Fill the hole with well drained and fertile, humus rich soil. This can be loam clay or sand based, but not chalk, and the pH should be from mildly acidic to maximum neutral. Ideally. It should be about 6.0 to 6.5, maximum 7.0. If the soil is alkaline, your shrub will suffer from iron deficiency.
  • Press the soil with your foot around the plant, firmly but gently. You want to make it dense but not fully compact; it will need to have good aeration.
  • Water abundantly. Do it even if the plant is fully dormant. 
  • Mulch all over the base of the hydrangea, covering all the hole.

How to Repot Hydrangeas

That’s about it, but if you are repotting your hydrangea, there are some small differences. And here they are:

How to Repot Hydrangeas
  • Put drainage at the bottom of the container or pot; pebbles or gravel, even broken pottery will do perfectly well; give it at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) and even more, especially if the plant and container are big.
  • Add a layer of fertile potting soil with added coarse sand at the bottom; you want the bottom roots to rest on soil, not on drainage material.
  • Place your hydrangea in the middle of the container; here too, do it gently and make sure that it’s even.
  • Fill the pot with fertile and well drained potting soil. Make sure the pH is mildly acidic or maximum neutral. 
  • Press the soil with your fingers and hands, making it firm, but not compact.
  • Water abundantly.
  • Mulch all over the surface.

Now your shrub is in place, let me leave you with some tips to help it settle in…

How To Care For Your Hydrangea After Transplanting It

Some aftercare can go a long way in helping your hydrangea grow well, healthy and produce lots of blooms. Here are some tips.

How To Care For Your Hydrangea After Transplanting It
  • If you have transplanted your hydrangea in soil in when it’s dormant, you may not need to water it all through the beginning of spring. This is an average for regions where winters are wet. But if you notice that the soil is getting very dry, or you have dry winters, please be flexible.
  • Water your hydrangea abundantly for two summers after transplanting. They can take some time to settle in fully; their roots are not particularly strong and they may need a helping hand.
  • Feed your hydrangea in spring, and then again before blooming. But don’t do it in winter or late fall; this will encourage it to grow – at the wrong time!
  • Prune branches if they eventually go dry or ill after transplanting; it is not an unusual behavior, your plant is simply sacrificing some parts to concentrate on others.
  • Keep the mulch in good conditions; it will keep moisture and nutrients in the soil.
  • Keep a close eye on the health of your hydrangea; it may develop diseases or get pests after transplanting, because it has been weakened by the operation.
  • Deadhead spent blooms; this will help it concentrate its energy on growth and establishing itself.
  • If you have planted your hydrangea when it is not dormant, it will drop blooms or leaves; do not worry, just help it along by removing them; in this case as well it is simply directing energy to the roots and to its growth.

If you have planted your hydrangea when it is not dormant, it will drop blooms or leaves; do not worry, just help it along by removing them; in this case as well it is simply directing energy to the roots and to its growth.

Keep an eye on your hydrangea after transplanting, do it as we have seen in this article, and you will have a healthy, happy and blooming shrub for years to come!

Adriano Bulla

Written By

Adriano Bulla

After many years as an academic in London, Adriano Bulla became a writer, publishing books like A History of Gardening, Organic Gardening and Elements of Garden Design; he then decided to become a gardener, following his childhood dream, and has been following his dream writing and gardening professionally in Southern Europe, where he has specialized in new and innovative organic gardening fields and techniques, like permaculture, regenerative agriculture, food forests and hydroponics.

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  1. Avatar photo Billie Cash says:

    Received a potted hydrangea for Mother’s Day . Pot is small and needs larger pot to carry it through summer until we can transplant into garden in fall. It arrived 5 branches .. Any suggestions.

    1. Congratulations on receiving a potted hydrangea for Mother’s Day! It’s wonderful that you’re planning to give it a more spacious home to thrive during the summer months. Here are some suggestions for repotting your hydrangea into a larger container:

      Select the right pot: Choose a pot that is one or two sizes larger than the current one. Make sure the new pot has drainage holes at the bottom to allow excess water to escape, preventing waterlogging.

      Prepare the potting mix: Use a well-draining potting mix suitable for hydrangeas or a mixture of peat moss, perlite, and compost. This blend will provide adequate moisture retention while ensuring good drainage.

      Transplant with care: Gently remove the hydrangea from its current pot, taking care not to damage the roots or branches. You can tap the pot lightly or use a knife to help loosen the root ball if it’s tightly bound.

      Add soil and position the plant: Place a layer of the potting mix in the new container, ensuring it is enough to support the hydrangea’s root ball. Center the hydrangea in the pot, making sure it sits at the same depth as it did in the previous container.

      Fill the gaps: Fill the gaps around the root ball with the potting mix, gently pressing it down to secure the plant. Leave some space at the top of the pot for watering.

      Water thoroughly: Give your newly potted hydrangea a good watering to settle the soil and help the roots establish. Ensure that excess water drains out of the pot.

      Provide appropriate care: Place the hydrangea in a location that receives the recommended amount of sunlight for your specific hydrangea variety. Water the plant regularly, keeping the soil consistently moist but not soggy. Remember to also provide occasional fertilization as per the recommended guidelines.

      Throughout the summer, monitor your hydrangea for any signs of stress or issues such as wilting, yellowing leaves, or pests. With proper care, your potted hydrangea will have a comfortable and supportive environment to flourish until it can be transplanted into the garden in the fall.

      Enjoy the beauty of your hydrangea throughout the summer, and best of luck with the repotting process!