How to Plant and Care for Hydrangeas

Updated on May 7, 2019
Barbara Kay profile image

I have enjoyed gardening for at least 30 years and enjoy sharing my experience with others. Gardening is my time to meditate and unwind.

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Limelight HydrangeaEndless Summer
Limelight Hydrangea
Limelight Hydrangea | Source
Endless Summer
Endless Summer | Source

If you have just purchased a hydrangea, you've made an excellent choice. With their big flower heads and beautiful foliage, it is one of the best shrubs for the landscape. The flowers also make nice dried arrangements. Here you will find all of the information you will need to plant and care for your new plant.

Where to Plant

The spot you choose for your new shrub is important. These shrubs like a place that has morning and late afternoon sun. Most will wilt in direct sunlight. In the northern states you don’t have to be as careful about the plant getting too much sun as you do in the more southerly states. I’ve even heard of people planting them in full sun. If you do, you’ll have to water often.

Don’t plant your new shrub near a tree. Hydrangeas like a lot of water and the shrub will always have to compete with the tree for water. Even so, they don't like wet feet, so plant in well drained soil. The plant likes rich soil with lots of composted matter.

You will need to take into consideration how large your new bush will be when it is fully grown and allow enough space. Some grow as tall as 10 feet. Others are much smaller. These shrubs can be planted as a single planting or they look good as hedges too. A garden show I attended had taller Annabelles planted in a row and they were gorgeous.

When to Plant

The best time to plant the hydrangea is in the fall. Be sure to plant it early enough to get some roots in the ground. Late spring or early summer works well also. The middle of the summer is often just too hot and you don‘t want to plant it too early in the spring either.

How to Plant

If your plant came in a container and is large with blooms, enjoy the blooms for a day or two and then prune down the plant. Do this only if the plant appears too large for the pot. The roots may not be able to support this large of a plant and you will end up with a better shrub in the end. I know, I know. I have trouble doing this too, but in the end you will be happy you did. Just trim off about 3" from each branch and trim off the flowers.

Dig a hole about twice the size of the container that the shrub was purchased in.

Be sure to add some composted organic material to the soil you are going to use.

Remove the plant from the container and loosen the soil from around the roots.

Place the plant in the hole. At this point you may need to add more soil and compost. You want the hydrangea to be at about the same position as in the container it was grown in. Place the plant back in the hole if it was necessary to remove it.

Now fill in the rest of the hole with dirt and compost.

Water the plant and then tamp around the plant with your feet to get any air out of the soil.

Spread mulch around the plant to help preserve moisture.If taken care of properly, you should have a beautiful shrub and flowers to enjoy for years to come.

Changing Hydrangea Color and Fertilizing

Changing the color of the hydrangeas is one of the fun things about the plant. You can get the color range that goes best with a perennial flower bed or your landscape in this way.

Hydrangea color is determined in many varieties by soil PH. To get blue blossoms apply Aluminum Sulfate to get the soil PH at 5.2 to 5.5. If you would like to change blue to pink change the soil PH with dolomite lime. You want a soil PH of 6.0-6.2.

Watering Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas like a lot of water. So much so that I use them as an indicator for then its about time to water the rest of the garden. If they don’t get enough water the leaves will wilt.

New plantings may need water as often as every day in the hot summer months if it has been dry. Older plantings should get 1” of water either from you or the rain.

A three to four inch layer of mulch year round will keep the plant from needing so many waterings. It is also recommended to plant your hydrangea in a spot where it gets just early morning and late afternoon sun. This will cut down on the need for water too since the soil won’t dry out so quickly.

Caring for Hydrangeas

How to Fertilize

Hydrangeas do like fertile soil with lots of organic matter. You should fertilize and least once a year if your soil isn‘t fertile, but if it is rich or has had plenty of decomposed organic matter, you may not need to fertilize at all. If you have poor soil, you may need to fertilize twice a year. Fertilizing too much can cause the plant to grow, but not bloom.

Pay attention to your shrub. If it has good healthy leaves and good blooming, it may just need a good mulch applied every year. If the leaves are yellow, or the plant isn’t growing or blooming, or the plant appears to be diseased, it needs some help. It is a good idea to have your soil tested and find out what it is lacking.

You can use an organic method of fertilizing which is your best choice or you can purchase chemical fertilizers. I always prefer the organic method, but it is your choice. If you decide to go with the chemical method, a slow released balanced type is best. You will only have to use it once a year, but it can be expensive for anything but container gardening. You may also choose a 10-10-10 mixture, but then you will need to fertilize twice. Be careful and read directions. Too much fertilizer will burn your plants and may even cause death. Not only can it burn the leaves, but the roots also. If your fertilizer is too high in nitrogen, you’ll end up with beautiful plants and leaves but no flowers.

For the organic approach, composted cow manure works well. Cotton seed also will work. You can purchase these in bags at most stores. Composted matter from your compost pile will do wonders.

Mulching is also recommended since it will keep the shrub’s roots moist and decompose to fertilize the plant.

If you are growing your hydrangeas in pots, this is an entirely different matter, the plants need to be fertilized no matter what every year. A time released fertilizer is the best to use for these.

The biggest rule of thumb for hydrangeas is to use lots of organic matter when planting and don’t over fertilize.

Don’t fertilize in the fall months. Let your plants gear down for winter and wait for spring. Applying mulch to help protect them over the winter months is always a good idea. Leaves or wood mulch work fine.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • Do I need to remove dying blossoms on outside hydrangea plants?

    This depends on many different factors. What zone do you live in? Does your hydrangea bloom on old or new wood? What variety is it? Be careful about cutting off the old bloom, because you could be removing next year's blossom.

  • How far should I trim the stems of hydrangeas in the spring?

    Trimming is a job better accomplished in the fall. If the hydrangea blooms on old wood, don't trim it at all.

  • What is old wood on hydrangeas?

    Old wood on hydrangeas are the stems and branches that grew on the plant the previous year. It will be brown and not green. New wood refers to new growth from the present year.

  • Should hydrangeas be pruned?

    It depends on which variety of hydrangea you have. The limelight we had was trimmed every year. Other types only bloom on old wood, and pruning them would keep them from blossoming.

  • Can I fertilize hydrangeas with cow manure?

    Using composted cow manure would be best. If it is composted, the hydrangeas will thrive using it.


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    • profile image

      Mary Tessaro 

      6 months ago

      What to do with the bulbs after the flowers bloom? I had them in glass vases. Do I cut off the dead foliage & flowers & let bulbs dry for later planting?

    • profile image

      Mike miles 

      8 months ago

      We have several plants in front of our main entrance. The follage is lush, tall and green, but their a no blooms. What do think we need to do??

    • profile image


      13 months ago

      I have a beautiful hydrangea which looks perfectly healthy but never blooms. What am I doing wrong?

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      2 years ago from USA

      Yes, you can do a fall planting.

    • profile image

      D benne 

      2 years ago

      I purchased a plant in container. Can it be planted outside this fall???

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      2 years ago from USA

      Peggy, I am happy to hear that you can still enjoy them.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I had an entire hedge of them in front of our home when we lived in Wisconsin. Now I have one pot of hydrangeas here in our Houston garden. It was given to me by a neighbor when they came here for dinner one evening. This is the second year and it is even prettier this year than last with loads of blooms.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      2 years ago from USA

      Patricia, Thanks for reading the hub. My Grandmother has hydrangeas when I was a child, so they've always had a special place in my heart too. I even love them as a cut flower.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      2 years ago from North Central Florida

      These are one of my most favorite flowering plants. My Momma always had a yard full of them when I was a young girl. She would be nodding her head in approval as she read your hub as she had explained to me about planting and care and your article covered much of what she said. Pinned Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      2 years ago from USA

      I would trim just the blossoms off.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Our blossoms are done so do I cut them off?

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      Check the bottoms of the leaves for insect eggs. If you find them, remove the leaf and throw it in the garbage. Brown leaves can mean that they are getting to much sun. Plant your hydrangea in a shadier spot if this is the case. Be sure that they are getting enough water. Hydrangeas are so sensitive to lack of water that we use ours as a gauge for when it is time to water the other plants. Keep them watered well and see if they start doing better. I hope this answers your problems.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      We are new to having them as well. One has brown edges on the leaves & something is eating them... is it best to use a spray or systemic?

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      Jusst cut with a knife or pruning shears and cut off part of the stem also.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      I'm new to Hydrangeas.. do you cut off the blooms when they are dead?

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      We don't cut ours down at all in the fall. Many hydrangea bloom on old growth.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      What do you do at the end of the season with cutting down the plant ? Cut down flush, or do you leave some Stalks?

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      4 years ago from USA

      Cathy, That is a great idea. The older varieties do like to plop or you can get wind damage. I'll try this one.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Cathy Sommer - I put a round tomato cage about half way up around each of mine and they keep the blooms upright.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      6 years ago from USA

      Cathy, You must have an Annabelle. They have newer varieties now with stronger stems. My limelight hydrangea will do this if it rains enough. There really isn't a good way to solve the problem. Thanks for asking.

    • profile image

      Cathy Sommer 

      6 years ago

      I have one of these in my front yard and get loads of compliments and everyone wants to know what it is. My problem is it has such heavy blooms and the stems are so thin that they end up on the ground. What is the best way of keeping this bush upright?

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      7 years ago from USA

      Thelma, Thanks for reading. Here in the US, this is a popular shrub.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      7 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      Beautiful! I would love to have this one in my garden. Thanks for sharing this very useful and informative hub. Voted up and pinned.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      9 years ago from USA

      Planting them around a tree probably is what killed them. Hydrangeas want lots of moisture and the tree probably hogged up all of it.

      Best of luck with your next try. I'm sure you will be able to get them to grow.

      Thanks for reading the hub.

    • azure_sky profile image


      9 years ago from Somewhere on the Beach, if I am lucky :)

      I am planning to buy some more hydrangeas this Spring....maybe with your help I won't kill them!! I did plant 4 of them around the base of a large tree in my yard last year and they and learn!! Thanks for putting this information together!!

    • craftdrawer profile image


      9 years ago

      These are some of my favorites! Great info!

    • GiftedGrandma profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      These are beautiful shrubs. We have one in our back yard.


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