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LET’S TALK GARDENING – Understanding the Hydrangea Family

By Doug Hensel
Doug's Blog

When thinking hydrangeas, most people think of only the one hydrangea with blue blooms. Did you know that there are actually six family types of hydrangeas? This is where the confusion begins. I am going to do my best in explaining the hydrangea family.


Here are the six main types of hydrangeas commonly grown here in Central Virginia: BIGLEAF, PANICLE, SMOOTH, REMONTANT, CLIMBING, and OAKLEAF. Of these six family types, Bigleaf, Panicle, Smooth, and Oakleaf are the most popular. So, I am going to concentrate my blog on these four in order to reduce the confusion.


Bigleaf is a macrophylla – in Latin, macro means big and phylla means leaf. These hydrangeas may also be called mophead or lacecap. This family of hydrangea blooms on old wood. It sets its bloom wood in mid-summer and carries this wood through the winter to bloom later in the spring. So, the proper time to prune a Bigleaf is just after it has finished blooming in the spring and no other time of year. Nikko Blue is probably the most popular variety of Bigleaf that most people are familiar with.


This family-type hydrangea is also known as PeeGee and PANICULATA. Panicle varieties bloom in the summer off of new wood growth. Some of the more popular varieties in this family include Tardiva, Limelight, Little Lime, BoBo, and Pinky Winky. Because of being a summer bloomer and blooming from new wood, the proper time to prune is during the winter / early spring.


This family type of hydrangea is also known as Hydrangea arborescens. Smooth hydrangeas bloom off of new growth (just like Panicle). Some of the popular varieties include Annabelle, Incrediball, Invincibelle, and the Spirit series.


A more recent introduction of hydrangea that has become very popular is the Remontant, which is a rebloomer. Endless Summer is the most popular Remontant variety. The reason behind the name is that Endless Summer will bloom on both new and old wood. Be mindful of any pruning. If anything I would suggest only cutting off the old, spent blooms and nothing more so as not to interfere with it blooming over and over again.


Climbing hydrangeas are not seen too much in our region. I think that they may struggle a little bit with our summer heat. This is why they are more prevalent farther north. But, just in case you are interested or if you already have a Hydrangea petiolaris then keep in mind that the white blooms are born on the old wood. And, be very careful with pruning in order to not interfere with the blooming wood.


Hydrangea quercifolia is one of my favorite. I love the flowers and I love the fall leaf color. Be mindful of pruning Oakleaf hydrangeas because they, too, bloom on the old wood.


All hydrangeas undergo some color change as their flowers age, but only the Macrophylla “Bigleaf” can change their color in a predictable and controllable way. It is not solely the pH of the soil that is responsible for this change — it is actually the presence of aluminum in the soil.

  • Certain varieties of bigleaf hydrangeas cannot change color. The rich red blooms are a good example. Similarly, white varieties of bigleaf hydrangeas will not change color.
  • It is easier to change a hydrangea from pink to blue than from blue to pink, but both endeavors involve making chemical applications in specific amounts at specific times.
  • Pennies, nails, aluminum foil, or coffee grounds in the soil will not change the color.


  • Moist, well-drained soil is needed with all hydrangeas. Hydrangeas will not tolerate wet feet.
  • Some sun each day. Most people think of hydrangeas as shade plants, but they look and flower best with at least four hours of sun, ideally in the morning. Panicle hydrangeas are the most sun tolerant.
  • Plenty of water when first planted. Hydrangeas have shallow roots, so they dry out quickly. Adding a couple of inches of mulch is recommended.


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29 thoughts on “LET’S TALK GARDENING – Understanding the Hydrangea Family

  1. Betsy,
    Good morning. Yes, hydrangeas – especially the Macrophylla family varieties – make good companion plantings with azaleas since both types of plants require some shade . Doug

  2. I have a hydrangea tree purchased and planted by Meadows. I must have killed the original with aggressive pruning. When is the best time to prune or should I just dead-head the blooms after they are spent? Trying to avoid any mistake on the replacement. Many thanks.

  3. I have clay soil in my yard. What should I do to prepare clay soil for a hydrangeas and what is the best type to grow in this type of soil?

  4. Good Morning.
    The best time to do any trimming of the head of this hydrangea is in late winter / early spring while it is still in a dormant state. Tree form hydrangeas are in the Paniculata family and they bloom off of the new growth that appears in the spring. Yes, you can also do some “dead heading” of old, spent blooms in late summer. Good luck. these are gorgeous plants. Doug

  5. Mr. Doug,

    How shallow of a root system does a mature hydrangea have (in terms of how deep will the roots grow downwards in inches)?

  6. Linda,
    Good Morning.
    The best preparation of the soil is to amend this clay with compost, such as Leaf compost. Hydrangeas like a rich, well draining soil. With hard, heavy clay you may want to consider “planting high” and you want to put your effort in digging a much wider hole then needed. Remember roots grow outward. So, you want this nice, rich, well draining soil to be large and wide. – meaning digging a shallow up and have some to the roots sticking up out of the hold. Then you berm up the amended soil to cover the roots completely.

  7. David,
    Good Morning. Most hydrangeas have a relatively shallow root system. The roots tend to spread outward and not so much going down deep. This is why you want to dig and much wider hole then deep at the time of planting. Doug

  8. Annette,
    The best time to feed hydrangeas is right after they have finished blooming. Personally, I like to suggest the Espoma plants foods as the fertilizer of choice. Doug

  9. Will any hydrangeas do well in full sun? When and how frequently should they be watered?

  10. I have propagated a rooting from a friend’s bush, a non blooming cutting. It has rooted well and is in a large pot. It is not very large yet so I am wondering if I should put the pot outside now to acclimate it to climate and plant in the ground now or wait until fall to plant it?

  11. Michelle,
    Good Question. Most of the spring blooming varieties, which are the Macrophylla, and bloom the blue, pink, and white – tend to do best in some shade, especially shade from our hot, afternoon sun. Now, the summer blooming varieties, such as annabelle, Little Lamb, Limelight, Tardiva, etc. are tolerant of more direct sun. As for watering, whenb first planted will need to be “babied” the first year with watering until they hydrangeas become more rooted in. As to how much you need to water really depends on your soil. Doug

  12. Lesley,
    Well, congratulations on being successful with propagating the hydrangea. I would begin the process of setting it outside to get use to its new environment. Put the container in shade for a few days before moving it to more sunlight. Stay on top of watering because it will dry out quicker outside. The the roots continue to grow and develop in the pot through the summer. Then plant this fall. Good luck, Doug

  13. I am thinking of planting a row of hydrangeas along both sides of my house. Since the sun will be coming up from one side in the morning, and then going down the other in the evening will the side of the house be a good location? And if so, what type of hydrangea would you recommend. I have a few more questions.
    1. How far apart should you plan hydrangeas? How many inches?
    2. How far from the house should we plant them?

  14. I am getting ready to plant some Bloom Struck Hydrangeas in a spot we removed an over grown shrub should I wait until fall, maybe put them in a larger pot or leave them in their pots ??? BloomStruck is an Endless summer plant.

  15. I purchased endless summer last year and potted it for the front porch. I placed it in the garage over winter. It has been back on the porch for a while and is blooming beautifully. My only concern is that it seems leggy with many branches almost touching the porch. Is there anything I should do to make it bushier? Thank you for your advice.

  16. I have 2 large beautiful blue spring bloomers. A Bottom branch of one has taken root. How and when can I separate and move the new one?

  17. Our house is about 20 years old, and the original landscaping was done by Meadow Farms. We have kept up with trimming, shaping, etc. , but the shrubs are just getting too big. Do you offer a service that will get them back in shape?

  18. Please, please insert photos in your blog of each type of hydrangea as you describe them!

  19. Bettye,
    I am in Richmond. I am assuming you must live in Northern Virginia if Meadows Farms did your landscaping. So, you may want to contact Meadows Farms Landscaping for possible assistance with pruning. Or, they may have some referrals of companies that will come and do the needed work. I believe the phone number is 703 – 327 – 5050. Good luck, Doug

  20. Sheryl,
    If this branch truly has its own independent root system then you can carefully severe the branch from the parent plant now. You may want to water the plant first to make sure the roots are filled with water. I think it helps reduce the stress of transplanting. Be ready to plant immediately so that the roots do not dry out. And, plant in the same environment, especially sunlight. Good luck, Doug

  21. Faye,
    Good morning. I am glad to read that you’re Endless Summer is growing and blooming. I would not have suggested putting the plant into the garage but leave it out in the winter elements and sun. So, good for you. Keep in mind that Endless Summer blooms off of old wood and new wood. The proper time to prune an Endless Summer ( and, only if needed ) is after it finishes blooming in the spring. So, I would say “go ahead” and prune away the leggy branches now. doug

  22. Elizabeth,
    Good Morning. Fall is a great planting season. But, if you are ready to plant these Bloom Struck then I would say to go ahead. Keep them watered through the summer, which is what you would have to do if they remained in pots through the summer. good luck, Doug

  23. Jennifer,
    Good Morning. My main concern is the side of the house that will get the afternoon sun. Keep in mind that that is a lot of extra heat bouncing off the side of the house onto these hydrangeas. As for planting. as to how far apart from each other will depend on the variety of hydrangea. In general I would use the 3 foot rule. and, keep the plants 3 ft. away from the house. Doug

  24. Susan,
    Good question. Before attempting to answer this question I did a little research. Of all my information on flowers that support our pollinators Hydrangea is not on the list of flowers. So, I want to think not about any hydrangeas. Doug

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