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All About Healthy Hydrangeas

The Annabelle Hydrangea.

The Annabelle Hydrangea.

If you have ever attended a wedding in the South, you've likely seen hydrangeas in the bride’s bouquet or on table centerpieces. Although you can purchase the cut flowers from almost anywhere that sells flowers, including the local grocer, you can also plant the flowers in your garden to enjoy for a much longer lifespan.

The large shrub-like blooms of the hydrangea come in a variety of colors and are hearty enough to be handled for arrangements. Although the plant is hearty when growing the plant, or working with freshly cut blooms, remember the plants love, love, love the water — hence the root name of the flower “hydra”.

Growing hydrangeas isn't unlike caring for other blooming shrubs in your garden, with exception of the fact that you'll need to pay particular attention to the acidity and alkalinity of the soil. One of the unusual things about hydrangeas is that they are sensitive to acidity, and will bloom different colors based on the soil pH.

Close-up view of the Hydrangea macrophylla.

Close-up view of the Hydrangea macrophylla.

Change the color of hydranges by altering the soil acidity.

Change the color of hydranges by altering the soil acidity.

How to Care For Hydrangea Plants

Despite the pH feature, you can grow hydrangeas easily by following the basic care tips below:

  • Select a planting location that allows your plant plenty of room to grow. Hydrangeas generally grow from 4 to 12 feet wide. Plan on allowing at least 4 feet high of growth too, hydrangeas are a rather large plant.
  • Block plants from the extreme heat of the day. It's best for hydrangeas to receive full sun in the early morning sun or in the late evening. But don't block the sun completely or the plant won't bloom much.
  • Water hydrangeas liberally; they prefer moist, well-draining soil. Hydrangeas that are exposed to more sun require more water. If you tend to forget to water plants consider adding mulch around the base of base of the plant to help retain moisture in the soil. If you notice the leaves wilting, the plant needs more water.
  • Prune carefully; Some hydrangea plants bloom off old wood and some plants bloom off new wood. Be sure to check what specific kind of hydrangea you have before pruning for the season. For example, oak leaf hydrangeas bloom on previous year’s growth.
  • Fertilize the plants in the early spring for best growth.
  • Plant hydrangeas in the early summer, or late fall; don't plant too soon or you could kill a plant early from a frost.
  • Pay attention to soil pH; hydrangea color is determined by soil acidity. Pink varieties grow best in soil pH of 6.5 to 7.0; blue varieties grow best in soil pH of 5.0 to 5.5. To enhance color, add limestone to the soil for pink coloration, and aluminum to the soil for blue coloration.

Regardless of the color of your hydrangea— white, bluish or pink — the care is pretty much the same. Hydrangeas can grow in both sun and shade, and are resistant to many insects and diseases.

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How to Transplant Hydrangeas

  • Transplant hydrangeas when the plant is dormant and lost all of it's leaves.
  • Dig up as much of the root ball as possible. Since the plant has very fibrous roots and tends to retain a lot of soil, you may need help in lifting and moving the plant.

Insider Tip

Although gardeners manipulate the soil pH to determine the color of their hydrangeas, florists spray paint (yes, really) to help color-match blooms.

How to Care for Cut Hydrangeas

Although hydrangeas grow in the heat and humidity of the South, cut blooms last longer in cooler rooms. If possible, keep cut hydrangeas away from hot, summer windows and out of rooms with poor circulation.

Keep fresh-cut flowers in plenty of cool water, and refresh the water frequently to keep the blooms fresh as long as possible.

Tips for Buying Hydrangea Plants

Buy hydrangea plants when they are in bloom. This allows you to see the color and type of the plant, and ensure it is healthy. Buying plants that haven't bloomed may result in buying a different plant than you thought.

Helpful Hydrangea Sites


Chicago Botanic Garden

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