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6 Breathtaking Hydrangea Species You Need in Your Garden

New colors, small stature and long-lasting blooms—find out what's fresh on the hydrangea scene and discover the best hydrangea species you should plant in your backyard.

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bigleaf hydrangeaVia Proven Winners
Cityline Berlin hydrangea

Bigleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea macrophylla

“People love hydrangeas because they’re easy to grow and deliver loads of flowers all summer,” says Natalie Carmolli, marketing and public relations specialist for Spring Meadow Nursery, growers of Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs. “They are also useful in a variety of settings as foundation plants or hedging, or planted on their own as a spectacular specimen plant.”

Bigleaf hydrangeas are the plants most people gravitate to, especially cultivars with pink flowers (seen in soils with high pH) or blue flowers (soils with low pH). However, bigleaf hydrangeas wilt quickly if the soil dries out in summer, and they may not flower reliably in colder regions. Longtime southern favorites, bigleaf hydrangeas are now available in reblooming varieties, giving gardeners in the north a chance to enjoy them. If you’re looking for a smaller plant, try Mini Penny. Learn when to prune your hydrangeas for big blooms.

Mountain Hydrangea

H. serrata

While hydrangeas are known for long-lasting blooms, work is being done to encourage reblooming among bigleaf and mountain varieties. The Tuff Stuff Mountain hydrangea is a reblooming type. It flowers in spring on old wood and again on new wood, so you can enjoy blooms until frost. “Our newest variety is Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha mountain hydrangea,” Natalie says. “It’s a strong rebloomer, with huge waterlily-like double florets that are blue or pink depending on the soil.” Check out 16 long-blooming flowers for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

Panicle Hydrangea

H. paniculata

Panicle hydrangeas are a good alternative to bigleaf hydrangeas for many gardeners. “If you have lots of sun and need a drought-tolerant plant, you’ll find that panicle hydrangeas fare better than other types of hydrangeas,” Natalie says. “They are also reliable bloomers that flower on new wood, making them a low-maintenance option for Zone 3 gardens.” Natalie recommends Fire Light, which is packed with florets that transform from pure white to pink and then finish a pomegranate red. Little Quick Fire panicle hydrangea blooms a month earlier than others. Limelight and the smaller Little Lime are the most adaptable to any climate, thriving where others might struggle. 

climbing hydrabgeaVia Spring Hill Nursery
Climbing hydrangea

Climbing Hydrangea

H. petiolaris

Use climbing hydrangeas to cover buildings, fences or arbors. Keep in mind these plants can take a long time to get established and start flowering. Water them thoroughly as needed and avoid high-nitrogen, fast-release fertilizers that encourage stem growth but discourage flowering. Check out the top 10 flowering vines for hummingbirds.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

H. quercifolia

All hydrangeas need some sunlight for best flowering, ideally in the morning, but oakleaf hydrangeas tolerate more shade than others. However, oakleaf hydrangeas typically don’t do as well with temperature extremes, preferring the midrange zones. Gatsby Pink oakleaf hydrangea is a native grown for fall color. Check out more easy-to-grow plants to add color to your shade garden.

Smooth Hydrangea

H. arborescens

“Smooth hydrangeas are incredibly easy to grow,” Natalie says. “They are super cold hardy down to USDA Zone 3.” One of her favorites is the line of Incrediball hydrangeas. “If you are familiar with the classic white Annabelle hydrangea, you’ll love Incrediball hydrangea,” she says. “It has massive white blooms held up on sturdy stems, so they don’t flop over.” Or try Invincibelle Wee White smooth hydrangea, which blooms for months. “Wee White is a huge game changer because of its diminutive size,” Natalie says. “Topping out at just 2½ feet, this is an ideal hydrangea for use in containers and small gardens.” Smooth hydrangeas are also available in a variety of colors. Incrediball Blush is silvery pink; the Invincibelle series boasts pink, ruby and mauve hues; and Lime Rickey shines with deep green flowers. Discover the top 10 biggest blooms for your flower garden.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.