Written by Kim Smerek

The big snowball blooms of Hydrangea shrubs throughout summertime and into the fall are irresistible, not to mention they are also easy to grow and quite hardy and resistant to most pests and diseases. With so many varieties to choose from, you'll likely end up with more than one! Here's how to keep them happy and healthy.

Hydrangea Care Guide:

Light/ Shade - Hydrangeas prefer moist, rich soil, and part sun /part shade locations. They generally like a bit of morning sun but do not grow well if they are in direct afternoon light. A bit of cooling shade in the afternoon will keep them performing their best. The further north your garden is located, the more sunlight your hydrangeas need. Here in Southwestern Ontario, an average rule of thumb is six hours of (preferably morning) sunlight per day.

No hydrangea will do well in heavy shade, such as under a shade tree. The blooms will be sparse and will not develop fully. These water lovers will also have to compete for moisture and space with the tree roots.

Soil - Hydrangeas grow well in soil containing an abundance of organic material. Good drainage is vital. While hydrangeas like moist soil, they cannot tolerate being waterlogged. Soggy, poor draining soils can cause root rot. In just a few weeks, your hydrangeas can quickly die. If you have heavy soil, consider mixing in plenty of compost prior to planting to improve soil quality. Hydrangeas also benefit from an occasional boost of fertilizer once or twice a year in spring or summer.

Water - Plant your hydrangea in an area where it can get plenty of moisture. Water newly planted shrubs every day to keep the ground moist. Supplemental moisture is especially important the first year or two and during droughts. We can't stress it enough... while they love moisture, they do not tolerate “wet feet” and will soon succumb to root rot. Improve the drainage quality of the soil before planting!

Pruning - If your hydrangeas have been planted with enough room to grow, the only pruning required is to remove dead wood—be sure to take it off at the base of the plant if the whole branch is dead—and spent flowers. Left unpruned, they will produce fewer flowers. All hydrangeas benefit from regular dead-heading to encourage more and bigger blooms. Deadheading hydrangeas will keep your plants blooming into fall. And hydrangeas make excellent cut flowers! Don't prune past August though, because you don’t want to encourage new growth close to your freeze date.

How To Plant Hydrangeas

1. Choose a location where your hydrangea can reach its full size without pruning. For normal sized hydrangeas, expect the plant to reach at least 4 ft. X 4 ft. Choose smooth hydrangeas (H. arborescens) for their big white globes on 5-foot shrubs as specimens or panicle (H. paniculata) for their pointed white bunches of blooms in a corner or hedge where it can grow 10 to 20 feet tall and wide.

2. Locate your hydrangea where it gets enough sun and shade, ideally where it receives sun in the morning and shade during hot afternoons.

3. Plant in well-drained soil! If soil is heavy, add organic matter.

4. Plant at the same depth the hydrangea was planted in the pot.

5. Hydrangeas must be kept watered very well the first and second summer after they are planted. The best way to water is deeply with a hose. However, do not over-water.


Best Time To Plant Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas purchased from a garden center have been growing outdoors in a pot. They can be planted at any time of the year. However, to get good results, keep these considerations in mind:

• Whenever possible, plant in early summer or fall. Don't plant in early spring when frosts are still possible. Don't plant a hydrangea during the hottest part of the summer unless it can't be helped.

• After planting a hydrangea, DO NOT LEAVE IT ALONE. Be on hand to give it some attention and keep it well watered.

• Transplant a hydrangea when it has become dormant and has lost all of its leaves (late fall or winter). Be sure to dig up as much of the root ball as possible. If you transplant while your hydrangeas are dormant (the best time), water them deeply one time. They may need no more water until spring when warmer weather arrives.

TIP: How do you keep hydrangeas from wilting?

Regular watering in the mornings can help prevent wilting. Some varieties of hydrangeas simply can't handle the heat. It won’t matter how much water you give them – they’ll wilt a bit in the heat of the afternoon. A thick layer of mulch can help retain moisture and keep soil cool. If your hydrangeas perk back up once the day begins to cool, you don’t need to worry. It’s better to have a little mid-day wilting than to overwater and drown your hydrangeas.