Last updated on April 9th, 2019
Hydrangeas are a favoured flower among gardeners and florists alike, distinguished by their round flower heads and beautifully coloured blooms. Most people do not realize that there are five main types of hydrangeas. While most people think of these blue, purple, and pink flowers, the majority of hydrangea blooms are actually white. The leaves on the plants can vary from big leaves to oak leaves all of which display beautifully bright colours throughout the fall.
In order to figure out the most appropriate hydrangea for your home or your garden, it is important to know the growing conditions, flower shapes, colors, and other distinguishing factors about these five main types of hydrangeas.
Hydrangea macrophylla, colloquially referred to as bigleaf hydrangeas are the most common. Other names you might have heard include Garden hydrangea, florists hydrangea, and French hydrangea, because chances are the flowers you find at a florist shop or grocery store are bigleaf hydrangeas. Within this category, there are three types.
- Mophead hydrangeas
- Lacecap hydrangeas
- Mountain hydrangeas
Characteristically all three of these hydrangeas are known for their large leaf size, hence the colloquial term big leaf. The leaves can grow up to 4”-6” in length and 3”-5” in width. The leaves are shiny, thick and heart-shaped.
These three prefer shade although not full-time shade. Too much shade will reduce flowering. With all three well-drained and moist soil is preferable. These plants are highly sensitive to drought so it is important to keep them watered regularly. Most fascinating is that you can change the colour of the blooms produced by altering the acidity of your soil. Neutral or highly alkaline soils will produce pink flowers while acidic soil will produce blue flowers.
1. Mophead hydrangeas
Mophead hydrangeas are popular for their large, puffy flowers that come in blue, pink, or purple. They’re also very strong plants which can grow in zones unfit for other shrubs or if you are in the UK in very cold areas. The flower buds are sensitive to cold weather though and are typically pruned away during the winter.
2. Lacecap hydrangeas
Lacecap hydrangeas are fairly identical to mophead varieties with a distinct difference in terms of the flowers. These varieties have tiny flower buds in the centre and larger flowers that encircle that central flower head. The showy flowers around the perimeter are sterile and only designed to attract pollinators while these smaller buds in the centre are fertile. These, similar to mopheads, can survive places with inclement weather quite successfully.
3. Mountain hydrangeas
Mountain hydrangeas, known as Hydrangea serrata, have many commonalities with lacecap hydrangeas in terms of the flattened heads and the smaller flowers. These are a great choice for locations that typically have late winter cold snaps.
Smooth hydrangeas are a larger shrub also referred to as wild hydrangeas, native to the United States but also readily available in the UK. These are typically used as a hedge plant because they can reach up to six feet tall. Hydrangea arborescens can tolerate hotter climates with blooms appearing between June and September. These flowers will start off as green and turn to white as they mature. They are fairly low maintenance plants that require partial shade and full sun on the same day. Most people refer to the Annabelle hydrangea when describing smooth hydrangeas because it is the quintessential smooth hydrangea with its white, round flower heads that take on the appearance of large snowballs and can reach up to 12 inches in diameter.
Hydrangea paniculata, referred to as panicle hydrangeas, are known for having long panicles from which giant flowers bloom. These cone-shaped panicles can reach up to 18 inches in length which stands in contrast to the bulb shaped flowers of the other hydrangeas. When the flowers first appeared they are white but as they get older the flowers can change to pink.
These are the most cold-hardy hydrangeas native to China and Japan. They are one of the few varieties that can survive full sun. Because of their persistent flowers, they are perfect for cut flowers in the home and the unique cone shape makes them a great flower to add to any floral bouquet. The PeeGee or ‘Grandiflora’ is the most popular of panicle hydrangeas because they are most easily pruned into trees and can reach up to 25 feet in height.
The oak leaf hydrangea has foliage similar to oak trees. Known under its scientific name of Hydrangea quercifolia, the oak leaf leaves will turn color in the fall and they are the only hydrangea to do so. The colors range from Golden Orange through bright red all the way to deep mahogany which make them some of the most attractive shrubs. The Oakleaf hydrangea produces white, cone-shaped flowers that are very similar to the panicle flowers but the key difference is that you can find them in single blossoms or double blossoms. They can withstand a large range of climate conditions. Gardeners enjoy this choice because the flowers bloom all the way from early summer through late summer and then in the fall the leaves turn colors as well, offering the longest range of color from a single shrub.
The Hydrangea animola ssp. Petiolaris, or Climbing Hydrangea is one of the most distinct types because it is a vine. Native to Asia, it is increasingly popular because it can grow up walls or other structures and provide beautiful cover, shade, and decoration. It can take between three and four years for the plant to take full growth and mature but once it does it produces white lacecap style flowers that offer a pleasant fragrance. They do grow as vines so they will need a substantial support structure to support the vines especially as it gets taller and stronger.
Overall there are many options out there suitable for all climates, goals, and landscape ideas. Finding the right option for you means knowing the different characteristics and varieties available to you and choosing the one you like best.