Confused about the different hydrangea types and which is best for you and your garden? These highly coveted flowering shrubs have captured the hearts of gardeners worldwide, and with good reason. With their stunning blooms, varied colours and distinctive growth habits, hydrangeas are a joy in any garden. In this guide, I’ll take a closer look at four of the most common hydrangea varieties – macrophylla, paniculata, arborescens and petiolaris – helping you choose the perfect hydrangea for your garden.
1. Hydrangea paniculata
Also called: Panicle hydrangeas
Paniculatas are known for their cone-shaped flower clusters that start creamy-white and age to shades of pink, red, or even bronze. Their flowers stand tall and proud, making a striking statement in any landscape.
Advantages: These hydrangeas are a gardener’s dream, requiring minimal fuss. They’re more tolerant of various soil types and can handle more sun exposure than other varieties. Their flowers dry well, adding an intriguing element to both fresh and dried cut arrangements.
Disadvantages: While paniculatas are hardy, they can become top-heavy when laden with flowers. Staking might be necessary to prevent branches from drooping under the weight. However, Living Creations have produced a series with super strong stems to hold up those big heads! Watch my reel here, where I test out their strength.
Care requirements: Paniculatas are relatively low-maintenance. They thrive in full sun to light shade and prefer well-draining soil. Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring, as these hydrangeas bloom on new wood. Read more about Hydrangea paniculata pruning here.
2. Hydrangea macrophylla
Also called: French, mophead or bigleaf hydrangeas
Macrophyllas steal the show with their large, round flower clusters. These beauties come in a range of colours, from classic blue and pink to stunning purples and whites. Their lush foliage adds to their charm, making them a real focal point.
Advantages: One of the main draws of macrophylla is their ability to change flower colour based on soil pH. Acidic soil yields blue blooms, while alkaline soil results in pink ones. This colour-changing magic adds an element of surprise to your garden. Plus, they can be kept compact in size, which makes them suitable for both garden beds and containers.
Disadvantages: Macrophylla hydrangeas can be a bit temperamental when it comes to climate. They prefer partial shade and can suffer from winter damage in colder regions. Regular watering and a consistent care routine are essential to keep them thriving.
Care requirements: To keep your macrophyllas happy, provide well-draining soil, ample water, and some afternoon shade. Pruning should be carried out after flowering, as these varieties bloom on old wood.
3. Hydrangea arborescens
Also called: Smooth hydrangeas (also sometimes called an ‘Annabelle hydrangea’, though Annabelle is simply a cultivar of arborescens)
Arborescens present spherical clusters of delicate flowers that start out green before transitioning to white, though there are some pink varieties, such as ‘Pink Annabelle’ and ‘Candybelle Bubblegum’. They feature smaller petals than macrophylla, but the blooms as a whole are still quite buxom.
Advantages: What sets arborescens apart is their reliability. They bloom on new wood, ensuring consistent blooms even after harsh winters or late frosts. This makes them a fantastic choice for gardeners seeking guaranteed summer beauty.
Disadvantages: Compared to their counterparts, arborescens have a slightly smaller flower size. While their blooms are undoubtedly gorgeous, they might not have the same “wow” factor as the larger varieties.
Care requirements: These hydrangeas thrive in partial to full shade and appreciate moist, well-draining soil. Prune them back in late winter to early spring to encourage vigorous growth and bountiful blooms.
4. Climbing hydrangea
Also called: Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris
The most common climbing hydrangea, anomala subsp. petiolaris can climb to a whopping 12 metres in height and eight metres in width after 10 years, if allowed to grow freely! Within one year of planting, this hydrangea will have grown aerial shoots which allow it to cling to a wall, trellis, fence or other support. It produces domed flowerheads of green-white blooms and white bracts, which are similar in appearance to those of lacecap hydrangeas.
Advantages: This plant has the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which means that it’s a reliable performer. In addition, its excellent climbing ability means that this hydrangea can really make an impact in the garden.
Disadvantages: Hydrangea, anomala subsp. Petiolaris can be heavy, so if you’re training it along a fence or other support, make sure it’s sturdy enough to hold the weight.
Care requirements: Plant in dappled shade to ensure a longer blooming time. Mulch every year in spring, and prune lightly in summer after flowering.
Choosing the perfect hydrangea for your garden
As you embark on your hydrangea journey, consider your garden’s unique conditions and your personal preferences. Each of these hydrangea varieties – macrophylla, paniculata, arborescens and petiolaris – offers a distinctive charm that can enhance your outdoor space. Whether you’re captivated by the ever-changing colours of macrophylla, the resilient and proud stature of paniculata, the dependable blooms of arborescens, or the sky-high growing ability of petiolaris, with the right care your garden will flourish with the addition of these delightful plants. Happy gardening!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.