8 secrets to caring for hydrangea

8 secrets to caring for hydrangea

French hydrangea is one of the most favorite plants among Southerners. We love to grow them, cut them, and share them with friends and family. On warm summer days, large balloons of blue, pink, purple and white flowers seem to float like magic from the lush green foliage of these shrubs. French hydrangeas, or mobheads, with their brightly colored, globe-like flowers, are what most of us remember growing in our grandmother’s yard. Hooded hydrangeas, the sister of mauve plants, have flowers that appear to float in flat, delicate-looking clusters above the foliage. Its appearance is light and airy, attracting bees and butterflies to the garden.

Both mopheads and lacecaps create a beautiful display in the garden as well as in cutting arrangements. To ensure an abundance of beautiful blooms for years to come, follow these tips for planting and caring for new, established hydrangea plants.

Choose a high-quality manufacturer

When purchasing French hydrangeas from your local nursery, look for more than just pretty flowers. Choose a full plant with even branches on all sides. In late spring and early summer, the stems should be covered with fat buds or flower heads ready to open or open. The leaves should be bright green and not drooping (an indicator that the plant may not have been watered regularly). Some hydrangeas were developed and grown in greenhouses to bloom quickly and out of season to be sold on Mother’s Day. Although they are beautiful, they may not be hardy choices in the garden, and once planted in the ground, they will have trouble with seasonal growth cycles.

Use good soil

French hydrangeas like moist, well-drained soil that contains plenty of organic matter, such as peat or chopped leaves. If you have hard clay soil, spend some time amending it with organic matter to give your new plants a fighting chance. Mulch plants to help keep roots cool and moisture stable — especially important when late summer heats up. Try to keep the mulch depth at about 3 inches to conserve moisture and regulate soil temperature. Keep the mulch about 4 inches away from the base of the plant to maintain air flow and prevent rot.

Plant in adequate sunlight

In the South, hydrangeas should be planted in locations with plenty of morning sun and afternoon shade. (These shrubs have few pests but can become infested by spider mites if planted in full sun.) During periods of high temperatures, hydrangeas, especially mauve, tend to droop from heat stress, so be sure to water frequently. Hydrangeas also like coastal areas, where the breeze helps dissipate heat.

Plant it well

Water your plants as soon as you get home, saturating the soil in the pot. Draw the position before planting. Most French hydrangeas can be spaced 3 to 4 feet apart, but check the label to see how widely you choose. Dig a hole two or three times as wide as the pot but the same depth. Remove the plant from its pot, then place it in the center of the hole. Gently loosen the sides of the root ball with your fingers. Fill the hole with a mixture of half native soil and half compost. Mulch and water regularly to help your plant establish.

Decorate your plants with accessories

French hydrangeas look great in generous sweeps, but if you really want to make your borders sing, pair them with hostas in the foreground. They both like partial shade and plenty of water. Other Pairings: Use evergreen plants such as camellias and purple loropetalum as backdrops. Ferns and variegated monkey grass work great in the foreground.

Remember to prune

French hydrangeas that bloom once, such as ‘Nikko Blue,’ thrive on last year’s growth. Prune immediately after flowering in summer. Recurring French hydrangeas, such as ‘All Summer Beauty’ and ‘Big Daddy’, bloom on both old and new growth. They can be pruned at almost any time.

Protect them from the cold

You need to winter-protect your hydrangeas if your area experiences freezing temperatures in the winter. Leaves, sawdust, and/or straw are good options for insulating your plants. Mound mulch or leaves around your plants at least 12 inches high to protect the flower buds that will bloom early next year. In the spring, wait until all danger of frost has passed before uncovering to ensure beautiful blooms. If your hydrangeas are container grown, bring the entire container into your garage or a cool basement for the winter months and follow the same steps as hydrangeas grown in the garden. Water lightly throughout the winter months because they will not receive moisture from snow and rain.


Sometimes, the hydrangea you purchased will turn blue and bloom pink the following year. Your hydrangea responds to soil pH. Blue flowers are produced in acidic soil (pH 5.5 and lower), and pink flowers are produced in alkaline soil (pH 7 and higher). You can change the color by adding aluminum sulfate around the hydrangea to acidify the soil. Add lime to make the soil more alkaline. Some selections are less affected by soil pH than others. As for the white flower, it will remain white.

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