7 Different Types of Hydrangeas
We Know Hydrangeas Can Be Confusing, But They Don't Have To Be.
You only need to know two things to be successful when growing hydrangeas: which type of hydrangea you have and whether it blooms on old wood or new wood. And we’re going to spell it all out for you right here, so you can put your new knowledge into action right away.
Ready? Let’s get started.
1. Bigleaf Hydrangeas
Also known as florist’s hydrangea or hortensia, this is the kind with the big, glossy, leathery leaves and pink, blue, or purple (and sometimes white) blooms. Bigleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood – that means they created their flower buds for 2021 back in 2020, and those flower buds are sitting on the plant right now, just waiting for summer. If you were to prune a bigleaf hydrangea now, you’d remove all this year’s blooms.
How to prune: Don’t! It’s best to avoid pruning bigleaf hydrangeas altogether, as there’s no time of the year they can be pruned without removing flowering potential. When the new growth begins to emerge on your plant, you can take off any dead wood or old blooms, but that’s it.
2 Mountain Hydrangeas
A bit of a newcomer to the market, mountain hydrangeas like the Tuff Stuff series from Proven Winners ColorChoice are closely related to the bigleaf hydrangeas described above, but are native to chilly mountainous areas. As a result, this species has naturally developed better performance in colder climates. Mountain hydrangeas look a lot like bigleaf hydrangeas, with big pink, purple, or blue blooms, and act like them, too, blooming on old wood.
How to prune: Same as the bigleaf hydrangeas – don’t! Even though the Tuff Stuff series is reblooming and flowers on new wood as well as old wood, you’ll get the best and longest-lasting display if you avoid pruning except to remove any dead wood and old blooms.
3. Oakleaf Hydrangeas
Oakleaf hydrangeas are distinguished by their big, oak-shaped leaves and fragrant white flowers. The foliage on this handsome North American native turns an unforgettable red-burgundy in autumn, and the leaves fall to reveal a dramatic structure with cinnamon-colored peeling bark. Oakleaf hydrangeas also bloom on old wood and are currently covered with flower buds just waiting for warmer weather so they can open.
How to prune: Yet again, don’t. Pruning will remove the flower buds the plant has already developed for this season. If you’d like to remove a branch or two to shape the plant selectively, you may, but avoid any trimming or cutting back.
4. Climbing Hydrangeas
A bit of an anomaly among hydrangeas, climbing hydrangeas are vines that climb with the help of little rootlets that grab on to structures. They’re very popularly planted on chimneys and brick or rock walls and are covered with delicate white lacecap flowers in early summer.
How to prune: Climbing hydrangeas bloom on old wood, too, so flower best when you don’t prune them. They rarely need pruning, but if yours is particularly ambitious, you can selectively remove branches as needed.
(Note: this information also applies to the closely related false hydrangea vine, Schizophragma).
5. Smooth Hydrangeas
Widely known as ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea, even though several new, vastly improved varieties have been introduced in recent years. This hydrangea is super hardy (down to USDA zone 3) and loved for its huge blooms and rock-solid reliability. This North American native blooms on new wood, which means that it will create its 2019 flower buds only after it starts growing this spring; there are no flower buds present on this type in winter.
How to prune: Cut back by about one-third of its total height in early spring. This helps build up a sturdy, woody base while also encouraging lots of new growth for tons of flowers. If you have a smooth hydrangea and you already pruned it to the ground, that’s okay – we prefer the one-third approach as it helps to minimize this plant’s tendency to flop (especially if you have ‘Annabelle’ and not one of the newer selections).
6. Panicle Hydrangeas
This extremely popular type goes by two alternate names – peegee hydrangea or Limelight hydrangea. Whatever you call it, it’s one of the most beautiful, reliable, and long-blooming shrubs (never mind hydrangeas!) ever. The football-shaped (and sized) flowers on this type start out white and then change to pink or red in late summer. Like smooth hydrangea above, it is hardy to USDA zone 3 and blooms on new wood. Panicle hydrangeas also create their flower buds for the season in spring.
How to prune: Cut back by about one-third of its total height in spring. This ensures the growth for the year comes from bigger buds further down on the stems, which means stronger, more vigorous stems. This type often attains tree-like proportions, so you can also selectively remove branches to create the desired shape.
7. Cascade Hydrangea
Never heard of a cascade hydrangea (Hydrangea x)? That’s because FairyTrail Bride™ cascade hydrangea is the first of its type in North America. Cascade hydrangeas have a horizontal habit with white flowers blooming all along trailing stems. The result is a cascading display of unrivaled flower power!
How to prune: Blooms on old wood AND new wood – which means you do not need to prune it. You’ll get the best and longest-lasting display if you avoid pruning except to remove any dead wood and old blooms.
Want to add some hydrangeas to your garden this year?
We’ve got you covered! Great Garden Plants offers a huge selection and all seven of the types you see here. Now that you know how easy they are to care for, the hardest part will be picking your favorites.