9 Gorgeous Hydrangea Types

Lacecap hydrangea flowers with pink petals and light green buds above closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Part of the Hydrangeaceae family, the Hydrangea genus is nothing if not diverse. Most types grow in shrub form, however, one is a vine and another is pruned to assume a tree-like appearance. The genus includes bushes native to North America, but the Far East is rich in its own representatives as well. Technically, evergreen hydrangea types do exist, but those widely grown by gardeners are deciduous.

Some varieties perform best in part shade, but others can profit from a bit more sunlight. A most intriguing fact about hydrangeas is that, with some types, a single plant can bear either pink or blue flowers, depending upon the soil in which it's growing.

5 Popular Hydrangea Species

Hydrangea is a large genus containing more than 70 species, but only a handful are commonly grown as landscape plants.

Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla): These deciduous shrubs have a rounded habit and typically grow 3–6 feet high, with large, serrated leaves that are oval or elliptical. The long-blooming flowers that appear in summer are either "lacecap" in form, with flattened flower clusters, or "mophead," with globe-shaped flower heads. The color-changing wonders of the hydrangea world hail from the bigleaf group. These shrubs produce flowers that are pink in alkaline soils and blue in acidic soils.

Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata): These deciduous shrubs are considerably larger than bigleaf or smooth hydrangeas, sometimes growing as much as 15 feet high if not kept pruned. The flower clusters, blooming in late summer, have a distinctive cone shape, not the round balls seen on other types.

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia): These are upright, multistemmed shrubs growing 6–8 feet high with large lobed leaves that resemble those of an oak tree. The flowers, ranging from white to purplish-pink, appear in late spring to midsummer.

Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris): These are deciduous woody vines with a sprawling habit. They can grow as long as 50 feet, with serrated leaves and white, flat-topped flower clusters that appear in early summer. This species clings easily to any structure or will ramble over the ground as a ground cover plant.

Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens): These are quite similar in appearance to the bigleaf hydrangea, but the leaves of this group are smoother in texture. Smallish shrubs, rarely growing more than 5 feet high, these very cold-hardy plants have an exceptionally long bloom period.

Here are nine gorgeous hydrangea types to beautify your summer yard.

Gardening Tip

Different hydrangea types have different pruning needs. Those that bloom on old wood, like bigleaf hydrangeas, should be pruned immediately after they flower, which gives the plant a chance to develop the wood that will produce next year's flowers. Those that bloom on new wood, such as "smooth" hydrangeas, should be pruned in later winter or early spring, just before new growth begins.

  • 01 of 09

    'Nikko Blue' (Hydranga macophylla 'Nikko Blue')

    Nikko blue hydrangea with blue flowers clustered together closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    'Nikko Blue' is a mophead form of bigleaf hydrangea, with large, somewhat sloppy clusters of flowers. It has the typical large serrated leaves common to this group of hydrangeas, but blooms somewhat earlier than most varieties of the group. The pink or blue clusters of flowers appear in June, lasting for up to two months. Acidic soils cause the flowers to be blue; alkaline soil produces pink flowers.

    • Native Area: Eastern United States
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6–9
    • Height: 4–6 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • 02 of 09

    'Rhapsody Blue' (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Rhapsody Blue')

    'Rhapsody Blue' hydrangea with purple flowers

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Because bigleaf varieties are chameleons, you can't take their colors for granted. That's why you shouldn't become complacent and think that buying a 'Rhapsody Blue' means that, automatically, you are going to have a bush with blue flowers right away. Depending on your soil conditions, you may have to work at it for a while. Rhapsody Blue is another mophead form, a shrub that is on the smallish side that may produce rich purple flowers in acidic soils. It is a good rebloomer, and has attractive yellow or orange foliage in fall.

    • Native Area: Eastern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–9
    • Height: 2–3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • 03 of 09

    'Lady in Red' (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Lady in Red')

    'Lady in Red' hydrangea with red blossoms
    McCorkle Nurseries

    'Lady in Red' is a lacecap form of bigleaf hydrangea, with the signature lacy circle of tightly packed buds surrounded by a loose ring of fully-opened flowers. But those "buds" in the center are actually the fertile flowers of the plant, and the bigger, prettier outer "flowers" are just sterile sepals. 'Lady in Red' is a small shrub, offering three seasons of interest. It has red stems and red-veined leaves. The lacecap flowers open in late spring, either pink or blue, depending on the soil's pH. Either way, the flowers then slowly mature to a lush burgundy rose. In fall, the leaves turn a rich purple color.

    • Native Area: Eastern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6–9
    • Height: 2 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • 04 of 09

    PeeGee Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata 'Grandiflora')

    PeeGee hydrangea with white and cream blooms

    The Spruce / Ariel Visci

    Often known as PeeGee hydrangea, H. paniculata 'Grandiflora', as well as other varieties of the species, is sometimes described as a "tree hydrangea," since it can be pruned to have a single trunk to create a tree-like appearance. Consequently, while the panicles (flowerheads) aren't particularly colorful, this is the type you'll want to grow when you need a specimen to make a statement with its striking plant form. As the cultivar name suggests, this plant has very large flower heads (up to 18 inches long), especially if you prune out competing leaders to create a tree form. The plant flowers robustly from mid to late summer.

    • Native Area: Eastern and southern China, Japan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 10–25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    'Bobo' (Hyrangea paniculata 'Bobo')

    'Bobo' hydrangea with white flowers

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Although it is another panicle-type hydrangea, 'Bobo' won't remind anyone of a tree at a mere 3 feet tall. If you have a small yard and wish to shoehorn one more plant into it in a tight space, this dwarf could be your answer. The plant is engulfed by white flowers in summer, which gradually turn pink as they age.

    • Native Area: Eastern and southern China, Japan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 30–36 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • 06 of 09

    Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia)

    Oakleaf hydrangea bush with white flowers

    Anne Norman / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    The whole Hydrangea genus is blessed with flower heads that dry right on the living shrub—adding a bit of visual interest to your fall yard. But great fall foliage is not a feature for which these shrubs are generally known—except for the oakleaf type (H. quercifolia), which is an excellent shrub for fall color. The leaves of this shrub turn purple, orangey-bronze, or red in the fall. The oakleaf hydrangea is named for its distinctive lobed leaves. It produces white flowers in late spring to mid-summer, which gradually turn pinkish as they age. It is a moderate sized shrub that makes for a good informal hedge. Because it blooms on old wood, any pruning you do should be completed immediately after flowering is finished.

    • Native Area: Eastern and southern China, Japan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–9
    • Height: 6–8 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade
  • 07 of 09

    Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris)

    Climbing hydrangea on the side of a home with white flowers
    Perry Mastrovito / Design Pics / Getty Images

    Vine lovers will be happy to learn that there is a form of hydrangea that grow as a vine. But climbing hydrangeas (H. anomala subsp. petiolaris) are not just vines—they're flowering vines that grow well in the shade, year after year. If you've ever surveyed the list of vines that meet those qualifications, you know that the pickings are pretty slim (at least in the North). This vine will become a fixture in your shade garden.

    • Native Area: Japan; Sakhalin, Russia; Korea; Taiwan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Height: 30–50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade
  • 08 of 09

    'Invincibelle Spririt' (Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Spirit')

    'Invincibelle Spirit' hydrangea with deep pink flowers

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    The H. abrorescens group of bigleaf hydrangeas was long dominated by 'Annabelle', valued for the impressive balls of white flowers that earned it the nickname "snowball bush." But 'Annabelle' has white flowers only. 'Invincibelle Spirit' is an improvement, offering pink flowers on plant that otherwise has all Annabelle's virtues.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9
    • Height: 3–4 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    'Incrediball' (Hydrangea aborescence 'Incrediball')

    'Incrediball' hydrangea with white flowers

     

    skymoon13 / Getty Images 

    Another drawback of the H. aborescence classic, 'Annabelle', was the fact that the large blooms caused the branches to flop. The 'Incrediball' cultivar corrects that flaw. Despite the fact that 'Incrediball' has even larger puffy white flowers that hover over the foliage like clouds, its stems are sturdy enough to prevent the flopping that plagued 'Annabelle'. 'Incrediball' should be pruned down by one-third its height each spring, before new growth has begun.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9
    • Height: 4–5 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

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