Growing climbing hydrangeas: tips on varieties, care & propagation

Growing climbing hydrangeas: tips on varieties, care & propagation

Everything about climbing hydrangea – from planting and propagation to different varieties, including expert advice on the toxicity and care of the climbing hydrangea – can be found in this article.

Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea petiolaris) are becoming increasingly popular among hobbyist gardeners. And now wonder: the creeping or trailing hydrangea (which is how this decorative plant is also called) is not only easy to care for, but also tolerates forest, shade and decorates the garden with its blossoms in many different ways. For example, it can add some green to facades, function as a colourful privacy screen or as deciduous bee-friendly plant.

Climbing hydrangeas: characteristics & origin

Like ivy (Hedera helix) or wild grapevine (Vitis vinifera subsp. sylvestris), the climbing hydrangea is a so-called self-climbing species. This means that it can climb up to ten metres on rough surfaces without any type of climbing aid by just using its adhesive roots. However, this climbing beauty can not only grow upwards. The climbing hydrangea is extremely versatile in its growth: if, for example, there is no climbing possibility, it can also be cultivated on the ground. Alternatively, if grown underneath trees, it will wrap itself around the tree trunks with its creeping vines.

Originally from Taiwan, Korea and Japan, the plant is now well established in temperate latitudes in Europe. Facades become a sight for sore eyes thanks to this stunning climbing plant. A little patience will come in handy, though: this gorgeous creeper only begins to flower for the first time after five to eight years of growing. The inflorescences appear in the form of flat umbrella-shaped panicles up to 25 centimetres in size. These consist of small, hermaphroditic four- to five-fold flowers and the marginal, sterile, approximately three centimetre-large flowers of white colour. The flowers appear between June and July and, with their sweet scent, they attract various pollinators as well as other types of important insects, such as bumblebees, bees or butterflies.

The climbing hydrangea takes its time not just with its blossoms. The growth rate of this plant is also quite slow, especially in the beginning. However, if the climbing hydrangea is provided with good growing conditions, the growth rate will accelerate after the first couple of years (it can grow up to one metre per year!). The leaves of this deciduous ornamental plant are dark green, arranged in opposite directions and have a roundish to ovoid shape. A special feature of the climbing hydrangea is that it tolerates both frost and shade. This means that it can be cultivated without any issues in locations that are not suitable for many other plants.

If you are looking for other plants to grow in shady areas of your garden, have a look at our list of plants that thrive in shade.

Climbing hydrangea varieties

At present, there is a decent number of different varieties of climbing hydrangea to choose from. Below you can find the main varieties that are currently on the market.

Here are some of the types of climbing hydrangea:

  • ‘Miranda’: grows to about 3 m in height, cream to white flowering variety; green leaves with a pastel yellow border
  • ‘Cordifolia’: cream-coloured flowers with heart-shaped leaves; small, slow-growing up to 2 m in height
  • ‘Silver Lining’: grows up to 3 m tall, light green leaves with white and silver edges, white flower
  • ‘Semiola’: a new variety that keeps its leaves in mild winters; copper red shoots and white flowers

We have prepared a more in-depth overview of hydrangea varieties here.

Note on evergreen climbing hydrangeas: With most creeping hydrangea varieties, the leaves begin to turn bright yellow in autumn before falling off. However, you can choose to grow an evergreen climbing hydrangea in your garden. One of the evergreen creeping varieties is the above-mentioned variety ‘Semiola’. This new variety retains its leaves in mild winters and is especially beautiful to look at because of its copper-red young shoots.

If you are looking for other evergreen climbing plants to grow in your garden, read here.

Planting climbing hydrangea: where & how

When planting the climbing hydrangea, the choice of location and the right procedure are the most important factors that will determine the well-being of the plant in the future.

Where to plant climbing hydrangea

Climbing hydrangeas can be planted in a variety of locations, as they tolerate both shady and sunny spots. The climbing plant prefers to root in permeable, moist and rich in humus soils that are not compacted and have an acidic to neutral pH value. If possible, we recommend placing the climbing perennial in a location sheltered from the wind.

climbing hydrangea
By growing climbing hydrangeas, you will support bees and other pollinators in your garden [Shutterstock.com/abyrvalg00]

Tip: If you have just planted out your young hydrangeas fresh, it is important to ensure that the plants are not placed in locations with too much sun, otherwise their leaves may get sunburnt. Young hydrangeas are also slightly sensitive to late frosts during this phase.

Planting climbing hydrangea: instructions

It is very likely that the freshly purchased climbing hydrangea is in the pot in which it was pre-cultivated. This means that it has spent a significant amount of time in this small plastic pot, which is why it should be moved as soon as possible. If the contents of the pot are dry, it is advisable to place the plant in a water bath for about 10 minutes before planting out. This will allow the root ball to soak with water properly. After that, you can remove the plant from the old pot and place it into the planting hole.

The planting hole should be twice as deep and wide as the planting pot. Make sure that the soil underneath is well loosened and that there is no waterlogging – this is not tolerated by the climbing plants. At this point in the process, it is also a good idea to enrich the excavated soil with some compost and hydrangea fertiliser.

The hydrangea should then be planted as deeply as it was in the pot before. After that, it is crucial to water the newly planted creeper generously. In the next days and weeks, it is also better to check more often whether the soil is still moist. To ensure that as little water is lost as possible, you can also set up a watering ring around the plant. If you plan to plant several climbing hydrangeas, you should keep a distance of 0.6 metres between the climbing hydrangeas or other climbing plants you plant next to it. In general, you can plant all year round, but early spring is definitely the best.

Note on climbing aids: In principle, creeping hydrangeas can climb a wide variety of surfaces on their own just with the help of their roots. However, some experts still recommend offering a climbing aid, especially in wind-exposed locations or on very smooth surfaces, that can be hard for the plant to climb on. For plastered house walls, a climbing aid is also advisable to protect the wall from the adhesive roots, which can penetrate directly into the plaster. To do this, it is best to place the climbing aid at a distance of 10 to 15 centimetres from the house wall.

Tip: With age, climbing hydrangeas become very large but also very heavy. Therefore, make sure that your scaffolding is permanently weatherproof and stable. The wood of the black locust, for example, is both hard and tough and therefore very suitable as a climbing aid for the climbing hydrangea.

Summary: How to plant climbing hydrangea?

  • In dry conditions, place the plant in its old pot to soak in water for 10 minutes
  • Dig a planting hole twice as wide and deep as the planting pot
  • Enrich the excavated soil with some compost and hydrangea fertiliser
  • Plant the hydrangea with some of the excavated material
  • Fill the hole with soil and water the plant thoroughly
  • If needed, set up a watering ring around the plant
  • Planting distance between plants: 0,6 m

Climbing hydrangeas in pots

The climbing hydrangea can also be cultivated as privacy screen on a terrace or a balcony – all you need to do is provide the plant with a sufficiently large pot. The rule here is: the bigger, the better. In addition, the flower pot should have holes on the bottom to allow excess water to drain off. This is essential: climbing hydrangeas need to be watered often but they cannot tolerate stagnant moisture. To increase water drainage even more, you can add a layer of coarse material, such as perlite or gravel, to the bottom of the pot. In order for the plant to grow upwards, it should also be given a climbing aid. A trellis made of sturdy wood, for example, is a great option for this.

If you are on a hunt for other types of climbing plants for your garden wall or fence, read here.

Climbing hydrangea care

Great news! Climbing hydrangeas are robust and require only little care. Like all hydrangeas, however, they need sufficient moisture and nutrients. In the following, we discuss in detail how to care for climbing hydrangea.

Watering climbing hydrangeas

Climbing hydrangeas should not dry out, so if there is no rainfall you should water them additionally. The best way to check whether the substrate is already too dry simply with your fingers. Especially climbing hydrangeas grown in pots can dry out quickly and should therefore be checked more often. When watering, keep the leaves and flowers of the plants dry; in other words, water the plant from below. This is helpful in mildew prevention.

Tip: To keep the soil moist longer, you can create a mulch layer around your plant, for example with leaves, lawn cuttings or coarse compost.

Pruning climbing hydrangeas

Especially in the first years, climbing hydrangea do not have to be cut. Due to their slow growth it is sufficient to just remove dead wood and withered flowers. Only later does a rejuvenating cut become necessary. However, if the climbing plant gets out of shape beforehand or carries too much weight on one side, you might have to use scissors earlier. If you would like to prune for maintenance purposes, you can do this in spring or autumn.

Fertilising climbing hydrangeas

Hydrangeas love nutrient-rich soils. Because of their luxuriously blooming flowers, they need a lot of nutrient. For this purpose, we recommend incorporating fertilisers that are tailored to the needs of hydrangeas. These fertilisers can be used between May and August.

Propagating climbing hydrangea

A further advantage of the climbing hydrangea is that it can be multiplied very easily. In early summer, propagation can be carried out either by layering or cutting. Layering is a process of propagation, in which a shoot of the plant, which is close to the ground, is lowered towards the soil and fixed there. The shoot will now form aerial roots, which must then be lightly covered with humus-rich soil. For this method to work, it is important that the mother plant is established well, as it provides the shoot with water and nutrients in the transition phase.

If you want to propagate the climbing hydrangea via cuttings, look for soft annual shoots, which you can then cut off to a length of about 15 centimetres. The tip of the shoot is removed, and the leaves are cut in half so that the cuttings lose less liquid. Climbing hydrangea cuttings should then be placed in moist, nutrient-poor substrate and should develop roots after a few weeks. From September, the cuttings can be planted in their own pot. It is important that the plant is placed in a frost-free place over the winter. In spring, it can then be replanted in a larger pot and moved outside for the following year.

hydrangea petiolaris
Climbing hydrangeas can be grown freely in the garden but also in pots [Shutterstock.com/Flegere]

Are climbing hydrangeas poisonous?

In general, hydrangeas can cause discomfort to animals such as dogs, cats, hamsters or rabbits, as well as to humans if they are eaten. The complaints are manifested in various symptoms such as dizziness, circulatory problems, anxiety and shortness of breath. If an allergy exists, even skin contact can lead to a reaction of the body. Therefore, especially small children should be supervised and informed that the beautiful flowers are only for decoration. However, the flowers and leaves taste so bitter that they are usually not consumed in large quantities by either animals or humans.

Would you like to learn more about these romantic flowering shrubs? Then you will find everything you always wanted to know in our main article on growing hydrangeas.



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