Planting hydrangeas: in pots or garden beds

Planting hydrangeas: in pots or garden beds

All the information on planting hydrangeas in beds or pots, soil requirements and the best plants to accompany hydrangeas can be found here.

The Hydrangea genus consists of a large number of various species. The most notable and also most frequently found representative found in most gardens is the bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). Here is our guide on how to plant hydrangeas in the garden, regardless of which hydrangea species you decide to choose.

Planting hydrangeas

This section contains all the information on the right location and soil requirements of the hydrangea. We also discuss the differences between growing hydrangeas in pots, in garden beds or as hedges. Additionally, tips on replanting and the best plants to accompany hydrangeas can be also found here.

Planting hydrangeas: the ideal location

Many of the woody and mostly shrubby hydrangeas originate from the temperate latitudes of East Asia. Their natural habitat lies in the undergrowth of native forests. Because of this, hydrangeas growing in nature tend to not be exposed to much light. Therefore, even the hydrangeas we plant in our gardens should occupy a more of a shaded place. However, a place with a semi-shade is the best option. If there is too much shade, the vigour with which hydrangeas usually grow is negatively impacted. Without enough light, the plant develops only long and thin-leaved shoots and the flowering is diminished too. Hydrangeas can get gradually used to a sunny location, but because they simultaneously require a large amount of water, they can dry out unexpectedly quickly in the sun.

Plant hydrangeas: soil requirements

The soil intended for hydrangeas must meet certain requirements. It is not a disadvantage if the pH value of the soil is slightly more acidic. A pH value between 4 and 5 is optimal. However, it should not rise above 5.5. Should the hydrangeas develop a bright blue colour, the pH value of the soil should generally be somewhat lower than for their pink, red or white counterparts. If the pH value is slightly more alkaline, it does not have any drastic or life-threatening effects on the growth of hydrangea. Nevertheless, an alkaline pH value can in the long run lead to deficiency symptoms or the desired colour of the flowers might not form.

To ensure the best soil conditions for the hydrangea, it is best to use an organic fertiliser with a long-term effect when planting. The slowly released nutrients and the activation of the soil life are a good basis for a healthy hydrangea. Fertilisation is particularly important in pots, as the nutrients are used up more quickly than in beds due to the smaller substrate volume.

Here you will find further information on hydrangea deficiency symptoms.

In addition to minding the right pH value of the soil, it is vital to meet the water supply requirements of hydrangeas. Damage caused by drought can occur quickly. For this reason, it is recommended to select a location with a soil that has decent water storage capacity. At the same time, though, the subsoil must not be prone to waterlogging, as that could rapidly lead to root rot and the subsequent death of the plant.

Summary:

  • Keep the pH value between 4 and 5.5
  • Soil with good water storage ability
  • Avoid waterlogging
  • Semi-shade location

Planting hydrangeas: in a pot or in a garden bed?

Hydrangeas can not only be cultivated in garden beds but also as potted plants. If you just can’t get enough of the beautiful hydrangeas, we’ll also show you how to plant a hydrangea hedge.

Planting hydrangeas in pots

With regard to the location requirements, it makes no difference whether the hydrangea is planted in a flower pot or in the bed. Especially in a pot, the hydrangea is the happiest in a semi-shade location. This is because the hydrangea has to be watered more often in a pot than in a bed and the sun dries out the soil in the pot a lot quicker, of course. Additionally, the plant pot should be spacious enough.

Since hydrangeas prefer a slightly more acidic pH value in the root zone, it is recommended to use rhododendron or azalea substrate for planting. For an optimal water supply from the beginning, the hydrangea can be dipped into a bucket filled with water just before planting. The plant is kept completely under water until no more air bubbles rise. After planting, you should water the hydrangea thoroughly again so that the loosened substrate settles and the roots have access to water and nutrients.

Summary:

  • Semi-shady location
  • Choose a large enough flower pot
  • Water the hydrangea well before planting
  • Use rhododendron or azalea substrate
  • Do not forget to water after planting

Planting hydrangeas in garden beds

If the gardener plans to plant the hydrangeas out in the garden and a suitable location has been found, there is one more step to consider before anything else. For soils with too high a pH value, it may be a good idea to dig a slightly larger hole. In this way, there is more space for some added substrate with a suitable pH value, such as rhododendron substrate. Just like with the potted hydrangeas, the plants should be watered well before and after planting. You can loosen up the soil around the plants to enable the hydrangea to take root. Do not compact the loosened up soil around the planted hydrangea! It is a common misconception that by stepping on the ground surrounding the plant it helps it to ‘hold better’ in the soil.

Summary:

  • If necessary, replace some soil in the garden bed with a substrate with a suitable pH value (for example, with rhododendron substrate)
  • Water the hydrangea well before planting
  • The soil around the hydrangea should be loose and airy
  • Do not plant hydrangeas too deep in the ground
  • Press the substrate only lightly and do not compress it by stepping on it vigorously
  • Water the hydrangea thoroughly so that the substrate settles

Growing hydrangeas as hedging plants

Gardeners often prefer to grow hydrangeas as hedges. Unfortunately, the much beloved bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) is not adapted to this purpose well. Firstly, the way that the bigleaf hydrangea grows does not fit the shape of a hedge, and secondly, most of its varieties cannot be pruned without suffering a loss of vigour in their bloom. There is no reason for despair though, it is possible to opt for other hydrangea species to keep as a hedge. The panicled hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), for example, is very well suited for this purpose. It can be prepared to grow as a hedge by being pruned into the desired shape. The colour range of hedging hydrangeas is somewhat limited. Unfortunately, only white or light pink hydrangea species can be grown as hedging plants. When planted at a distance of one metre, a dense hedge will quickly develop. In order to upkeep the hydrangea hedge, it must be watered regularly and pruned in autumn or spring.

Summary:

  • The best hydrangea species to grow as a hedging plant is the panicled hydrangea
  • Plant the hydrangeas at a distance of 1 m
  • Water regularly
  • Prune annually (in autumn or spring) to maintain the shape (cut back up to half the shoot length)

Repotting hydrangeas

Repotting plants is often associated with effort and stress for the plants – and it is exactly the case with hydrangeas. It would therefore be ideal if the plant was moved as seldom as possible. If replanting cannot be avoided, here are a few tips and tricks to help the hydrangea adapt to the changed location with ease.

hydrangeas in pots
From time to time, all plants, including hydrangeas, should be repotted [Shutterstock.com/ Tania Zbrodko]

Replanting hydrangeas: the right time

The best season to move hydrangeas is autumn. In autumn, the plants conserve energy because they no longer have to grow new shoots. Fresh foliage consumes a lot of water. This lets the hydrangeas concentrate on developing new and healthy roots. Of course, hydrangeas can be theoretically replanted in spring or summer but then the risk of damage caused by drought increases. 

Replanting hydrangeas: instructions

Here is our step-by-step guide on how to move hydrangeas safely:

  • The best season to replant hydrangeas is autumn
  • Prepare the new planting hole
  • Remove a large amount of unnecessary roots
  • The diameter of the root ball should fit to the diameter of the entire plant
  • Carefully release the plant from its previous home
  • Make sure that the root ball remains as intact as possible
  • Plant the hydrangea at a new site

Companion plants for hydrangeas

Even if hydrangeas grow as stand-alone plants, they are truly stunning. But in combination with other beauties of the plant world, their glory can be enhanced even further. Here are some suitable companion plants that will compliment hydrangea’s glory:

Companion plants for hydrangeas in garden beds

The garden bed looks the best if there is always something blooming in it. It is just the case for shrub beds too. It is therefore a great idea to plant various perennials around the hydrangea. The following plants do particularly well in hydrangea’s company:

  • Vibrantly coloured autumnal or winter grasses
  • Anemonae
  • Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla epipsila)
  • Christmas rose and black hellebores (Helleborus niger and Helleborus x hybridus)
  • Ferns
  • Bistorta 

Of course, many other plants can also be combined with hydrangeas. The most important thing is that they have the same location preferences as the hydrangeas (semi-shade).

Planting accompanying plants under the hydrangea

Another option on how to fill out the space in the hydrangea garden bed is to plant underneath it. Especially in the case of large and abundantly branched hydrangea specimens, there can often be a large amount of ground space left uncovered. Here are some plants that can grow perfectly beneath the hydrangea:

  • Spring growing and flowering bulbous and tuberous plants such as daffodils, tulips or crocuses 
  • Let shade-compatible ground cover plants like ivy (Hedera helix) or bugleweed (Ajuga) thrive in the shade of the lavishly branched hydrangea


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