Types of hydrangeas: best hydrangea varieties for your garden

Types of hydrangeas: best hydrangea varieties for your garden

This article gives an overview of the most beautiful types of hydrangeas: from Endless Summer to Annabell and countless others, these are our favourites.

The genus Hydrangea consists of a large number of different species. All hydrangeas have a shared origin from the continents of America and Asia. Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs, which means that they are covered with leafy foliage in summer and they lose the leaves as winter approaches. The star among hydrangeas is the Hydrangea macrophylla, which originates from Japan and is commonly known as the French hydrangea or the bigleaf hydrangea. Its characteristic inflorescences are either spherical but can also be flat and shaped like a plate or peppered in various degrees with the large ornamental flowers. Interestingly, these flowers are actually mock flowers and are sterile.

The flowers that actually propagate the seeds of hydrangeas and are used for reproduction are much smaller. They are clearly visible in the centre of the plate-flowered hydrangeas. Other hydrangea species can also form panicle-shaped inflorescences. The growth height of hydrangeas is just as variable as the flower shape. Some species of these shrubs can reach impressive heights and seemingly touch the skies. The growth height varies from the minimum of 1.5 m to 10 m maximum.

Hydrangea species and their most beautiful varieties

The following is an overview of the most notable species and their best varieties within the genus Hydrangea. From the popular bigleaf hydrangea to the exotic Japanese tea of heaven hydrangea, we compiled a list of all of the notable hydrangeas for your garden.

Bigleaf hydrangea – Hydrangea macrophylla

The bigleaf hydrangea is widely beloved by the gardeners. The colour spectrum of the decorative mock flowers ranges from white to pink to red. With provided aluminium-based fertilisation and the right pH value, pink and red varieties can be transformed into blue or violet-flowering hydrangeas thanks to the natural pigment delphinidin. A little problematic, however, is the fact that this species will form its flowers for the next year in the previous autumn. This makes pruning a bit challenging and requires special measures. Despite that, with some new varieties this problem no longer plays a role because they are partially remontant. This means that they bloom again and again throughout the year, even on new wood. Some gardening stores and other sellers also offer the bigleaf hydrangea with long stems.

Ball-shaped varieties of bigleaf hydrangea

As the heading suggests, these bigleaf hydrangeas have ball-shaped inflorescences. Among the ball-shaped bigleaf hydrangeas, the variety ‘Endless Summer’ is adored by numerous gardeners.

  • Endless Summer: a particularly vigorous, remontant variety, which also flowers on the new wood; pruning to maintain form possible without problems, but not necessary; available in the colours pink and blue.
  • Kanmara: a variety series with particularly large spherical inflorescences; strikingly vibrant dark green foliage; suitable as a potted plant; flowers in delicate watercolour tones; available in the colours rosé, champagne, lilac, pink, pink and white.
  • Magical: a variety series with very diverse flower shapes; lively colour change of the flowers; greening flowers with the bloom; available in the colours white, pink, red and blue/purple.
  • Forever&Ever: a variety with an interesting colour spectrum of the flower; a remontant variety which also flowers on the new wood; rather small but numerous umbel-shaped inflorescences; available in the colours white, pink, red and blue.
  • You and Me Romance: a variety with rather flat-edged inflorescence; very large mock flowers; mock flowers are filled with several petals; available in the colours pink and light blue.

Plate-shaped varieties of bigleaf hydrangea

The plate-shaped inflorescences of these bigleaf hydrangea varieties are especially stunning.

  • Hanabi: has full and voluminous mock flowers; white star-like flowers; slowly growing; lacks resilience in winter.
  • Pirate’s Gold: has a few pseudo flowers on the edges; more striking is the yellow-green leaf variegation; available in pink.
  • Tiffany: has large pseudo-flowers on the edges; the small, fertile flowers fall softly; rich in inflorescences; available in the colours pink and blue.

Panicled hydrangeas – Hydrangea paniculata

As the name suggests, Hydrangea paniculata is a hydrangea with panicle-shaped inflorescences. Since they form their flowers on annual new wood, they can be pruned back either in autumn or spring before sprouting. A more thorough pruning is not a problem. This species in fact suits a more compact and strongly branched look. The usual colouring of these hydrangeas ranges from white to cream. As the flowering progresses, however, an interesting colour change towards pink or even an intense red can occur, depending on the variety.

  • Grandiflora: has particularly large panicles; as the flowering period progresses the colour shifts from green (budding stage) to white to pink in the stage of fading; vigorous growth.
  • Limelight: with large panicles; long-lasting green budding stage, followed by white to light yellow flowering; inflorescences can be dried well.
  • Little Lime: a demanding but beautifully flowering variety; compact growth; hues of colours from lime green to white to pale pink.
  • Phantom: its panicles are very large but compressed in length; compact growth; regular pruning required.
  • Wim’s Red: the flower panicles are very long and loose; white flowers change colour to strong red as they fade; expansive growth habit requires a lot of space.

Smooth hydrangeas – Hydrangea arborescens

Smooth hydrangeas stand out in any garden because of their huge round inflorescences, which they form in vast numbers. They are very robust and extremely hardy. However, representatives of the North American species tend to drop and hang their stems sideways under the weight of the large inflorescences. This may be a good reason to provide the plant with support. Smooth hydrangeas can easily be propagated from root cuttings as they form underground runners. The variety Annabell is particularly popular among the smooth hydrangeas.

  • Annabell: creamy white and greening when faded; very large umbel-shaped inflorescences; flexible in terms of light conditions at the site; thorough pruning recommended in spring.
  • Grandiflora: white flowers; vigorous growth; support of shoots required; very hardy in winter.
  • Hayes Starbust: the flower remains beautiful for a long time in the faded green stage; delicate, star-shaped pseudo-flowers; also vigorous in growth and resilient in winter.

Oakleaf hydrangea – Hydrangea quercifolia

A special feature of this hydrangea species is its characteristic oak leaf shaped lobed leaves. The flowers have a panicle-like structure. In autumn, both the striking foliage and the inflorescences are gorgeously hued. Just like Hydrangea macrophylla, the oakleaf hydrangea already forms its flowers in autumn. Generous pruning would endanger the developing flower.

Hydrangea sargentiana 

This species is in some languages, for example in German, also called ‘velvet hydrangea’ because of its thickened, elongated and velvety leaves. The woody shrub is very vigorous and should therefore be given a generous amount of space in the garden. Here, too, caution should be exercised when pruning because the flowering can be endangered. In an exposed location, winter protection measures may be useful, as this hydrangea may be sensitive to frost. The inflorescences are plate-shaped with large, sterile, marginal pseudo-florets.

Climbing hydrangea – Hydrangea petiolaris

The climbing hydrangea has, as the name suggests, a unique ability to climb when growing. Its white flowers are also plate-shaped with pseudo-florets on the edges. The foliage is similar to that of Hydrangea macrophylla. Pruning to shape the plant is not necessary. However, it can be beneficial if weak or dead shoots are regularly removed. This species also forms the flower buds in the previous autumn, so that protection from cold temperatures – especially during shoot growth – can be useful.

hydrangea petiolaris
Some hydrangeas can also grow as climbing plants [Shutterstock.com/ bevz tetiana]

Tea of heaven hydrangea – Hydrangea serrata

This hydrangea species is often confused with the plate-shaped flowering Hydrangea macrophylla varieties. This is understandable, as they have many shared similarities due to the identical geographical origin. However, the plate-shaped inflorescences of the tea of heaven hydrangea are much smaller. The height of the plant is also below that of the Hydrangea macrophylla. The compact growing species scores with an early beginning of flowering and a more pronounced winter hardiness. This makes it superior, because the tea of heaven hydrangea also plants the buds for the following flower in autumn. Pruning is therefore not advisable, especially as it has a small, well branching habit. Its flowers can also take on the colours white, pink and red and can be transformed into blue or purple by aluminium fertilisation and the appropriate pH value.

Once you have decided on one of the many hydrangea varieties, the next step is planting hydrangeas. All important information can be found in this article.

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