Hydrangea Types and How to Choose the Best for Your Garden

pink hydrangea bush in perennial garden
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Hydrangea Types and How to Choose the Best for Your Garden

How to Choose Hydrangea Types That Will Grow and Look Best in Your Garden

Who doesn’t LOVE hydrangea flowers? It’s one of the most planted and easily recognized flowering deciduous shrubs. Hydrangeas are so versatile, adding appeal to nearly every garden style: pollinator, cottage, English, border, foundation, and even container gardens. Within the genus there are species and types with important differences to understand when choosing the best hydrangea for your garden. Read on to learn more.

There are two species of hydrangea, one blooms on old wood and one on new wood. Within the species there are types. We’ll dig into those below, too.

Species: Old Wood Blooming Hydrangeas

These species of hydrangea bloom on last years’ growth in spring. They include these types: bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla) and oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia). Mountain hydrangea (H. serrata) can bloom on both old and new wood.

Prune old wood hydrangea bushes after they bloom in the summer. Why? Because the old wood holds the flower buds that will open in the coming summer, pruning before they bloom would remove the flower buds.

bigleaf hydrangea with blue bloomsbigleaf hydrangea with blue blooms

Old Wood Type 1: Bigleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla)


Commonly called: bigleaf hydrangea, mophead hydrangea, and lacecap hydrangea.

How to identify: rounded habit, flower clusters can be lacecap (flattened) or mophead (round), dark green leaves 4-8” long

  • Sunlight requirements: part shade
  • Soil: rich, medium moisture, well-drained
  • Prune: old wood, prune after flowering in summer
  • Native to Japan.
  • Included in the bigleaf hydrangea collection are All Summer Beauty Hydrangea, Endless Summer® Hydrangea, Everlasting® Hydrangea, Nikko Blue Hydrangea, and Hydrangea Let's Dance selections, to name a few.

oakleaf hydrangea with pink bloomsoakleaf hydrangea with pink blooms

Old Wood Type 2: Oakleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercificola)

Commonly called: oakleaf hydrangea.

How to identify: upright habit, pyramidal shaped blooms of white flowers that change to pink, broad 3-7 lobed leaves (that resemble oak leaves), taller and sometimes called hydrangea trees

  • Sunlight requirements: sun to part shade
  • Soil: organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained soils; thrives in moist soil
  • Prune: old wood, prune after flowering in summer
  • Native to Southeastern U.S.
  • Gatsby Pink® Hydragea is a popular choice in the oakleaf hydrangea collection.

Species: New Wood Blooming Hydrangea

This species of hydrangea bloom on their new growth in spring. The types include panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata) and smooth hydrangea (H. arborescens). Mountain hydrangea (H. serrata) can bloom on both new and old wood.

Because new wood blooming hydrangea produce flower buds from young, new growth the buds don’t yet exist in the branches during winter. So, this species can be pruned in late winter and early spring before the new growth begins.

panicle hydragea blooms in chartreusepanicle hydragea blooms in chartreuse

New Wood Type 1: Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata)

Commonly called: panicle hydrangea.

How to identify: upright habit, cone-shaped flower clusters, oval dark green leaves, weight of flowers typically causes branches to arch downward

  • Sunlight requirements: sun to part shade
  • Soil: organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained
  • Prune: new wood, prune before flowering in late winter to early spring
  • Native to China and Japan.
  • Included in the panicle hydrangea collection are 'Limelight' Hydrangeas, Little Lime Hydrangea®, Vanilla Strawberry™ Hydrangea, Bobo Hydrangea®, and Little Lime Punch® Hydrangea, and many more named varieties.

huge white blooms on smooth hydrangea bushhuge white blooms on smooth hydrangea bush

New Wood Type 2: Smooth Hydrangea (H. arborescens)

Commonly called: smooth hydrangea, wild hydrangea.

How to identify: widely branched (like a small tree), broad, sharply toothed leaves, white flowers in flat clusters

  • Sunlight requirements: part shade
  • Soil: average, medium moisture, well-drained soils
  • Prune: New wood, prune before flowering in late winter to early spring
  • Native to Eastern U.S.
  • Popular named varieites include Annabelle Hydrangea, Invincibelle® Hydrangeas, and Incrediball Hydrangeas®.

closeup of pink mountain hydragea blooms just beginning to flowercloseup of pink mountain hydragea blooms just beginning to flower

Mountain Hydrangea (H. serrata)

Some varieties bloom on new wood, some on old wood, but for best overall blooming, avoid pruning and protect plants on spring nights when frost or a freeze is expected.

Commonly called: hydrangea.

How to identify it: rounded habit, similar looking to big leaf hydrangea with smaller flowers and leaves, flowers form lacecap clusters and often with a marginal ring on the florets, with toothed, dull green leaves

  • Sunlight requirements: part shade
  • Soil: rich, medium moisture, well-drained soils
  • Prune: varies
  • Native to Japan and Korea.
  • This collection includes selections from the Hydrangea Dynamo® and Hydrangea Tuff Stuff™ varieties. 

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