How to Care for Hydrangeas—Whether Potted, Planted, or in a Bouquet

These garden experts teach you how to plant, grow, and maintain healthy, vibrant hydrangea blooms.

Hydrangeas may be just about everywhere, but these pretty flowers take a little bit of care to grow into the big blooms you know and love. Whether they're in a vase, blooming in the backyard, or flourishing in a planter, these beautiful, lush blooms are classic. As with any flower, though, keeping up with hydrangea spring care is important—and so is what you do the rest of the year. These flowers certainly need their fair share of TLC. So pick up some trusty gardening tools and get ready to get your hands dirty—your hydrangeas will thank you.

Hydrangea Care in Vase
Getty Images

How to Care for a Hydrangea Bouquet

Examine the blooms for signs of damage.

When you're choosing your hydrangeas at the store, look for healthy, bright green leaves with bouncy blooms. "Check for any browning spots on the petals, which would indicate sun damage," says Callie Bladow, former production director at BloomThat. "Also, due to cold storage of cut flowers, keep an eye on dark petals which could indicate the blooms have touched the side of a refrigerator. You want a flowering hydrangea that feels sturdy and not soft or spongy." If you choose a healthy bouquet, it should last up to two weeks.

Cut garden-grown flowers with a sharp floral knife.

If you're lucky to have garden hydrangeas, it's easy to bring them indoors for a beautiful arrangement. Using a sharp floral knife or clean kitchen shears, cut them on a bias (a 45-degree angle) and place them in a bowl of lukewarm water while you're working outside. "The best time of the day to cut your hydrangea blooms is in the morning," Bladow says. "Choose the most mature and full-looking blooms and leave the others to keep blooming. Fully-bloomed hydrangeas will look more 'papery' than the young-budded blooms."

Prep them with alum powder.

Hydrangeas produce a sap at the bottom of the stems that needs to be sealed off so they can soak up water. "After you cut the stem on a bias, dip the stem in alum powder, which is an onion powder that you can pick up at your local grocery store in the spice aisle," Bladow says. "All it takes is a simple dip of the bottom of the stem, and then straight into the vase." If you don't have alum powder, you can dip the stem in boiling water for about 10 seconds, which will produce the same effect. Also, remove the leaves from the stem since they'll hog all the water in the vase.

Get creative arranging with different flowers.

You can go with a classic all-hydrangea flower arrangement, or experiment with mixing in different flowers or using unique vases. "I love using glass apothecary jars that have larger bases and small vase necks," Bladow says. "The other way that we love designing with hydrangeas is to use them as grids for other flowers. There are multiple stems on the hydrangea head that keep other flowers secure, so just stick them into the flower head." You can arrange hydrangeas with all types of flowers—she recommends roses, dahlias, and freesia, with some greenery like lemon leaf or variegated pittosporum.

Change the water daily.

"Hydrangeas like cool water and it should be changed every other day with a fresh snip of the stems," Bladow says. "You can add in a little flower food or simple cane sugar from your pantry in the vase." Make sure to keep your arrangement out of direct sunlight. And if your flowers are looking sad, Bladow suggests soaking the entire hydrangea in cool water for about 45 minutes. Shake them off, cut the bottom of the stem, and place them in water with flower food. It might help revive your hydrangeas and increase their shelf life.

Fluffy pink and purple hydrangea plants
Getty Images

How to Grow Hydrangeas in Your Garden

Plant hydrangeas in the spring or fall.

"The best time to plant hydrangeas is when temperatures are mild in spring and fall," says Ryan McEnaney, a spokesperson for Endless Summer Hydrangeas. "In spring, wait until you've passed your final frost and the ground is thawed enough to dig easily. In fall, be sure not to wait until late, when a frost could damage the plant." If you want to plant in the summer, avoid doing so on very hot and bright days. These blooms are at their peak in mid-summer through fall.

Grow hydrangeas in a part-shade location.

Hydrangeas grow best in partial shade areas. "Make sure that there is enough space for the hydrangea to grow into, that the soil is amended as needed, and that there is the proper amount of sunlight," McEnaney says. He recommends placing the hydrangeas in an area that gets about five to six hours of morning sun, followed by dappled (or patchy) shade. If you live in warmer regions, plant where the blooms can get two to three hours of morning sun and partial shade in the afternoon.

Plant with full-grown dimensions in mind and then fertilize.

"Dig a hole slightly larger than the pot your hydrangea came in, keeping in mind that you want to leave enough space in the garden for the hydrangea to mature to its full size," McEnaney says. "Add a small amount of high-phosphorus fertilizer to the bottom of the hole, then remove the plant from its container and slightly loosen the roots with your fingers. Place the plant in the hole, making sure that the crown of the plant (where the base of the stem meets the soil) is even with the ground level." After you put the hydrangeas in the ground, cover them with soil and water. Hydrangeas prefer loamy (mixture of sand and silt with a bit of clay) and moist soil, so make sure you frequently check it the first season or two to ensure that it isn't dry or soaking wet.

Keep in mind that hydrangeas from seed grow slowly.

It's OK to cheat and buy a shrub from your local gardening center, instead of trying to grow your hydrangeas from seeds—especially since seeds are hard to come by. "If you're able to obtain seeds, you must sow or scatter the seeds in the soil, taking extra care until they're germinated," McEnaney says. "To get the same size shrub as you would in your local garden center, it could take two to three years."

Water until the soil is moist but not soaking.

These flowers love water—so you'll want to keep them hydrated. "One common misconception, though, is that they need constant water," McEnaney says. "You want to ensure that the soil is moist, but not wet. Overwatering can actually cause the plant to grow without flowers. It's better to give it a heavy soaking once a day (or whenever the soil needs it), preferably in the morning or early afternoon, than various applications of less water." To find out if you need to water the plant, stick your fingers into the soil about an inch or two deep to see if it feels dry or wet.

Mulch around the plant in the winter.

Along with pruning dead stems and blooms, you should protect your hydrangeas during the winter. "Add an extra layer of mulch, leaves, or pine straw up to 6 to 8 inches high to provide tender buds protection from drastic temperature changes, cold nights, and high winter winds," McEnaney says. "It's sometimes helpful for younger plants to add a cage to add more protection—and keep the bunnies out."

Hydrangea Care in Pot
Getty Images

Tips for Planting Hydrangea in Pots

Choose a pot that drains well and is the right size.

Caring for potted plants is slightly different than tending to a large garden bed. "Make sure that the bottom of your container has holes to allow excess water to flow through," McEnaney says. "If there's no drainage and too much water collects around the roots, it can prevent blooms from developing and cause the leaves to wilt." For pot size, it ultimately depends on how many hydrangeas you want to plant inside and if you want to use any other kinds of flowers. With larger containers, because they hold more soil and more water, you won't have to water them as frequently.

Plant the hydrangea using potting soil.

When it comes to the planting process, it's similar to what you would do with in-ground hydrangeas, but you'll use pre-mixed, bagged potting soil. "Fill the decorative container with potting soil, leaving roughly eight inches open on top," McEnaney says. "Place the hydrangea in the center of the container and fill with soil." Leave 1 inch of space between the soil and top of the container so nothing will overflow when you water the plant. If you have a larger container, you can also mix in other flowers for a colorful look.

Water the plant almost daily to prevent dry soil.

Like in-ground hydrangeas, the ones in planters need a lot of water. To determine if your flowers need water, you can use the same method of sticking your fingers in the soil to gauge dryness. McEnaney says container hydrangeas might need more water since they're not established in the ground and have less soil to soak up the water from.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles