Types of Hydrangeas: A Visual Guide

Types of Hydrangeas: A Visual Guide

Hydrangeas are a classic flower that are a favorite amongst florists and gardeners. Their large, round flower heads are what distinguish them from other flowers. But did you know that there are five main types of hydrangeas?

Although blue and purple hydrangeas are one of the first colors that come to mind, most species are actually white. In addition, hydrangea leaves can vary from bigleaf to oakleaf types that display bright colors during the fall.

To help you find the right hydrangea for your home and garden, we’ve outlined the five main types of hydrangeas and their unique and distinguishing factors including growing conditions, flower shapes, and different flower colors. We’ve also created a visual guide so that you can easily reference the different characteristics of each hydrangea type.

Types of Hydrangeas

1. Bigleaf Hydrangea

Known by their scientific name as Hydrangea macrophylla, bigleaf hydrangeas are the most common type of hydrangea. Other common names include florist’s hydrangea, garden hydrangea, and French hydrangea. Chances are the hydrangeas at your local florist’s shop are bigleaf hydrangeas.

There are three main types of bigleaf hydrangeas:

1. Mophead hydrangeas are the most recognizable and popular hydrangea due to their large puffy flower heads. Their flowers can be purple, blue, or pink, and they thrive in hardiness zone 6. The flower buds of mophead hydrangeas can be sensitive to the cold, and therefore may not survive the winter months.


2. Lacecap hydrangeas are almost identical to mophead hydrangeas with the only difference existing in their flowers. They have tiny fertile flower buds in the center, with showy flowers that circle the edge of the flower head. These showy flowers are sterile, and their only purpose is to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies to the fertile buds in the center. Like mophead hydrangeas, they thrive in hardiness zone 6.


3. Mountain hydrangeas are the least common type of bigleaf hydrangea. Scientifically known as Hydrangea serrata, it bears a similar resemblance to lacecap hydrangeas with its flattened heads but has much smaller flowers and leaves. Mountain hydrangeas have hardier buds and thrive in hardiness zone 5 — making them a great choice for areas with late winter cold snaps.


True to its name, the characteristic that distinguishes the bigleaf hydrangeas from other types of hydrangeas is their leaf size. Bigleaf hydrangeas leaves can grow to about 4”-6” long and 3”-5” wide. The leaves are thick, shiny and heart-shaped with short stems.

Bigleaf hydrangeas prefer shade but not too much shade, as it can result in reduced flowering. Their bloom times occur during June and July and they prefer moist and well-drained soil. It is important to keep the bigleaf hydrangeas watered on a consistent basis as they are sensitive to drought.

It is possible to change the color of your hydrangeas by altering the acidity of the soil. Acidic soil at pH 5.5 or below, will produce blue flowers. Neutral or alkali soils at pH 6.5 and higher, will produce pink flowers. For soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5, either purple flowers or a combination of blue and pink flowers will be produced.

2. Smooth Hydrangea


Also known as wild hydrangeas, the smooth hydrangea is native to the United States. It is a large shrub that can grow up to six feet tall, and is usually planted as a hedge plant. Its scientific name, Hydrangea arborescens, is derived from the word “arbor” meaning tree due to its branching patterns and size.

Unlike bigleaf hydrangeas, the smooth hydrangea can tolerate hotter climates and thrive in hardiness zones 4 to 9. Their bloom time occurs between June and September and their flowers are typically white and smaller than the bigleaf varieties. Upon first opening, their flowers will appear green and whiten as they mature. The smooth hydrangea is a low-maintenance plant and can prefer to be exposed to full sun and partial shade within the same day.

The most striking cultivar of smooth hydrangea is the “Annabelle,” — which is a name that is commonly used to refer to all smooth hydrangeas. The name is inspired by the town of Anna, Illinois, where the first smooth hydrangea was first discovered in the 1960s. The Annabelle produces white, round flower heads that look like large snowballs and can grow to be 12 inches in diameter.

3. Panicle Hydrangea


Panicle hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata, are known for their long panicles from which their large flowers bloom. Their cone-shaped panicles can range from six to 18 inches long, as opposed to the bulb-shaped flower heads of other hydrangeas. Their flowers will first appear as white, but as the plant grows older, the flowers may turn pink.

Out of all the hydrangeas, panicle hydrangeas are the most cold-hardy, and can thrive in hardiness zones four to seven. Native to Japan and China, they are one of the few types of hydrangeas that need several hours of sun and can even tolerate full sun. They flower from mid to late summer and the flowers can last a long time.

Because panicle hydrangeas have such persistent flowers, they are great for drying or for use as cut flowers to decorate your home. Their unique cone-shaped height makes them a great addition to any bouquet or centerpiece.

The PeeGee or ‘Grandiflora’ hydrangea is the most popular cultivar of panicle hydrangeas. As with all panicle hydrangeas, they grow into large shrubs and can easily be pruned into trees. However, the PeeGee hydrangea, in particular, can grow exceptionally large and reaching heights of up to 25 feet.

4. Oakleaf Hydrangea


The oakleaf hydrangea is named for its foliage which is shaped like oak tree leaves. In fact, its scientific name, Hydrangea quercifolia, is derived from Latin word “quercifolia” which literally translates into “oakleaf.”

Not only do its leaves look like oak tree leaves, but the oakleaf hydrangea leaves also turn color during the fall as well and are the only type of hydrangeas that do this. Their leaves can range from golden orange and bright red, to deep mahogany—making them one of the most attractive shrubs for your fall garden.

The oakleaf hydrangea is one of the few hydrangeas native to the United States. The only other hydrangea that’s native to the US is the smooth hydrangea. The oakleaf hydrangea has white cone-shaped flower heads (similar to those of a panicle hydrangea) and can come in two forms: single blossom and double-blossom. Just like the panicle hydrangea, its flowers will gradually turn pink as the plant matures.

Sturdier than its cousins, the oakleaf hydrangea can withstand a wider range of climate conditions than most bigleaf hydrangeas. Oakleaf hydrangeas can survive drier conditions, and are more winter hardy. Unlike mopheads, these oakleaf hydrangeas need drier, well-drained soil as they are highly sensitive to waterlogging.

The oakleaf hydrangea is a popular choice for gardens because of its long-term benefits. Their flowers bloom in early summer and last until late summer. When fall begins, their leaves steal the show by turning into attractively bright orange and red colors. When planting them in your garden, avoid areas with deep shade as too much shade can actually cause their fall foliage colors to fade. Oakleaf hydrangeas thrive in hardiness zones five through nine.

5. Climbing Hydrangea


The climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea animola ssp. petiolaris, is the most distinct type of hydrangea because it is actually a vine. The climbing hydrangea is native to Asia and is also commonly called “Japanese hydrangea vine.” Native to Asia, the climbing hydrangea is becoming increasingly popular for its ability to climb up walls and other structures — even reaching up to 80 feet!

It takes a patient gardener to reap the benefits of the climbing hydrangea as it is a slow-growing plant that can take three to four years to show signs of growth. Once matured, these white hydrangeas with lacecap-like flowers will bloom that are known for their pleasant fragrance. Bloom time for the climbing hydrangea occurs from early to mid-summer and it is hardy in zones four through eight.

When planting climbing hydrangeas are grown as vines, keep in mind that they need substantial support for their thick and heavy vines. Although they are one of the few flowering vines that tolerate shade, they do prefer full sun or partial shade, but never full shade. Alternatively, climbing hydrangeas can be grown as shrubs when they don’t have a supporting structure and can reach three to four feet in height.

How to make your hydrangea bloom

A common problem that gardeners have is that their blooming can be unreliable. A plant that bloomed abundantly this year, may not bloom at all the next. Here are the three main reasons why your hydrangea is not blooming.

  1. Too much shade – Hydrangeas prefer shade, but too much can reduce flowering. Bigleaf hydrangeas prefer more shade than panicle hydrangeas which prefer full sun.

  2. Improper pruning – Different hydrangea types flower on different years’ growths. Bigleaf and oakleaf hydrangeas flower on the previous year’s growth so if you prune them during the fall, winter or spring, you are removing potential flower buds. Panicle and smooth hydrangeas flower on the current year’s growth, so pruning in early summer would eliminate the potential flower buds for the year.

  3. Unfavorable weather – Most hydrangea species are highly sensitive to weather changes. For hydrangea types that flower on previous year’s growths, weather conditions that damage the plant during the fall or winter can greatly reduce flowering in the summer. Damage can occur anytime before the plant is completely dormant, and most damage occurs due to freezes when temperatures drop below the norm during early fall, late spring, or winter.

A Guide To 7 Types of Hydrangeas

It’s easy to see how the hydrangea has become such a timeless flower. From home gardens to wedding centerpieces, it’s easy to incorporate these classic flowers into your decor. Use the guide below to help you identify the seven different types of hydrangeas and help you choose the one that’s best for your area so that you can enjoy their bountiful blooms year after year.


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Image Sources

Lacecap CC Image courtesy of Ken McMillan on Flickr

Smooth CC Image courtesy of Yoko Nekonomania on Flickr

Panicle CC Image courtesy of Leonora (Ellie) Enking on Flickr

Oakleaf CC Image courtesy of Eric in SF on Wikimedia Commons

Climbing CC Image courtesy of Meneerke bloem on Wikimedia Commons