6 Beautifully Diverse Types of Hydrangeas

Learn how to grow these globe-shaped blooms in your garden.

One blue hydrangea flower rising above the rest

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Hydrangeas make up a popular class of flowering shrub native to Asia and the Americas, although it was first cultivated in Japan. They are known and loved for their brilliant globe-shaped blooms, which provide color from spring through fall.

There are 75 known species of hydrangea. Most that are commercially available are cultivars derived from just six of those species, known commonly as smooth, panicle, bigleaf, climbing, oakleaf, and mountain. They differ in both their leaves and flowers. Some produce rounded blooms, while others' are flat or conical. Some produce leaves that are lobed like an oak tree's; others' are oval.

Learn about the six common hydrangea types and how to grow them in your garden.


Hydrangeas are toxic to cats and dogs. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

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Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Pink and purple mophead hydrangea flowers growing on bush

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Bigleaf hydrangeas are some of the most frequently found in U.S. flower gardens. Also called French hydrangeas, they're known for their large leaves—hence the name "bigleaf"—and rounded flower clusters.

This type of hydrangea is actually a group under which there are dozens of cultivars. The two most popular are mophead (Hydrangea macrophylla) and lacecap (Hydrangea macrophylla normalis). The two are almost identical except mopheads exhibit rounded flower heads whereas the lacecap's appear flattened. Mophead flowers last longer, too, blooming for up to six months.

Both mophead and lacecap flowers are blue or pink but also, less often, white. One benefit to planting the less-common lacecap variety is that its fertile flowers are a boon to pollinators.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Morning sun, afternoon shade.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining.
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Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)

Pink and white conical hydrangea flowers growing on bush

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What visually distinguishes the panicle hydrangea from other cultivars is its conical flower clusters. These tapered, football-sized blossoms aren't just pretty; they're also exceedingly reliable and hardy. You can count on panicle hydrangeas for a consistent bloom starting mid-summer and lasting through winter.

As the season progresses, you'll notice the panicles changing from green or white to lilac to pink in the fall, and, finally, to brown. The oval flowers of this cultivar also turn red during autumn, extending the bush's beauty past the prime of other hydrangea types.

Panicle hydrangeas are the most sun-tolerant and thought to be the easiest to grow of any other hydrangea. In the northern part of their optimal growing zone, they can even thrive in full sun.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining.
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Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)

Pink and blue flattened flowers among leafy bush

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Despite their native range being the warm U.S. southeast, smooth hydrangeas—aka wild hydrangeas—are surprisingly cold hardy. They are often planted as a substitute to the mophead cultivar in cooler climates. In the northernmost part of their range, they can survive freezing temperatures during winter.

Aesthetically, the smooth hydrangea is known for its giant white, blue, pink, or green flower clusters. Its characteristic deep-green, heart-shaped leaves turn yellow in the fall. While the whole hydrangea family is classed as "rapid growing," smooth hydrangeas are on the far end of fast growth—and they're known to spread. Their tendency to expand can be a blessing (hello, erosion control) or a curse.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining.
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Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

White flowers against deep-green lobed leaves of oakleaf hydrangea

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The oakleaf hydrangea gets its name from its lobed leaves, similar to an oak tree's. These leaves steal the show come fall, when they turn bronze, red-purple, or bright red. Even when they finally drop, the plant remains beautiful just with its rich copper-colored bark.

This hydrangea cultivar is certainly an accent plant year-round, erupting in elongated, conical clusters of white flowers in the summer, then turning pink or red three to four weeks later. Although oakleaves do prefer a bit of shade, they do better than most other hydrangeas where summers are quite hot.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining.
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Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Hydrangea climbing up tree blooming white flowers

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This is arguably the most distinct of the six hydrangea types because it's the only one that trails like a vine. It has aerial rootlets that cling to surfaces and scale walls, pergolas, and the like. It frames windows and creates a decidedly romantic facade with its large clusters of white, flattened flowers. The blooms themselves resemble those of lacecap hydrangeas.

The thing to remember when growing this popular climbing plant is that it's slow growing at the start, requiring several years just to get established. But once it hits its stride, it grows vigorously and might demand a bit of extra maintenance. For example, crossed branches must be removed to keep them from rubbing against each other and creating an entry point for diseases.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining.
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Mountain Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla Serrata)

Mountain hydrangea blooming pink flowers

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Mountain hydrangeas are sometimes considered a subspecies of bigleaf hydrangea because they produce flattened flowers similar to the lacecap. Nonetheless, they've earned botanical distinction because of their smaller flowers (indeed, not "bigleaf" at all). They're also known to be cold-hardier due to their native range of Korea and Japan's mountain regions.

If the cultivar were included in the bigleaf class, it would certainly be the least common. Gardeners might be keen to choose it over its more popular large-leafed cousins, though, when they learn that mountain hydrangeas are hardier to the heat and the cold, not to mention they're more consistent bloomers.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining.

To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.

View Article Sources
  1. "Hydrangeas." ASPCA.