Hydrangeas Varieties: True Species & Popular Cultivar Types

There are six different types of hydrangeas based on flower shape, color, and growth habits. The most commons ones among them include Bigleaf hydrangea, PeeGee hydrangea, Climbing hydrangea, and Oakleaf hydrangea.

Types Of Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas, beloved for their stunning blooms, come in many varieties, each with distinct characteristics and growing requirements.


Understanding the distinction between the different types of hydrangeas is imperative for cultivating thriving hydrangea plants. These distinctions are based on flower shape, growth habit, coloration, and leaf shapes. We can categories Hydrangeas into six types based on these features.


With six common varieties prevalent in North America, it is no surprise that discussions and debates about their care and maintenance usually arise. The key to resolving these disagreements lies in accurately identifying the specific hydrangeas varieties and knowing which one you have at home.


By discerning the characteristics of each type, gardeners can customize their growing conditions to cater to the precise needs of the hydrangeas.


This guide will take you through the different hydrangeas and help you with insights on identifying them, equipping you with the knowledge necessary to foster successful growth and abundant blooms.

Different Kinds of Hydrangeas

The most popular Hydrangeas include:


A. Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla):


Hardiness zone USDA Five through Eleven
Bloom time Summer to Fall
Height and Spread 4 to 6 feet with an equal spread
Bloom color White, pink, blue, purple, red


Pruning Avoid pruning bigleaf hydrangeas as they bloom on old wood. Pruning at the wrong time may remove flowering potential. Deadwood and old blooms can be removed when new growth emerges.


Bigleaf Hydrangea Examples: Blushing Bride, Nikko Blue, Endless Summer, Twist-n-Shout, Cherry Explosion


Also called the French hydrangeas, hortensia, or florist’s hydrangeas, Bigleaf Hydrangeas are the most common hydrangeas in America.

They have leathery, glossy, large leaves and are available in vibrant colors like purple, blue, pink, and sometimes white.


These hydrangeas bloom on old wood, meaning their flower buds form in the previous year, which are present on the plant and ready to bloom in the current year. Hence, don’t over prune them to preserve their flowering potential.


These hydrangeas thrive in part shade with moist, well-drained soil, although they can tolerate full sun if provided with adequate watering.
Broadly, there are two different types of hydrangeas under this category:


1. Mophead Hydrangea


It is a well-known and popular variety, renowned for its gigantic and fluffy flower heads. These hydrangeas produce pink, blue, or purple flowers.


However, it’s important to note that mophead hydrangeas’ buds cannot endure extreme cold temperatures. So, take measures or avoid this variety in places with harsh winters.


2. Lacecap hydrangeas


These kinds of hydrangeas closely resemble mophead hydrangeas, with the main distinction in their flower structure.


While they share similar characteristics, lace cap hydrangeas have tiny fertile flower buds at the center, surrounded by beautiful showy flowers that encircle the outer edge of the flower head.


These outer flowers lure pollinators such as bees and butterflies to the central fertile buds. Like mophead hydrangeas, lace cap hydrangeas thrive in hardiness zone 6.


B. Mountain Hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata):


Hardiness zone USDA Five through Nine
Bloom time Summer
Height and Spread 2 to 4 feet with an equal spread
Bloom color Pink, red, blue


Pruning Like bigleaf hydrangeas, these types of hydrangeas also do not appreciate extensive pruning. So, removing the old blooms and dead wood will suffice.



Examples of Mountain Hydrangea: Tuff Stuff and Blue Deckle Hydrangea


These are also bigleaf variants. However, they are one of the less common types of bigleaf hydrangea. While they look like lace-cap hydrangeas, they have relatively small leaves and flowers.


Since they are hardier, Mountain hydrangeas are well-suited for harsh climates and winters. These thrive in partial shade but cherish well-drained and moist soil. Like the bigleaf hydrangeas, this variety can change flower color depending on soil acidity.


Hence, if the soil is acidic, they produce blue blooms, whereas they yield pink blooms in alkaline soil. They bloom on old wood and exhibit reblooming characteristics.


Native to Asia, specifically Korea and Japan, Hydrangea serrata adds an elegant touch to gardens with its delicate lace cap flowers and smaller leaves.


C. PeeGee Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’):


Hardiness zone USDA Three through Eight
Bloom time Summer to Fall
Height and Spread 8 to 12 feet with an equal spread
Bloom color White, green, pink, red
Pruning For these hydrangeas species, cut back by about one-third of their total height in spring to promote robust growth from lower buds


PeeGee Hydrangea Examples: Limelight, Vanilla Strawberry, and First Editions Berry White


Botanically called the Hydrangea paniculata Grandiflora, the PeeGee Hydrangea is a popular cultivar of panicle hydrangeas. They are famous for their cone-shaped flower heads and produce large blooms that start white and may change color to pink as the plant matures.


These are highly cold hardy but prefer full sun to partial shade. With their persistent flowers, these hydrangeas varieties are ideal for drying or using as cut flowers. You can grow PeeGee hydrangeas as large shrubs or prune them into trees.


Native to Japan and China, PeeGee Hydrangeas are reliable bloomers, forming flower buds on new growth in spring. Given their lovely fall foliage and showy flowers, they are a beautiful inclusion in mixed or shrub borders or as flowering hedges.


D. Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens):


Hardiness zone USDA Four through Nine
Bloom time Summer to Fall
Height and Spread 3 to 5 feet with an equal spread
Bloom color White and pink
Pruning You can cut back these types of hydrangeas by about one-third of their height in early spring to promote sturdy growth and abundant flowers.


Examples of Smooth Hydrangea: Annabelle, Invincibelle Ruby, Incrediball, and Incrediball Blush


Scientifically called the Hydrangea arborescens, the Smooth Hydrangea is a native species of hydrangea in the United States. Also called the Wild hydrangeas, these hydrangeas species are known for their tolerance to hotter climates.


People usually plant them as hedges because of their size and branching patterns. They have heart-shaped leaves and are relatively floppier and thinner than the bigleaf hydrangeas. With a coarser texture and matte surface, these hydrangeas are more resilient and thrive in cold and warm climates.


These shrubs bloom on new wood and are highly resistant in their performance. You can find them in various cultivators. So, if you need diverse sizes and colors, you can grow the Smooth variants of hydrangeas.


These hydrangeas add beauty to the mixed or shrub borders, but they also look good as stand-alone plants, offering reliable performance and abundant blooms across the summer to fall.

E. Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia):


Hardiness zone USDA Five through Nine
Bloom time Summer to Fall
Height and Spread 6 to 8 feet with an equal spread
Bloom color White and pink
Pruning While some hydrangeas varieties can endure pruning, you must avoid pruning for Oakleaf hydrangeas as it can remove flower buds. However, you can consider selective shaping if needed.


Oakleaf Hydrangea Examples: Gatsby Star, Ruby Slippers, and Alice


Scientifically called the Hydrangea quercifolia, The Oakleaf Hydrangea derive their name from their distinctive foliage that looks like the oak tree leaves. Its large tree leaves measure 4” X 4 but can be as large as 10” X 10.


Unlike the other different types of hydrangeas, the oakleaf hydrangea is the only one that undergoes a color change in the fall, with leaves transitioning from golden orange to vibrant red and mahogany.


This feature makes them visually striking shrubs for fall gardens. Native to the United States, the oakleaf hydrangea is one of the few hydrangeas native to the country, along with the smooth hydrangea.


It has cone-shaped flower heads like the panicle hydrangeas. As the plant matures, the flowers turn pink. Popular for their hardiness, Oakleaf hydrangeas varieties can endure a range of climate conditions than most bigleaf hydrangeas.


It is more winter-hardy and can tolerate drier conditions. The plants thrive in well-drained soil and cherish partial shade to full sun.


F. Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris):


Hardiness zone USDA Four through Nine
Bloom time Spring to Summer
Height and Spread 30 to 40 feet with 6 to 8 feet spread
Bloom color White
Pruning For these hydrangeas species, consider selectively removing branches as needed. They need only minimal pruning.


Climbing Hydrangea Examples: Hydrangea petiolaris, Miranda Hydrangea, Silver Lining Hydrangea, and Flying Saucer Hydrangea


Botanically called the Hydrangea anomala subsp petiolaris, the Climbing Hydrangea, is one of the unique varieties as it is a vine.


Native to Asia, specifically Siberia, Korea, and Japan, these hydrangeas have gained popularity for their ability to grow on structures and yield large blooms. It is one of the tall varieties with impressive lengths of 30 to 80 feet.


These are distinguishable by their long stems with sticky pads that let them cling to fences, walls, and other vertical surfaces. The vine has lacy white flowers resembling lace-cap flowers noted in other hydrangeas varieties.


While it shares similarities with hydrangeas, it is not considered a true hydrangea. Another closely related climbing hydrangea is the Japanese false-hydrangea vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides), which can grow 15 to 30 feet high.


These climbing hydrangeas thrive in part to full shade and bloom from spring to summer. Their fragrant flowers add elegance to walls and structures. While they can also be grown as ground cover, they bloom best when growing vertically.


You must provide substantial support for their thick and heavy vines. Climbing hydrangeas prefer full sun or partial shade but should not be grown in full shade.


The Climbing hydrangeas species requires patience, as it is a slow-growing plant that may take three to four years to show significant growth. Here is a detailed account of how fast hydrangeas grow.


Once established, it rewards gardeners with its white lace-cap-like flowers and pleasant fragrance.


Hardy in zones four through eight, Climbing Vine can be a stunning addition to a landscape or garden. Pruning is generally minimal for them, with selective branch removal as needed to maintain the desired shape.


The Climbing Hydrangea adds year-round interest with its attractive foliage, exfoliating bark, and delicate flowers, making it a popular and elegant choice for landscape design.


So, these are all the six different kinds of hydrangeas. Now let us look at some common doubts related to hydrangeas.


Which Hydrangeas Bloom The Longest?

Also called the Hydrangea macrophylla Penny Mac, the Penny Mac Hydrangea is a variety of mophead hydrangea. It is known for its long blooming period.


The plant starts flowering in early summer and continues to bloom through late summer or even into early fall, depending on the climate and growing conditions.


Penny Mac Hydrangea’s extended blooming season makes it one of the hydrangeas that can provide continuous floral displays for a longer duration than other hydrangeas varieties.


Related: Hydrangeas Lifespan | Hydrangea Fertilizers


How Do I Know What Kind of Hydrangea I Have?

To know the specific variety of hydrangea you have, you must consider factors such as growth habits, leaves, flowers’ appearance, and some other distinguishing features.


Here are some characteristics to watch out for:


1. Growth habit: Consider the plant’s growth habit. Hydrangeas can be classified as climbers or shrubs. Shrubby hydrangeas have a bushy, compact growth habit, whereas the climbing ones employ aerial rootlets to annex themselves to structures for vertical growth.
2. Leaf Size and Shape: Inspect the plant’s leaves and watch for their shape and size. Hydrangea leaves can be heart-shaped, serrated, oval, or oakleaf-shaped. The leaf size can also vary, with some hydrangeas having larger leaves than others.
3. Flower Color: Note the flower’s colors. Various types of hydrangeas flowers can be of different colors like purple, white, blue, pink, or a combination of these colors. Some varieties even change color based on soil pH.
4. Flower Type: Examine the flowers’ arrangement and shape. Hydrangeas typically have lace-cap (flat clusters with tiny fertile flowers in the center surrounded by larger showy flowers), mophead (large, round clusters of flowers), smooth (flat-topped clusters), or panicle (cone-shaped clusters) flower types.
5. Size: Pay attention to the plant’s overall size. hydrangeas varieties range from dwarf, small varieties that reach a height of a few feet, to larger shrubs that can grow several feet tall and wide.
6. Consult Reference Materials: Utilize plant identification guides, gardening books, or online resources that provide detailed information and images of different hydrangea varieties. Compare the characteristics of your plant with the descriptions and photos to make an accurate identification.


If you are still unsure about the type of hydrangea you have, consider seeking assistance from a local horticulturist, garden center, or knowledgeable gardener who can provide guidance based on their expertise and familiarity with hydrangeas in your region.


Which Is The Most Beautiful Hydrangea?

Ans. Some of the most beautiful kinds of hydrangeas that thrive with proper hydrangeas care are:


  1. Hydrangea Aspera Robusta
  2. Hydrangea Arborescence Annabelle
  3. Hydrangea Aspera Mauvette
  4. Hydrangea Arborescens Radiata
  5. Hydrangea Anomola Petiolaris
  6. Hydrangea Aspera Rocklin
  7. Hydrangea Aspera Kawakamii
  8. Hydrangea Arborescence Hayes Starburst