How to Plant, Grow and Care For ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea

Thinking of adding an 'Annabelle" hydrangea to your garden, but aren't sure where to start? These beautiful flowering shrubs are easy to care for if they are provided proper growing conditions. In this article, gardening expert and hydrangea enthusiast Jill Drago shares everything you need to know about 'Annabelle" hydrangeas, including their maintenance and care.

Annabelle Hydrangea growing in garden with beautiful white flowers

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If you are a hydrangea lover you are likely familiar with the infamous ‘annabelle’ hydrangea. This variety of smooth hydrangea has been a garden center staple for many years.

The ‘annabelle’ hydrangea is the variety of smooth hydrangea that has inspired all of the newer hybrids of Hydrangea arborescens. It is tried and true, and worth your time to grow in your garden.

If you are thinking of planting an ‘annabelle’ hydrangea in your garden, read on for all you need to know about this hydrangea and its beautiful white blooms!

About ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea

Close-up of a blooming shrub bush in a shaded garden. The bush is young, not tall, has thin stems covered with large green heart-shaped leaves with serrated edges. Large inflorescences of sterile white flowers grow in large rounded corymbs.
Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ is a popular variety that produces white dome-shaped flowers.
common-name common name ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea
botanical-name botanical name Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’
genus genus Hydrangea
plant-type plant type Shrub
bloom-colors bloom colors White
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun, Partial Sun
water-needs water needs Moderate
height height 3-6 Feet
spacing spacing 42-75 Inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-8
soil-needs soil needs Loamy, Sandy, Clay
where-to-plant where to plant Border Shrub

Hydrangea arborescens is also known as smooth hydrangea. ‘Annabelle’ is a variety of smooth hydrangeas. ‘Annabelle’ is one of the most popular varieties across America. This native variety has been beautifying our gardens since 1910.

‘Annabelle’ has a nice mounded growth habit and produces very large white flowers which can grow up to 10 inches in diameter! The flowers themselves are dome-shaped and very attractive.

Smooth hydrangeas are native to the United States and ‘annabelle’ was the first named variety of this hydrangea species. ‘Annabelle’ grew in popularity as friends shared cuttings of the plant with family members and planted them in their own yards. It is a true American plant and will grow very nicely in so many regions of the United States.

Reasons to Plant ‘Annabelle’

Close-up of a flowering shrub in a sunny garden. The bush is lush, large, consists of strong stems with large, green, oval serrated leaves. Large spherical inflorescences consist of many loose sterile snow-white flowers.
‘Annabelle’ is resistant to both cold and heat.

Aside from their obvious beauty, Annabelles are a good choice for many gardeners. This variety is very cold tolerant while also being pretty tolerant of the heat, meaning you do not have to stress too much about frost damage or suffering from heat stress.

If you live in a colder area, this variety is perfect for your garden. It blooms on new wood in the springtime. This will alleviate any stress of suffering damage from cold winds, frosts, or the weight of heavy snow.

You can plan your pruning around your seasons and either prune them in the fall or wait until the spring and decide if you need to do any damage removal.

‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas are also versatile plants that are very easy to fit into any garden scheme. They can be planted in a mass to provide a border around a patio, or tucked into a perennial or foundation garden. They are also beautiful when planted in containers.

Propagation

Propagation of a shrub indoors. Top view, close-up of hydrangea cuttings in small black plastic pots with soil. The cuttings have wooden stems with several oval green leaves with serrated edges.
Taking cuttings is the most common way to propagate ‘Annabelle’.

The best, and easiest way to propagate ‘annabelle’ hydrangeas is by taking cuttings. This should be done in the late spring or the early summer. Look for some nice fresh branches that have a few sets of leaves on them.

Cut about 6-10 inches of this branch off. Remove the bottom sets of leaves to expose some growth points. Dip the cutting into rooting hormone, and then stick the stem into a sterile growing medium which can be found at most garden centers.

Keep the soil moist, but not too wet. It can help to cover the cutting with a zip-top bag, this will retain some heat and moisture. If you use a plastic bag, do your best to minimize contact between the bag and the plants.

You should notice roots within a few weeks, at this point you can either transplant your ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea into the ground, or you can let it continue to grow and plant it in the fall.

Planting

Planting a small seedling in the garden. Close-up of a gardener's hand in a dark blue glove with an orange edging planting a young hydrangea seedling in the garden. The seedling has short stems covered with large oval green leaves with serrated edges. There is an empty black plastic pot on the ground.
Plant in a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball.

There aren’t any special tricks to planting ‘Annabelle’, so if you have planted any other variety before, the process is the same.

Choose a location in your garden that gets partial sun and has soil that is well draining. If your soil is heavy or sandy this is a good time to add some compost or other organic material to your garden soil.

Dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball of your plant. Place your plant in the hole with its best face forward, we all know every plant has a side of the plant that is more attractive than some of the rest. Backfill your hole with the garden soil and pack lightly. Water thoroughly and continue to keep it well-watered throughout the season.

How to Grow

Growing ‘Annabelle’ is quite simple if you know what the plant needs, and follow a few simple maintenance steps! Let’s learn more about how to help your ‘Annabelle’ grow to be its best self.

Sunlight

White blooming shrub in the garden in full sun. Close-up of a large, round inflorescence of small, loose, 4-petalled, sterile white flowers. The leaves are dark green, serrated.
This variety prefers to grow in partial sun.

‘Annabelle’ grows best in partial sun but will grow well in full sun as well. If you plant ‘Annabelle’ in full sun you will likely need to water a bit more frequently. Adequate sunshine is necessary for the stems to support their prolific flowers.

Water

Close-up of flowering shrub with white blooms covered in water drops. The inflorescence consists of many small, 4-petalled, sterile, white flowers with yellow centers.
Water 1-2 times a week, about one inch of water.

‘Annabelle’ should be planted in well-draining soil that can retain some moisture. Some parts of the year they may be happy with the amount of rainfall they get.

Other times, you may need to water a few times a week. The goal here is about one inch of water per week. If you are not sure how much water your garden is getting, place a rain gauge in your garden and check before watering.

While you are watering, aim your hose at the base of the plant. This will help with fungal diseases, but it will also help to keep the stalks upright. If you soak the flowers or leaves you will notice drooping.

Soil

A young bush of shrub grows in a sunny garden. The shrub has erect stems covered with dark green, oval leaves with serrated edges.
This species requires require moist, but well-draining soil to thrive.

Smooth hydrangeas, including ‘Annabelle’, thrive when they are planted in moist but well-draining soil. The main thing you want to achieve here is keeping the plant watered without any pooling going on in the soil.

Pooling water can cause root rot which is tricky to manage and can lead to the loss of the plant.

Climate and Temperature

Close-up of a large profusely flowering shrub in a sunny garden. The plant has many large round loose inflorescences of tiny sterile white flowers. The leaves are large, green, oval with serrated edges.
‘Annabelle’ grows well in hardiness zones 3-9.

‘Annabelle’ is hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3-9 making it an excellent choice for many gardeners across the United States.

If you live in an area where you get a lot of snow or have harsh winters, you do not need to worry about any winter damage because you can prune everything back in the spring and start fresh.

Fertilizer

Close-up of a beautiful white flower bloom against a blurred green background. The inflorescence is large, round, composed of many sterile, 4-petalled, white flowers.
Fertilize in the spring with a high-phosphorus fertilizer to promote abundant blooms.

‘Annabelle’ is best fertilized in the spring before you notice any new growth opening. Use a basic fertilizer or a fertilizer higher in phosphorous.

The higher phosphorous will help to promote the forming of strong and prolific flowers. Follow all package instructions to ensure that you are providing the correct amount of fertilizer to make it through the season.

Maintenance

Close-up of a large flowering shrub with white blooms in the evening garden. The bush has tall erect stems, covered with large heart-shaped, dark green, serrated leaves and large rounded inflorescences of small white sterile flowers at the tops of the stems.
Pull weeds and remove fallen leaves and branches to prevent the spread of fungal diseases.

Hydrangeas in general are very low-maintenance plants, and this holds true for ‘annabelle’. They do not require deadheading, however, you can remove spent flowers from the plant if you wish.

Just keep in mind, that deadheading will not promote new blooms this season.

Keeping the garden area around your ‘Annabelle’ clean will assist in keeping them healthy. Pulling weeds as well as removing any leaf litter or branches from the garden can limit the spread of fungal diseases.

Pruning

Pruning hydrangeas in a sunny garden. Close-up of a woman's hand with blue secateurs about to cut the branches of a smooth hydrangea. The gardener is dressed in a white and yellow plaid shirt. The hydrangea bush has lush, loose, rounded inflorescences of sterile white flowers and large dark green oval-shaped jagged leaves.
Prune in the fall or spring before you see any new growth.

‘Annabelle’ blooms on new wood. So what does this mean exactly? Every spring ‘Annabelle’ will produce new stalks or branches, and the flower buds will form on these stalks. Your older wood will still produce lush foliage, but no flower buds.

This means you have some flexibility when it comes to pruning. Of course, you do not need to prune at all.

You may opt to prune in the fall, or in the spring before you notice any new growth.

You can prune all of the stalks to the ground or just a select few. Leaving some older stalks will help to support new growth. The stems of ‘Annabelle’ are known to be weak. Pruning all of your stalks to the ground can help produce stronger stems.

Pests

A green Japanese beetle on a large white inflorescence of 'Annabelle' hydrangea. The beetle has shiny green elytra and head. Hydrangea flowers are tiny, 4-petalled, sterile.
Hydrangeas can be affected by pests such as Japanese beetles, aphids and caterpillars.

Beware of your typical garden pests! Luckily, hydrangeas are not targeted by anything too specific. For the most part, they could be targeted simply by insects that you would find anywhere else in your garden.

Japanese beetles, aphids, spider mites, and caterpillars can all be found spending time and munching on these shrubs.

Diseases

Close-up of hydrangea leaves infected with blotch. The leaves are large, green, oval, with jagged edges, covered with irregular brown-purple spots.
Hydrangeas are susceptible to fungal diseases such as root rot and leaf spot.

As a genus, this variety does not struggle with diseases too regularly. They have been known to struggle with fungal diseases. Luckily fungal diseases can be prevented by cautiously watering and caring for your gardens.

Root rot, as well as a slew of leaf spot diseases, stem from fungal spores. These spores are transported by water. This can make it easy to prevent. Root rot occurs when shrubs are either overwatered or if the soil is not draining well enough.

Leaf spots tend to occur when water droplets splash onto fungal spores and send them flying. To prevent this from happening, keep your gardens free of leaf debris or any fungus you may see in the mulch around your plants. Watering your at the base of the plant rather than spraying the leaves down is also helpful.

If you find yourself dealing with fungal diseases your best bet is to head to your local garden center. Typically any copper fungicide will help treat the above issues.

Ornamental Uses

Hedge of hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ in the garden, in front of a high wooden fence. The bush is tall, lush, has thin tall stems covered with large oval dark green jagged leaves and rounded inflorescences of white sterile flowers. The hosta blooms with soft purple tubular flowers next to the hydrangea.
‘Annabelle’ can make a wonderful hedge or shaded patio.

‘Annabelle’ makes a gorgeous and whimsical hedge or border for your garden. This smooth hydrangea can also be used on a woodland edge, or around a shaded patio.

Wherever you choose to plant ‘Annabelle’, be sure to consider the drooping flowers. You may not want to grow ‘Annabelle’ along a heavily used walkway because the flowers may droop into the path and could risk being trampled.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I keep ‘Annabelle’ from flopping?

The beautiful ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas are known for having weaker stems that will lead to flopping under the weight of the big flowers. There are a few things you can do to alleviate the flopping.

One is choosing a plant location near support, such as a fence. This will offer enough support for some branches to rest the heavy weight on.

The next is to hold off on pruning. ‘Annabelle’ blooms on new wood that is formed in the spring. If you leave a few older stalks in place they will help to support the newer and weaker stems.

Will ‘Annabelle’ rebloom?

Some hydrangea species and varieties are considered to be “reblooming”. Unfortunately, ‘annabelle’ is not one of those varieties. ‘Annabelle’ will bloom once on new wood each season. Reblooming varieties flower on both old wood and new wood giving the appearance of having two blooms. Deadheading will not promote fresh blooms as it will in some perennials and annuals.

Can I grow ‘Annabelle’ in containers?

Yes!! ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas make beautiful container plants! Plant these shrubs in large containers for a dramatic effect around a shady patio or under a covered porch. If you want to grow this shrub in a container long-term, make sure you choose a pot that is large enough for the shrub to grow.

It is also important to have an area where you can overwinter your pot. This could be a basement, garage, or even a shed. Be sure to keep your potted ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas well-watered and care for them the same as you would if they were planted in your garden.

Is this variety deer resistant?

Unfortunately, no. There are not any hydrangeas that are completely deer resistant. You can spray a deterrent, or you can also plant evergreen shrubs, such as boxwood or juniper, near your hydrangeas. These prickly shrubs are not a favorite snack of deer and can help to keep them from feeding on nearby plants.

Final Thoughts

There is a good reason that ‘Annabelle’ has remained so popular for many years. While this species has been known to flop which can be frustrating for many gardeners, it is quite beautiful.

Without ‘Annabelle’ the smooth hydrangea would not have taken hold of American gardens the way they have. The native nature of this plant makes them easy to grow and even easier to love!

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