15 Tips for Growing Beautiful Hydrangeas in Containers

Thinking of container planting some hydrangeas this season? Container planting can sometimes be a bit more of an art, than science. In this article, gardening expert and hydrangea enthusiast Jill Drago walks through her top tips for beautiful hydrangea blooms in containers or pots this season!

Hydrangea in Pots and Containers

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Container gardens are truly portable little gardens, they have so many benefits. Container planting allows you to insert a small garden anywhere you’d like. In the past, I have covered my deck with sun loving annuals because I had little sun in my gardens. Or vice versa, if you love a hosta and have too much sun – boom – stick it in a pot!

Container gardens offer a low maintenance way to garden. There is very little weeding that needs to be done, your maintenance will include deadheading and watering. Container gardens are great back savers. You can grow vegetables, flowers, anything you like in a container. Containers are a great way to plant something that has different soil needs than the soil in your garden beds. A great example here is the hydrangea.

Hydrangeas grow well in gardens, but can also grow in pots. They need well draining soil that has a slightly acidic pH. If these are not the conditions in your garden, I urge you to try planting a hydrangea in a container. But container planting a hydrangea doesn’t stop there. Keep on reading for some of my best advice to planting your hydrangeas in containers and growing thriving, beautiful plants!

Choose the Right Hydrangea

Small Bobo Variety
While most hydrangea varieties will grow in pots, some perform better than others.

Depending how ambitious you are, you really can plant any hydrangea in a pot. You will be most successful with dwarf varieties, which typically max out anywhere between one and three feet. If you do choose a larger variety, you will just need to keep it pruned so that the pot doesn’t become too top heavy.

Be sure to keep your zone in mind while selecting your plant. If you will be treating the hydrangea as an annual, or if you live in an area where you don’t get heavy frosts,  you don’t need to worry about this. However, if you are going to over winter your hydrangeas in a cold climate you will want to make sure you are selecting a hydrangea that is hardy in your area.

Variety Suggestions

When it comes to planting hydrangeas in pots, not all types of hydrangeas are created equally! There are some varieties that will grow better in pots, depending on your climate and the care they are given. Let’s take a look at some of the most pot-friendly hydrangeas to settle on before you actually get started.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mini Penny’

Mini Penny Variety
‘Mini Penny’ is a smaller variety of the ever popular ‘Penny Mac.’

‘Mini Penny’ is a slow grower and at maturity will grow to four feet high and wide. It is a re-blooming mophead variety. The flowers are blue in acidic soil and pink in sweeter soils. Blooms throughout the summer with proper summer maintenance, until the first frost hits.  Hardy from zone 5 to 9.

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’

Bobo Variety
Another dwarf hydrangea, ‘Bobo’ is quite popular.

‘Bobo’ is a dwarf panicle hydrangea that grows to four feet high and wide. Panicle flowers resemble a lilac. They are conical in shape and made up of smaller flowers. Large white flowers bloom in summer, turning pink in the fall. This hydrangea is a slow grower, but because it’s so compact it will reach its mature height in about two years.  Hardy zones 3-8.

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’

Pee Wee Variety
‘Pee Wee’ Is also a popular oakleaf hydrangea with white flowers that turn pink.

This oakleaf hydrangea features white spring flowers that fade to pink in the fall. Pretty oak leaf shaped foliage is a bright red in the fall. Grows to four feet tall, three feet wide. Hardy from zone 5-9.

Goal Setting: Annual vs. Perennial

Potted Hydrangeas
Depending on if your goal is annuals or perennials, you will have a different container strategy.

Before you start planting, you need to decide if you want to have an annual or perennial hydrangea, which will in large depend on your climate. But some people in perennial climates treat hydrangeas as annuals regardless, so it’s important to determine your goals first.

Annual

Choosing to treat a hydrangea as an annual really creates a “no limits” type of situation. You don’t need to worry about the zone, because you won’t be caring for it over the winter (unless you plan to put it in your garden beds after). You can also feel free to use anything you would like for a container. Many containers can break or crack in areas with frosts, causing quite a mess in the spring.

Perennial

Hydrangeas are perennial by nature in their native climate. Treating them as perennials is not quite as free flying as treating them as annuals. However, if you already are a container gardener then this is all pretty basic stuff. You first will need to make sure that the hydrangea is hardy in your zone, especially if you experience frost.

You need to choose the right type of container. The size is the most important factor here. The container should be about two feet wide and two feet deep.

Feel free to use whatever type of container you would like, just take note: if you opt for ceramic, or terra cotta pots you will have to bring those containers inside in the winter so they don’t break.

Choose a Large Pot

Large Pots with Hydrangeas
Because of their root structure, often times larger pots are better.

You will need a fairly large container to grow hydrangeas. They have quick growing roots and need room to spread out. As I mentioned before, a container about two feet wide and deep would be great! Depending on the material of your pot you may opt to place it on a plant caddie with wheels. There are so many great options for containers from ceramic, all the way to plastic. Find what suits your budget and taste!

Just as important as the size of the container, make sure there is a drainage hole on the bottom of the pot! Hydrangeas do not like to sit in wet soil. The drainage hole will allow all excess water to drain out of the plant. You may want to place a draining dish under the pot if you have your container located in an area that you would like to keep clean.

Prepare Your Containers

Cleaning Out Pot for Flowers
Its a good idea to clean out any flowerpot you plan to use.

It is always a good idea to give your containers a good cleaning before you plant anything in it. This will help to eliminate any pests or diseases.

Brush off any remaining soil or plant material from the previous season. You may either actively scrub your pots or soak them in a large tub. Using a diluted bleach or vinegar mixture will ensure that you have wiped out all of the potential problems.

If you are using a terracotta pot, washing will moisten the pot and will help to keep your plant moist upon planting. If you are using plastic pots you can skip the bleach and just give them a good scrubbing to remove any old debris or salt and mineral build up.

Use Correct Soil

Large Pots with Soil
Make sure you are using hydrangea appropriate soil when potting.

You may be tempted to use some of your garden soil to fill your giant pot, but hear me out! It is recommended that you use potting soil when you plant hydrangeas in containers. Many potting soils come premixed with a basic plant fertilizer which will give your plants what it needs to get growing.

Garden soil can become too heavy and hold too much water. Too much water equals trouble for hydrangeas. Too much water around the roots can weaken them and cause your plant to decline. Using potting soil will also keep the container lighter, making it easier to move when the time comes.

Choose Your Companion Plants

Potted Companion Plants
Choosing the right companions for your potted plants is critical.

Of course, a hydrangea will be perfectly lovely all on its own in a container. However, if you have a very large container to fill or the hydrangea you purchased is on the smaller side you may opt to add a few plants to compliment your billowing beauty.

Trailing annuals such as petunias, ivy, and black sweet potato vine would be really nice additions to a container featuring a more upright formed hydrangea.

I love to add other perennial flowers to my containers because you can repurpose them at the end of the year. Small hosta varieties, ferns or Huchera have similar light requirements, and have a nice compact growth habit.

Some other shade loving annuals that would look great paired with hydrangeas are begonias and some cultivars of coleus. Both of these plants are more upright in growth, but the range of colors available could really add a bright summery punch to your container.

Plant Your Hydrangea Correctly

Pink and Purple Flowers Potted
Focus on potting your hydrangea correctly for best results.

Planting a hydrangea is pretty straight forward. Before you prep your container, give your hydrangea a good watering while it’s still in its nursery pot.

Depending on the size of your pot you will want to add some potting soil to the bottom. You will want to maintain the depth of the plant as it is in your nursery pot, so you will have to be the judge on this one. I would recommend choosing a pot that is much deeper than your nursery pot so it has plenty of room to grow!

It may be necessary to score the roots if they have begun to wrap around the nursery pot. This can be done with pruning shears, simply run the shears in a vertical line around the root ball.

Place the plant in the container and fill with soil, packing it lightly. Give it a very good soaking, you should see water running out of the bottom of the container, and you’re done! Voila!

Provide Proper Sunlight

Container Plants in Sunlight
Ensuring your plants have enough light is extremely important.

Most hydrangeas love partial sun, more specifically morning sun and afternoon shade. Hydrangea paniculata loves to be out in the sun for six hours or more. If you are in a warmer climate your hydrangea would strongly benefit from some afternoon shade to prevent too much water loss.

Situate your container in an area with these sunlight conditions and you will be golden. The good news is you can play around with your location a little bit when you are working with a container since it’s much easier to move than if the plant is in the ground. If you are specifically planting in a sunny area, there are full sun hydrangea varieties that will likely be a better fit.

Choose Your Spot Carefully

Container Plants Near House
Choose where you place your hydrangeas carefully, even in pots.

Potted hydrangeas have long lasting blooms with minimal effort, making them a really nice plant option for a front porch, a balcony, a patio, around a pool, under a covered porch, on top of an old tree stump- you name it.

Another thing to keep in mind about your location is that hydrangeas can be toxic to pets. Keep them out of reach of your cats and dogs!

Provide Enough Water

Plants and Water Can on Table
Container plants need more water than plants in garden beds. Hydrangeas are no different.

Containers tend to dry out much quicker than your garden beds. Giving your hydrangeas a good watering twice a week should be sufficient. When the temperatures start to rise keep an eye on the leaves. The leaves of a hydrangea will begin to droop if they are in need of a drink. The top one inch of soil should be moist.

The quickest way to test this is just by sticking your finger into the potting soil to see if you need to water or not! As your hydrangea grows it is likely that you will need to water more frequently as the amount of roots will be increasing, and the amount of space in the pot will be decreasing.

Fertilize When Necessary

Fertilized Potted Plant
Ensuring your plant is properly fertilized will help keep blooms vivid and healthy.

The best way to fertilize your hydrangea is to use manure or compost around the base of the plant while you are filling up your container. This will give you great results. The potting soil you chose will most likely have enough fertilizer in it to get you through your first season.

If you have chosen to keep your hydrangeas in your containers for a permanent stay you will want to give them a dose of an all purpose flowering shrub fertilizer in the spring. Water the fertilizer into the soil thoroughly and be sure not to fertilize after August.

This can cause the plant to produce new growth. New growth that late in the season could leave the plant vulnerable to frost damage and effect the amount of blooms next season.

Pruning Makes Perfect

Pruning Hortensia Plant
Pruning can be important, but is typically reserved for deadheading.

For the most part, deadheading should be the only type of “pruning” you need to worry about with potted hydrangeas.

You may opt to prune a few branches here and there to maintain your desired shape. Or you may need to clip off some areas that were damaged by frost. Do these two types of pruning just as the blooming season ends to ensure that you aren’t snipping off any newly formed flower buds.

Transplant When Needed

Transplanting Plant into Ground
If you notice your plant not doing well, you can opt for transplanting.

After a few years of living in your container, you might notice that your hydrangea isn’t doing as well as it has been. Do not fret. It is likely that it just needs some more room to grow and would benefit from being transplanted out of your container.

You can either transplant into a new larger pot or you can transplant it into your garden. These are both great options- it all comes down to what you have room for and what your garden goals are.

Wherever you decide to plant your hydrangea you will follow the same planting rules as you did for planting it in the container the first time around. Be sure there is room for the roots to grow, and don’t bury the base of the plant. If the roots have started to become pot bound and wrap around the soil you will want to loosen them before you replant your hydrangea.

Always Over-winter

Plant in Pot Outdoors
Unless you live in a warmer year-round climate, consider bringing your hydrangeas indoors.

Once a frost hits you will need to consider how you will care for your hydrangea over the winter. If you don’t properly overwinter, it can lead to plant death, or stalling hydrangea blooms.

One quick way (if you have the room) is to simply move your potted hydrangeas into your unheated shed or garage. This will provide protection from the winds and harsh frosts, but still provide them with enough cool weather to allow them to go through their natural process. Hydrangeas will need enough cold to bloom well the next season,

Another way to over-winter your hydrangeas is to sink the pots into the ground. This will take some foresight, and also a bit of room in your yard. Dig holes big enough for the pots to fit in, place the potted containers in the holes, cover with some mulch and see you in the spring!

You may also keep your pots where they are, and bury the pots with straw to keep the roots warm.

Final Thoughts

Spice up your containers this season, and for many seasons to come, by adding hydrangeas into the mix. The foliage is lush and attractive from spring until frost. The flowers are incomparable. The maintenance is low when comparing it with some flowering plants that need daily or weekly attention. There are many great varieties available that will thrive in your containers. No matter which you choose, you won’t be disappointed!

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