Plant Spotlight: Hydrangeas

Plant Spotlight: Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are one of my all-time favorite plants, particularly because they're easy keepers and they can fill in an empty landscape beautifully.  From my experience, the most important thing to know about hydrangeas is where to plant them, so they don't get too much sun. I once planted a row of hydrangeas in full sunlight on the west side of my own house, and needless to say I learned a very valuable lesson: too much sun turns stunts the flowering hydrangeas and turns their vibrant green leaves brown.  

Hydrangeas are a beloved flowering plant for gardeners, landscapers and homeowners across the country, including in Iowa. These flowering shrubs can add color and charm to any landscape and, with a little bit of care (and proper placement), they can thrive in even the harshest Midwest season.

Types of Hydrangeas for Iowa

There are several types of hydrangeas that can grow well in Iowa's climate. Here are a few popular options:

  1. Bigleaf Hydrangea: This type of hydrangea produces large, showy blooms that can be blue, pink, or purple, depending on the soil's acidity. They prefer well-draining soil and partial shade.

  2. Panicle Hydrangea: These hydrangeas produce cone-shaped clusters of white flowers that turn pink as they age. They are very hardy and can tolerate full sun.

  3. Smooth Hydrangea: Smooth hydrangeas produce large, white or pinkish blooms and are well-suited for Iowa's climate. They prefer partial shade and moist, well-draining soil.

 The Best Place to Plant Hydrangeas

    1. In Partial Sunlight: Most hydrangeas prefer partial shade, especially in the afternoon when the sun is strongest. However, some types, such as panicle hydrangeas, can tolerate full sun.
    2. Soil: Hydrangeas prefer well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. They also prefer soil that is slightly acidic, with a pH between 5.0 and 6.2. If your soil is too alkaline, you can add sulfur or iron sulfate to lower the pH.

    3. Moisture: Hydrangeas need consistent moisture, but they don't like to be waterlogged. Make sure the soil around your hydrangea is moist but not soggy, and water deeply once a week, or more frequently during periods of drought.  Watering 'deeply' means soaking the soil around the plant to a depth of at least 6 inches. If you're unsure if your hydrangea needs watered, check the soil moisture by ticking your finger into the soil about an inch deep. If the soil feels dry at that depth, it's time to water.  A good rule of green-thumb is to water in the morning to allow the leaves to dry before nightfall. Wet leaves at night can lead to fungal diseases.

    4. Protection from Wind: Hydrangeas can be damaged by strong winds, so it's a good idea to plant them in a sheltered location or provide some type of wind protection, such as a fence or hedge.

    5. Space: Make sure to give your hydrangea enough space to grow. Depending on the type, hydrangeas can reach heights of 3-10 feet and widths of 4-12 feet.

Caring for Hydrangeas in Iowa

Once you've chosen the type of hydrangea that works best for your garden, it's important to give them the care they need to thrive. Here are some tips:

  1. Watering: Hydrangeas prefer consistently moist soil, but they don't like to be excessively saturated.  Keep in mind hydrangeas need the most attention in the Iowa summertime when rain sparse.  Check out the adorable watering can.
  2. Fertilizing: Hydrangeas benefit from regular fertilization.  It's best to look for a balanced, slow-release fertilizer that is high in phosphorus. Phosphorus promotes root growth and flower production, which is important for hydrangeas. Apply fertilizer in the spring before new growth appears, and again in midsummer if desired. Be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can cause excessive foliage growth at the expense of blooms. We recommend trying Miracle Gro Garden Pro Bloom Booster.
  3. Pruning: The best time to prune hydrangeas depends on the type you have. Bigleaf hydrangeas should be pruned after they bloom, while panicle hydrangeas can be pruned in late winter or early spring. Smooth hydrangeas can be pruned anytime, but it's best to do so in the early spring before new growth appears.
  4. Winter Protection: In Iowa's harsh winters, hydrangeas can benefit from some extra protection. Add a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to help insulate the roots, and cover the plant with burlap or another protective material if temperatures drop below freezing.
  5. Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of your hydrangeas in the spring to help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and insulate the roots. Make sure to leave a small gap between the mulch and the stem of the plant to prevent rot.  Earl May has a great selection of mulching locally.

By following these tips and choosing the right type of hydrangea for your garden, you can enjoy beautiful blooms year after year. With their stunning colors and easy care, hydrangeas are a great addition to any Iowa landscape.


Where to buy Hydrangea plants in Cedar Rapids:

Earl May 1200 Edgewood Rd SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404 

Frontier Garden Center 1941 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52402

Culver's Garden Center 1682 Old Dubuque Rd, Marion, IA 52302