Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla): Characteristics, Cultivars & Care

Hydrangeas (Hydrangea spp.), with their immense ball-shaped flower clusters are usually good for making an old-fashioned elegance to a yard. Blooming from midsummer to fall, hydrangeas grow 3 to 6 feet tall.

There are 23 species of hydrangea, although only five are grown in the United States, with bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) also called French or florist’s hydrangea, the most common. Hydrangeas generally grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 to 9, although it depends on the species and cultivar.

Hydrangea macrophylla, commonly known as bigleaf hydrangea or French hydrangea, is native to Japan and is widely cultivated in many place worldwide. They’re the ones with the big, orb-like pink, purple, or blue blooms and glossy green foliage. These shrubs can be planted in either fall or early spring. Common names include bigleaf hydrangeaFrench hydrangealacecap hydrangeamophead hydrangea, and hortensia

This species has naturalized in China, Korea, Siberia, New Zealand and the Americas. Let us look at some aspects of Hydrangea macrophylla, including its characteristics, growth requirements, and different varieties.

Characteristics of Bigleaf Hydrangea

  • Size: Mature plants can reach heights of 4 to 6 feet with a similar spread, though some cultivars may be smaller or larger.
  • Flowers: The plant produces large, showy flower clusters that can be either mophead (round, sterile flowers) or lacecap (flat, fertile flowers surrounded by showy sterile flowers). The flower color can be blue, pink or white, depending on the soil pH and variety.
  • Foliage: The leaves are large, ovate, and have serrated edges. They are dark green in color and can grow up to 6 inches (15 cm) long.
  • Hardiness: The plant is generally hardy in USDA zones 5-9, but this can vary depending on the specific cultivar.
  • Lifespan: Can live for up to 20 years with proper care and maintenance.
  • Root System: Fibrous and relatively shallow; spreads horizontally rather than deeply.
  • Pruning: Best pruned in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.
  • Bark: The bark is typically smooth and grayish-brown in color, with a relatively fine texture.

Growth Requirements

  • Light: It prefers partial shade, especially in hot climates. In cooler regions, it can tolerate full sun as long as it receives adequate moisture.
  • Soil: The plant thrives in well-draining, rich, and slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5-6.5.
  • Water: It requires regular watering, especially during the growing season.
  • Fertilizer: Requires slow-release fertilizer in the spring.

Uses of Bigleaf Hydrangea

  • Ornamental Garden Plant: They can be grown in containers or planted in borders, hedges, or as stand-alone focal points.
  • Cut Flower Arrangements: They can add a pop of color and interest to bouquets, centerpieces, and other floral displays.
  • Cottage or Woodland Garden: They are well-suited for cottage or woodland garden settings.
  • Privacy Screen or Hedge: They can be planted in a row to create a privacy screen or hedge.
  • Foundation Planting: They can be used as foundation plantings around the base of a house or other structure.

Cultivars of Bigleaf Hydrangea

NameDescriptionSize
‘All Summer Beauty’Large, showy mophead flowers bloom continuously throughout the summer3-6 feet tall and 4-8 feet wide
‘Endless Summer’Reblooming variety with large, blue or pink mophead flowers3-5 feet tall and wide
‘Ayesha’Lacecap variety with large, white flowers and blue or pink centers4-6 feet tall and wide
‘Nikko Blue’Classic mophead variety with large, deep blue flowers3-6 feet tall and 4-8 feet wide
‘Pia’Dwarf variety with compact, pink or blue mophead flowers2-3 feet tall and wide
‘Twist-n-Shout’Lacecap variety with pink or blue flowers and red stems3-5 feet tall and wide
‘Blue Wave’Large, blue or pink mophead flowers; also known as ‘Mariesii Perfecta’4-6 feet tall and wide
‘Lady in Red’Unique variety with red stems and large, pink or blue mophead flowers3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Lemon Daddy’Large, bright yellow-green mophead flowers4-6 feet tall and wide
‘Masja’Compact variety with large, blue or pink mophead flowers2-3 feet tall and wide
‘Merrit’s Beauty’Large, pink or blue mophead flowers; also known as ‘Merritt’s Supreme’4-6 feet tall and wide
‘Nantucket Blue’Large, blue or pink mophead flowers; named after the island of Nantucket3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Nigra’Unique variety with dark, almost black stems and large, pink or blue mophead flowers3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Penny Mac’Large, blue or pink mophead flowers; named after the Penny McHenry Hydrangea Festival3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Pink Elf’Dwarf variety with compact, pink or blue mophead flowers2-3 feet tall and wide
‘Shakira’Large, pink or blue mophead flowers; named after the singer Shakira3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Sister Theresa’Large, white mophead flowers with a hint of pink or blue3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Teller White’Large, white mophead flowers; named after horticulturist William Teller3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Todi’Large, pink or blue mophead flowers; named after the Todi Festival in India3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Cityline Paris’Compact variety with large, blue or pink mophead flowers; also known as ‘Paris’2-3 feet tall and wide
‘Glowing Embers’Unique variety with bright orange-red stems and large, pink or blue mophead flowers3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Monrey’Large, blue or pink mophead flowers; named after the city of Monterey, California3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Jogasaki’Large, pink or blue mophead flowers; named after the Jogasaki Coast in Japan3-6 feet tall and wide
‘Fuji Waterfall’Unique variety with cascading branches and large, blue or pink mophead flowers3-6 feet tall and wide

Growing Bigleaf Hydrangea

Choose the right location: This hydrangea thrive in partial shade, especially in hot climates. In cooler regions, they can tolerate full sun as long as they receive adequate moisture. Ensure the location has well-draining, rich, and slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5-6.5.

Prepare the soil: Before planting, mix compost or well-rotted manure into the soil to improve its fertility and structure. This will provide essential nutrients and help retain moisture.

Planting: Dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the root ball of your Hydrangea. Place the plant in the hole, ensuring the top of the root ball is slightly higher or level with the surrounding soil. Backfill the hole with soil, and gently firm it around the base of the plant.

Watering: It require regular watering, especially during the growing season. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Apply 1 to 2 inches of water per week, and increase the frequency during hot, dry weather. Mulching around the base of the plant can help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature.

Fertilizing: Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in the spring to promote healthy growth and abundant flowering.

Pruning: It blooms on old and new wood, depending on the variety. For varieties that bloom on old wood, prune in late summer after flowering, removing spent flower heads and dead or damaged wood. For varieties that bloom on new wood, prune in late winter or early spring, cutting back the stems to a healthy pair of buds.

Winter protection: In colder regions, protect your Hydrangea from winter winds and frost by planting it near a building or wall. You can also wrap the plant in burlap or cover it with a frost blanket to provide extra insulation.

Leave a Comment