Maintaining Mopheads – Tips on Growing Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are one of the most popular garden flowers are coveted by many, including me. Many people have asked me about growing hydrangeas, and though there is tons of information out there I thought this was a good time to give you my experience in a nutshell. I hope it will help with some of you and maybe shed some light on what you can do going forward.

Tips on Growing Hydrangeas

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Cityline' ~ tips on growing hydrangeas ~

Blooming on Old vs New Wood

For most, this is the main issue. The beautiful hydrangeas with big leaves and huge flowers like the ones you see in florist shops, bloom on old wood. Hydrangea macrophylla, commonly called “mopheads” with blooms in hues of blue, pink and purple aren’t always easy to grow.

What does this mean?

It means that the flower buds for this year’s plant were formed last year and will need to get through the winter for your shrub to produce flowers this year. So you’ve read the label and it says hardy to USDA zone 4. You buy one and plant it carefully, but the next year there are no blooms. Here in  zone 6a, I have this problem too. My mopheads make it through the winter, but in the spring once the weather warms up, my H. macrophylla start coming to life, only to have a frost literally nip them in the bud-and guess what?-No flowers.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Endless Summer' ~ tips on growing hydrangeas ~

What Can You Do?

Well you could cover them with landscape cloth or burlap, or you could bury them with mulch for the entire winter. Landscape cloth should let the light in and theoretically could be kept on through all danger of frost. I don’t do this. Did you notice my tagline, “for the casual gardener”?

You could-and I’ve done this once or twice-run outside and cover them with plastic bags, tarps or anything on hand, when there is a frost warning in the spring. But it you have several plants or if you get busy with the many other things in your life that may not be doable.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Incredibelle Spirit' ~ tips on growing hydrangeas ~

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Incredibelle Spirit’

What I Do

I enjoy the beautiful foliage on a couple of mine that are pretty on their own and if we have a warm spring, the flowers are a bonus. Check out H. macrophylla “Variegata and Lady in Red” in the gallery below.

I continue to buy mopheads that are newer varieties that bloom on both old and new wood such as the “Endless Summer” and “Forever and Ever” series.

I also enjoy growing hydrangeas that only bloom on new wood such as H. paniculta varieties and  H. arborescens. They are different from the mopheads and I don’t believe there are any that are blue, but there is a newer H. arborescens, ‘Invincibelle Spirit,’ that is a reliable bloomer with pink flowers shown above.

More tips:

If you do have any H. macrophyllas (mopheads), and this is also true for H. quercifolia or oakleaf hydrangea, don’t prune them unless there are dead branches or if it really needs shaping realizing that you may lose some blooms if you do. Deadheading spent flowers is okay.

If you have H. arborescens or H. paniculata you can, and I do, prune them in the late winter. The pruning keeps them in line and prevents them from getting too big and floppy.

Here in zone 6a, I’ve found planting mopheads near the foundation of the home seems to work well in normal winter conditions. I don’t know if it’s the heat from the home or the protection it provides, but unless we have an unusually brutal winter, they perform well even with a frost.

Hydrangeas seems to love water, maybe that’s why they have the word “hydra” in their name, and will droop during a hot afternoon. A little drooping is okay. Some stress may actually push them into to flowering more, but if they still are drooping when the weather cools down, get out the hose.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Cityline' ~ tips on growing hydrangeas ~

bloom drying naturally on the bush.

Love dried hydrangeas? Wait until the flowers begin to dry out a bit on their own, then cut them and place them in a vase with two to three inches of water. Once the water dries out, they will begin to naturally dry, and in a short time, and you will have an everlasting bouquet. Read more about drying hydrangeas.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' ~ tips on growing hydrangeas ~

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

 Final Note:

My mother used to say, “patience is a virtue.” Well, I don’t think she or my father passed that gene along to me, however when it comes to plants, it is sadly true. If your plant is a new one, do not be surprised to have to wait one year or so for it to come into its own. The saying, “first year sleep, second year creep and third year leap,” is so true. Enjoy the gallery of my hydrangeas below.



Learn tips growing hydrangeas - Specifically Hydrangea Macrophylla, how you can get them to grow and bloom in your garden and alternative choices too.


About Patti Estep

Patti is the creator of Hearth and Vine, a home and garden blog filled with projects to inspire your creative side. She loves crafting, gardening, decorating and entertaining at her home in Pennsylvania. When she is not working on a project at home or searching for treasures at nurseries and thrift stores with her girlfriends, you’ll probably find her with family and friends, at a restaurant, or home party enjoying new and different food adventures.

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  1. Your pictures are beautiful! Honestly, I had no idea there were so many kinds. Thanks for the tips!

    • Hi Susan,

      Oh yes, there are even more that I didn’t talk about. And, of course like all so many plant, tons of varieties for which that I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. So if you like them now you have even more reasons to go out and experiment!

  2. This is a wonderful post. Well done!

  3. Thanks for sharing the info! I love my hydrangeas and look forward to them blooming each year. Found you at Creativity Unleashed.

  4. Love Hydrangeas! Beautiful pictures…

  5. My hydrangeas need some love, and I can’t thank you enough for your tips! 😉

  6. Patti,
    I’m hoping for hydrangeas this year. I severely pruned my last year and did not get one bloom. Thanks for all the good info.

    • Hi Karen,
      Now we just have to worry about the extreme cold we are getting. My mophead varieties did not do well last year. I eventually got some nice blooms on Endless Summer but that was do to all new growth. Fingers crossed.
      Thanks for stopping by,

  7. Love the post. Who’d thought I hadn’t watered enough. Just planted, now I’m wondering about location . I get a short time of direct sun and many hours of shade?? Thanks

  8. Connie K. says:

    I have two new hybrids like the Forever and Ever that have been in same place for 5 yrs. They bloomed in previous yrs., and grew beautiful bushes this yr and last, but no flowers. I have not pruned at all, nor did we have a late frost. Any idea what I’m doing wrong?

    • Hi Connie,

      I can only think of two issues that may cause this problem.
      1. Are they getting enough sun? Hydrangeas like morning sun and afternoon shade but I think sometimes they don’t get enough sun to flower.
      2. Maybe they need some extra nutrients. Try adding a fertilizer with a higher middle number which is Phosphorus and the one that promotes blooms. Alternatively you can add superphostphate or bonemeal.

      Good luck. It’s still early in the season so I hope they start blooming for you. So far my endless summer has only one bloom but that is typical for me. I’m in Zone 6a and never get any previous years blooms. I expect more will start blooming over the next several weeks

      • In my case, the cause for no blooms is DEER. They love the flowers and munch on the new growth if they can reach it. Construction in the area has led to an influx of deer in the last few years because they have no where else to go but in our yards. So I have lopsided beauty and have come to learn to enjoy it because I refuse to fence in my landscape.

        • Alice,

          We have a good deal of deer problems in our area too. I find myself planting more “deer resistant” plants every year. A couple of times when we were having grad parties or some special occasion I have used liquid fence and it worked but that’s something I am not willing to do on an ongoing basis. Sometimes there’s not much you can do. A fence would have to be pretty high and sometimes it is not feasible depending on your terrain. We also struggle with groundhogs, especially in the spring.

  9. Great post, Patti. I have several mop heads that freeze every winter/spring no matter what I do. It’s like winning the lottery when they do bloom.

    Thanks for linking up with What’s Bloomg This Week

    • Thanks Heather. Spring frosts are a beast around here too. I found that people who have their mopheads at the foundation of their home sometimes survive but not these past two brutal winters. Oh but we always want what we can’t have…..:)

  10. Great post! Regarding the mops that bloom on previous season’s wood, it helps to refrain from deadheading them until the following mid/late spring. One could reserve a few shrubs for harvesting, and a few for leaving alone. When the leaf buds start to form in the spring, and all danger of frost has passed, carefully inspect the buds; narrower ones are leaf buds, and rounder/plumper ones are flower buds. It’s a very subtle difference, but once you “get it” the branch can be trimmed back to just above a flowering bud. The added bonus to this is that it will flower at the top of the shrub, and not be hidden underneath upper leafy growth.

    • Hi Linda,
      I love your idea of pruning above the flower bud so that the top of the shrub has blooms. Also, thanks for pointing out the difference between leaf and flower buds. If we every have an warm enough spring I’ll definitely try it!

    • Thank you both. I have Endless Summers that haven’t bloomed in the spring the last couple of years and didn’t know why. Both the cold and the pruning may contribute; last year was the first that I pruned and might have done it wrong. Plus our winters have been colder the past couple of years (Zone 6a), so then I’ve been getting the second blooms.

      Patti, I’m so jealous of all your different hydrangea varieties! One of my favorite types of plants; the only thing they lack is fragrance.

      • Hi Kathleen,

        I also grow in 6a so you can do it too. The last couple of winters have been tough on many plants but the arborescens and the paniculatas are unphased. The mopheads are tough to grow here though I have had some success with Endless Summer. Usually its the blooms on new wood later in the year. This summer I didn’t get very many on it all it, but Limelight was out of control. So far we are having a mild winter, maybe too mild. We’ll have to see how our plants end up. Also, I have observed those who grow hydrangea near the foundation seem to have a better chance of blooms.
        Thanks for stopping by,

  11. Thanks for sharing! Yes I have an assortment of Hydrangeas.
    White ones that have large mopheads and there is always an abundance and then I have
    florist type as you mentioned that flower on old stems. I have learned not to prune these back and
    have seen an abundance of pink flowers, then last summer I planted endless summer blue blooms and
    was so excited to see that it survived our winter and continues to bloom. As much as I want to pick and dry them I’m holding back for another year.

  12. I love hydrangeas, but have almost given up. I planted an Endless Summer Hydrangea last year and the old wood died and was brown. I even waited until this month to cut back the old wood, thinking that it may come to life later. I had about 3 scraggly blooms on the new growth. I also planted three Tuff Stuff hydrangeas in a bed. They are still alive, but have dead, brown edges on every leaf. I have watered every other day all summer, even when it rains, because the bed is protected from the rain. The bed gets morning sun for a few hours and shade in the afternoon and evening. Should I give up on hydrangeas? I do well with most plants, but seem to be really bad at hydrangeas. (They were beautiful and healthy when I received them from Sooner Plant Farm in Oklahoma where I live – Zone 7.)

    • Hi Rebecca,

      Here are a couple of ideas. Next spring cut the brown growth back and add some super phosphate, bonemeal or any fertilizer with a high middle number to promote blooms. If you don’t have your heart set on blue blooms try a peegee like Limelight, very easy to grow and blooms later in the season around mid-July for me in my zone 6 garden. Also, sometimes it just takes a season or two to get established. I wouldn’t give up just yet.


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