Climbing hydrangeas: varieties, cultivation & care


For me plants are some of the most exciting living beings, even though they live in slow motion. They have fascinating abilities and just so much potential! That's why I studied organic farming. However, since plants are rather thin on the ground in my city, I often spend time hiking in the nearby mountains at the weekend. In the future I would love to run a farm myself.

Favourite fruit: strawberries and gooseberries
Favourite vegetable: courgettes

Discover everything there is to know about climbing hydrangea: from planting to propagation and the different varieties. With expert tips on how to care for climbing hydrangeas, as well as how poisonous they are.

Trailing hydrangea grows on house facade
This climbing plant turns plain façades into a striking green feature [Photo: SariMe/]

Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomala sbsp. petiolaris or Hydrangea petiolaris) are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. There are a few reasons for this: they are very easy to care for, growing well in more inhospitable parts of the garden, and they provide wonderful flowering decoration whether as a green facade, a colourful privacy screen or a flowering food source for bees.

Climbing hydrangeas: characteristics and features

Just like ivy (Hedera helix), climbing hydrangea is a so-called self-clinging climber. The plant uses its “sticky” roots to cling to rough or coarse surfaces. This allows them to climb 10 to 15 metres in height without the use of climbing aids. Though they are not limited to upward growth: if climbing is not a possibility, they can be grown as a ground-cover, a free-standing bush or around tree trunks.

Originally from Taiwan, Korea and Japan, hydrangea plants are now well established in the UK. Facades covered in climbing hydrangea are a stunning feature. However, they are slow to establish, only flowering after about five to eight years, so a little patience is required before the desired effect materialises. The flowers appear from June to July, forming umbrella-like panicles up to 25cm in size. These panicles are made up of small “perfect flowers” (with both male and female parts) with 4 to 5 petals surrounded by large (about 3cm), sterile flowers that are white in colour. The blooms attract important pollinators such as bumblebees, bees and butterflies with their sweet fragrance.

Climbing hydrangea flowers attracting insects
The sweet-smelling flowers attract many insects [Photo: EQRoy/]

Despite the plants being slow to get started, and taking their time to flower, trailing hydrangeas grow vigorously once established. If the site conditions are good, they can grow up to one metre per year. They can also tolerate both frost and shade, making them perfect for locations that are not suitable for many other plants. This deciduous ornamental plant has dark green leaves that sit opposite each other and are round to ovate in shape.

Climbing hydrangea varieties

The selection of climbing hydrangea varieties available in shops is still quite limited. Below you will find the main varieties:

  • ‘Miranda’: This creamy white flowering variety grows to about 3m tall and has green leaves with pastel yellow edges.
  • ‘Cordifolia’: A dwarf shrub with heart-shaped leaves. It is slow-growing and can reach up to 2m in height.
  • ‘Silver Lining’: This variety will grow up to 3m tall, and has light green leaves with white-silvery edging and white flowers.
  • ‘Semiola’: A new variety that retains its leaves in mild winters and boasts copper-red shoots and white flowers.
Climbing hydrangea with yellow leaves on a wall
Many varieties have bright yellow leaves in autumn [Photo: photowind/]

Evergreen climbing hydrangeas: With most climbing hydrangea varieties, the leaves begin to turn bright yellow in autumn before they fall off. There are, however, also evergreen varieties, such as the ‘Semiola’ variety mentioned above. This new variety keeps its leaves in mild winters and is particularly beautiful to look at thanks to its copper-red shoots.

Planting climbing hydrangeas: where and how

When it comes to planting climbing hydrangeas, the right location and the right method are key to success.

Location and soil

As a woodland plant, climbing hydrangeas prefer cool, moist soils and semi-shady locations that are sheltered from the wind. Whether grown in full shade or in full sun, the plant can still grow well if given the right care. They prefer to take root in a loose, humus-rich soil, such as our Plantura Organic Ericaceous Compost, that is moist but well-drained and has an acidic to neutral pH level. Soils that are too sandy or clayey can be improved by mixing in some ericaceous compost.

Organic Ericaceous Compost, 40L
Organic Ericaceous Compost, 40L
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  • Perfect for acid-loving plants such as hydrangeas, rhododendrons, blueberry bushes, azaleas & more
  • Ensures all-round healthy plants with lush blooms and aromatic berries
  • Peat-reduced & organic soil: CO2-saving composition

Tip: Young climbing hydrangeas are sensitive to late frosts and too much sunlight. Leaf damage due to “sunburn” is not uncommon.

How to plant climbing hydrangeas

Climbing hydrangeas often come in the pot they were first planted in. If the soil is dry, soak the root ball in water for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, dig the planting hole: this should be twice as deep and wide as the pot. Make sure that the soil at the bottom of the hole is permeable by loosening it so that water can drain well – the climbing hydrangea is sensitive to waterlogging.

It is a good idea to enrich the soil at this point with ericaceous compost and a specially designed fertiliser, such as our Plantura Hydrangea Food. Simply mix these into the excavated soil to provide the plant with a long-term supply of nutrients. Our fertiliser is a slow-release plant food that is made of sustainable, animal-free ingredients.

Planting hole with garden spade
First, dig a large planting hole [Photo: Lubsan/]

Then place your hydrangea and the excavated soil into the planting hole, with the plant as deep as it was in the pot before. Though because climbing hydrangeas can form shoot-like roots, they can tolerate deeper planting. Once planted, it is important to water the plant generously and ensure the soil remains moist over the course of the next few days and weeks. To prevent water loss, you can also create a watering ring around the plant.
When planting multiple hydrangeas, keep a spacing of at least 60cm between each plant to give each one enough space to grow. While you can generally plant them out all year round, early spring is best.

Climbing aids: In theory, climbing hydrangeas can climb independently on a wide variety of surfaces with the help of their clinging roots. These surfaces should be rough and hard-wearing like wood with bark, stone, or rough concrete, for example. If the surface is too smooth or exposed to the wind, your climbing hydrangea, which can reach a considerable weight when old, may lose its grip. On rendered house walls, it is advisable to place a climbing aid in front to protect the wall from the clinging roots. For this, keep the climbing aid at 10 to 15cm from the house wall.

Summary: How and when to plant climbing hydrangea

  • Plant in early spring
  • If plant is dried out, place container in water bath for 10 minutes
  • Dig a wide planting hole and loosen the bottom layer of soil
  • Enrich the excavated soil with ericaceous compost and hydrangea fertiliser
  • Plant hydrangea with excavated soil
  • Water thoroughly and keep moist in the following weeks
  • If necessary, form a watering ring
  • Plant spacing: at least 60cm

Climbing hydrangeas in pots

Climbing hydrangeas also make a beautiful flowering screen on terraces or balconies. For this, the container needs to be big enough – the rule of thumb here is the bigger, the better. Climbing hydrangeas in pots need regular watering and a good water-retaining potting soil. However, the plant does not tolerate waterlogging so make sure the container has sufficient drainage holes to allow water to drain away easily. You can also place a layer of coarse material, such as perlite or gravel, to the bottom of the pot to help prevent waterlogging. A climbing aid is necessary to enable the plant to grow upwards. For example, a trellis made of sturdy wood is perfect for this.

Young climbing hydrangea on a wooden post
For the climbing hydrangea to grow and thrive, it needs the right care [Photo: Victoria Ashman/]

Tip: In a container, with a very limited amount of soil, it is important to fertilise regularly. To maintain the structure and quality of the potting soil, use a plant-based fertiliser, such as our Plantura Hydrangea Food. Climbing hydrangeas do not like to be repotted frequently, so this will reduce how often you need to change your plant’s soil.

Climbing hydrangea care

Climbing hydrangeas are robust and require little care. Like all hydrangeas, however, they do need plenty of moisture and nutrients.

Watering climbing hydrangeas

Climbing hydrangeas need a lot of water, so during dry periods with limited rainfall, it is necessary to water your plants. The best way to judge when the soil is too dry, and it is time to water is to use a finger test. Climbing hydrangeas planted in containers are especially susceptible to drying out, so check them more often. When watering, try not to wet the foliage too much to prevent downy mildew.

Tip: To keep the soil moist for longer, you can put a layer of mulch (using leaves or bark) around your plant.

Pruning climbing hydrangeas

Climbing hydrangeas do not need to be pruned in the first few years. They are slow growers, so removal of dead wood and dried flowers is enough. However, if the climbing plant loses its shape or bears too much weight on one side, you may have to reach for your secateurs. For regular maintenance pruning, do it in autumn or winter. The flowers grow best on branches that are one or two years old so regular pruning can promote more abundant flowering.


Hydrangeas love nutrient-rich soils that are filled with potassium, nitrogen, magnesium and iron especially. Nutritious soils allow the plant to grow stronger and healthier leaves and flowers. With this in mind, we recommend working a fertiliser into the soil that is tailored to hydrangeas’ specific needs, such as our Plantura Hydrangea Food. Do this during the growing season, between May and August.

Hydrangea Food, 1.5kg
Hydrangea Food, 1.5kg
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  • For beautiful hydrangeas with lush blooms in pots & flower beds
  • Prevents common deficiency symptoms & supports healthy plant growth
  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

Propagating climbing hydrangeas

Climbing hydrangeas are easy to propagate. Start in early summer using either the layering or cutting technique. To propagate a new plant through layering, lower a shoot that is already close to the ground towards the ground and fix it in the soil. This will form roots along the shoot, so-called adventitious roots. For this method, it is important that the mother plant is well established, as it needs to supply the offshoot with water and nutrients during the transition phase.

If you want to propagate climbing hydrangea from cuttings, take soft, one-year-old shoots and cut them to a length of about 15cm. Remove the tip of the shoot and cut off the top half of the leaves so that the cutting loses less liquid through leaf transpiration. Place the cutting in a moist, nutrient-poor soil such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost. After a few weeks, it should develop roots.

Climbing hydrangea under snow
In winter, newly propagated plants must be protected from frost [Photo: KPG Payless2/]

In September the cuttings can be planted into their own pots. It is important that the plant is placed in a frost-free environment over the winter. In spring you can then transplant the new hydrangea into a larger pot and move it outside the following year.

Are climbing hydrangeas poisonous?

Hydrangeas in general can cause discomfort to both humans and animals if consumed. Symptoms range from dizziness, circulatory problems, and anxiety to respiratory distress. Should you have existing allergies, simple skin contact with the plant can lead to an allergic reaction of some kind. It is, therefore, advisable to supervise small children when around the plants and teach them that the beautiful blossoms are only for decoration. As the flowers and leaves taste so bitter it is unlikely that they will be consumed in large quantities either by animals or humans.

Want to learn more about these delightful flowering shrubs? Then you will find everything you could possibly need to know in our hydrangea profile.