Hydrangea macrophylla: planting, care & the best cultivars


I studied agricultural sciences and have always preferred spending my free time outdoors. Apart for my enthusiasm for gardening and agriculture, I love taking photos and rarely leave home without my camera. Whether it is landscapes, blossoms or wildlife, I can usually find a perfect shot that captures the beauty of nature.

Favourite fruit: strawberries, blueberries, plums
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Are mophead hydrangeas, also called bigleaf hydrangeas, hardy? What to consider when pruning mophead hydrangea? Everything about planting and caring for Hydrangea macrophylla can be found here.

Pink, purple-blue flowering Hydrangea macrophylla
Mophead hydrangeas are very popular plants for semi-shaded areas [Photo: Christian Musat/ Shutterstock.com]

It is hard to imagine our gardens without garden or mophead hydrangeas. Whether in white, pink, purple or blue, the plump flowerheads of mophead hydrangeas make shady garden spots glow.

Hydrangea macrophylla: flowering time, origin and characteristics

The mophead hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), also known as lacecap hydrangea or bigleaf hydrangea, belongs to the hydrangea genus (Hydrangea) in the family Hydrangeaceae. Its wild form originated in Japan and reached Europe around 1790. Since then, it has undergone a great deal of breeding, so that today there is a wide variety of bigleaf hydrangea cultivars. The terms bigleaf and mophead hydrangea also include some beautiful hybrid cultivars. The mophead hydrangea grows as an erect half-shrub and grows about 1 to 2 meters high and up to 2.5 meters wide. It forms opposite, up to 15 centimetres long, elliptically pointed leaves. These appear in an intense green, their leaf edge is toothed. During the flowering period from June to September, numerous umbrella panicles open above the foliage, consisting of sterile show flowers and hidden fertile flowers. The umbrella panicles have a flattened or spherical shape, with the spherical flowerheads being completely sterile.

Various coloured Hydrangea macropyhlla plants along pathway
Hydrangea macrophylla comes in many colours [Photo: AGOLD/ Shutterstock.com]

Hydrangea macrophylla forms lush flower panicles, but is it bee-friendly in the process? Unlike panicle hydrangeas, for example, bigleaf hydrangeas have predominantly sterile flowers with usually 4 to 6 large sepals. In them bees and other insects do not find food. Mophead hydrangea cultivars with umbrella-shaped, flat flowerheads also have fertile flowers that provide nectar and pollen, but the food supply for insects is comparatively low. Thus, the lacecap hydrangea is only bee-friendly to a limited extent. If you are looking for an insect-friendly hydrangea, for example, the Hydrangea paniculata cultivar ‘Kyushu’, which has a high percentage of nectar-rich, fertile flowers, is suitable.

Close-up of pink flowering Hydrangea macrophylla
The umbrella-shaped flowers of Hydrangea macrophylla provide food for insects [Photo: Marco Curaba/ Shutterstock.com]

Lacecap hydrangea varieties

There are many cultivars of Hydrangea macrophylla, which differ mainly in the colour and shape of their flowers. In addition to single-colour cultivars, fancy cultivars with multicoloured flowers are also available.

Winter hardy cultivars

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Endless Summer’: Multiple flowering cultivar with plump, ball-shaped flowerheads in shades of white, blue and red.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Forever & Ever’: Easy-to-care-for variety series with ball-shaped flowerheads in pink, blue and purple; the edges of the sepals are slightly serrated in places.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Hovaria’: Variety series with sometimes multicoloured false flowers, for example, white with red fringe or bicoloured variegated flowers in pink and red; leaf edges partly ruffled; provides food for bees.

Close-up of pink double variety of Hydrangea macrophylla
There are also varieties of mophead hydrangea with multi-coloured or double flowers [Photo: Cristina lonescu/ Shutterstock.com]

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Magical’: Huge, ball-shaped flowers in shades of red and pink, also multicoloured cultivars with unique colour gradients from, for example, green to pink and red to yellow-green autumn colour; sometimes serrated flower edges.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘You & Me Romance’: Long-flowering variety with rather flat flowerheads, very large, double mock flowers in pink or blue; provides food for bees.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Pirates Gold’: Striking, yellow-green leaf variegation; flowerheads appear in pink and have only a few marginal false flowers; provides food for bees.

Small Hydrangea macrophylla for growing in pots

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Little Blue’: Dwarf hydrangea, growth height up to 60 cm; plump flower balls in pastel blue.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Kanmara’: Large, ball-shaped flowerheads in shades of white, pink, blue; also multicoloured cultivars; compact growth, very suitable as a container plant.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Lanarth White’: Small, wide-bush shrub with plate-shaped flowerheads of pure white marginal flowers and pink or blue fertile flowers; white mophead hydrangea provides food for bees.

Hydrangea macrophylla in pots with watering can in front
Mophead hydrangeas can be planted in the garden as well as in a pot on the terrace or balcony [Photo: Galina Grebenyuk/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting Hydrangea macrophylla: location, timing and instructions

Bigleaf hydrangeas can be planted throughout the year. However, the best time is spring. This will give the plants enough time to grow well until winter.

The right location for mophead hydrangeas

The perfect location for bigleaf hydrangeas is a semi-shaded, wind-protected place in the garden or on the balcony. Hydrangea macrophylla are not particularly comfortable in a full-sun location, primarily because of their high water requirements. The watering water evaporates too quickly there, so the plants let their leaves and flowers droop. In addition, they can easily get sunburned when exposed to strong sunlight.

Hydrangea macrophylla require a fresh, well-drained and slightly acidic soil with a high humus and nutrient content. Special hydrangea soil with a low pH value is offered in garden specialty stores. These are very suitable for planting in pots. In the garden, you can also easily make the substrate yourself. Sandy and nutrient-poor garden soils, as well as those that are too heavy and clayey, should be mixed with a high-quality planting soil such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. Particularly heavy soils are additionally enriched with sand, preferably in a mixing ratio of 2/3 garden soil to 1/3 sand. In order for the soil pH to slide into the acidic range, mix acidic primary rock flour (for example, basalt, granite) or grape marc into the soil. The needles of conifers also have a pH-lowering effect.

After planting, the soil around the hydrangea should be mulched with bark mulch. This keeps the moisture in the soil and ensures that the pH value remains rather low.

Tip: If you want to achieve a strong blue colouring of your hydrangea, you should plant it in a pot as this allows you to control the acidity better. How exactly to dye hortensia blue, you will learn in our dedicated article.

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Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
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Instructions: planting lacecap hydrangeas

Here’s how to plant a lacecap hydrangea in the open ground or in a container:

  • Dig a large enough planting hole for your hydrangea. It should be 1.5 times the size of the planting ball.
  • Then fill the hole with loose soil until the correct planting height is reached.
  • Loosen the hydrangea from the pot and loosen the planting ball with your hands so that crowded roots are pulled apart – in this way the roots are stimulated to branch.
  • Place the planting ball in the centre of the planting hole and fill it with substrate.
  • Press well and water generously. Especially when planting in the summer months, the freshly planted hydrangeas need very intensive watering.

If you want to plant Hydrangea macrophylla in pots, it is essential that it has a drainage hole in the bottom of the container, which is kept free by thick stones or shards of clay. Excess water can thus simply drain away when watering, so that no waterlogging occurs. Also, choose a glazed clay pot or a plastic pot for the mophead hydrangea, because vessels made of open-pored clay lose a lot of water through evaporation.

Tip: From leftover soil, you can form a small mound around the hydrangea, which you always completely fill with water when watering. This allows the water to percolate slowly and not run off to the side if it cannot be absorbed quickly enough by the soil. A mulch layer of leaves or bark mulch also serves as evaporation protection.

Person removing hydrangea macrophylla from pot
Mophead hydrangeas are perfect for those of us with only very little space as some small varieties can be planted in pots [Photo: EagleEyes/ Shutterstock.com]

Hydrangea macrophylla care

When caring for mophead hydrangeas, you should take into account that the plants have a decidedly high water requirements. In addition to regular watering, hydrangeas planted in pots, in particular, should be fertilized occasionally.

Tip: When caring for the bed, be sure to avoid hoeing all around the hydrangeas. They are shallow rooted and their roots can be easily damaged when hoeing.

Pruning Hydrangea macrophylla

The best time for pruning lacecap hydrangeas is spring. Only the withered flowerheads and the dead parts of the plant are removed. Place the pruning shears below the flowers, just above the new buds. More detailed information about pruning hydrangeas can be found in our dedicated article.


Potted hydrangeas in particular should be fertilised annually to replenish their nutrient supply. The right time for fertilizer application is spring. Spring fertilization gives Hydrangea macrophylla a good start to the growing season. In summer, a second fertilization can be made, but in any case should not be fertilised after the end of June, when the risk of frost damage increases. Choose a special hydrangea fertiliser, such as our plant-based Plantura Hydrangea Food with slow-release effect. This contains extra iron to prevent iron chlorosis. By covering the fertiliser with a layer of mulch, it is kept moist and begins to act more quickly. Do not work the fertiliser in by raking or the like, as this can easily damage the shallow roots of hydrangeas.

Hydrangea Food, 1.5kg
Hydrangea Food, 1.5kg
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Tip: Despite proper fertilisation, iron chlorosis can occur in hydrangeas. The cause of this plant atypical leaf discolouration is too high pH of the soil. This can be lowered by adding some grape marc or acidic primary rock flour, or by watering regularly with acidic water.

Watering mophead hydrangeas

Unlike panicle hydrangeas, which can withstand shorter periods of drought well, Hydrangea macrophylla have an enormously high water requirement and react quickly to a water deficit by letting their shoots and flowers hang limp. Therefore, water the bigleaf hydrangeas in your garden or on the balcony in the summer months daily and generously. On hot summer days, potted hydrangeas should be watered even twice a day, because the water evaporates more quickly with the smaller volume of soil. Ideally, use rainwater, as it has the right pH for hydrangeas. Towards the end of the summer, the amount of water can be reduced.

Tip: Water containing too much lime should be acidified with a little apple cider vinegar or at least left to stand for a day before use (“let it bubble”).

Bigleaf hydrangea propagation

Hydrangea macrophylla, like other hydrangea species, can be propagated by cuttings. These need to be taken in early summer between June and July. First, the growing containers are filled with substrate. Choose a peat-free seedling soil, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, and mix in sand or perlite. This increases the air capacity of the soil and thus improves rooting. After that, the wood cuttings can be taken. Take shoot tips from the canes, about 10 to 15 cm in length. They should be healthy, only slightly woody and have no flower buds. Then remove the lower leaves, leaving only the upper pair of leaves. Now insert the cuttings into the substrate to a depth of about 7 cm and press down. The soil must be kept continuously moist. In a bright place with high humidity, without direct sunlight and with a temperature of about 15 °C, the cuttings will take root and grow into new hydrangeas.


Lacecap hydrangeas are hardy in our latitudes. Always choose robust, well-hardened plants from specialised stores. Since hydrangeas are very shallow rooted, you can cover the soil around them with leaves and fir branches as a precaution. Especially for potted hydrangeas, the plants and pots should be wrapped with garden fleece and jute bags to protect them from severe frosts.

Dried up hydrangea macrophylla blossom
In our part of the world, mophead hydrangeas are winter hardy [Photo: Alexander Denisenko/ Shutterstock.com]

Hydrangea macrophylla can also be wintered protected in sheds or garages. But the winter quarters should not be too warm. A prolonged cold stimulus is necessary for the plants to successfully sprout and form flowers again the following year. In the spring, hydrangeas that have been overwintered indoors need to slowly get used to the light again. Therefore, they should first be placed in the shade and not in full sun.

If you would like to get an overview of all hydrangea species and find the right cultivar for your garden, we recommend our dedicated article on hydrangea species.