How to Grow Hydrangeas in Pots

Hydrangeas add unbelievable beauty to a space. By popping a hydrangea in a pot, you can enjoy that beauty just about anywhere! Porches, driveways, balconies, sidewalks, decks, you get the idea. If your spot has full sun, dappled shade, or something in between, there’s a hydrangea you can display there.

There are a few factors to keep in mind when growing a hydrangea in a container. It starts with your plans. Would you like a hydrangea planting just for this season (temporary) or would you like it to last a few years (permanent). With a temporary planting, you’ll enjoy that big flush of beauty in the summer and perhaps transplant or gift your hydrangea to someone else at the end of the season. With a permanent planting, you’ll want to consider its long term care.

Let’s dig into the details!

Container Choice

Little Lime® hydrangea
'Limelight' hydrangea
Pink hydrangea Tuff Stuff in a short pot
Tuff Stuff™ hydrangea

Temporary Planting

As long as your container holds soil and has a big enough hole (or a few) in the bottom to allow drainage, pretty much any container will work for a temporary hydrangea planting. This includes troughs, vintage pieces from the antique store, and DIY containers from Pinterest.

Permanent Planting

Three big things come into play with a years-long commitment to a potted hydrangea:

Material

If you live in an area that experiences frost, you’ll want to choose a pot that is weatherproof. Many will have a sticker that lets you know it’s frostproof. If you’re not sure if your container will work, just avoid pots that are clay, terra cotta, or ceramic. When freezing temperatures hit, containers that are not weatherproof will often crack, leaving the plant’s roots exposed to the harsh winter weather. If you live in an area that doesn’t experience frost, most any container will work.

Size

We’ve found that a container that is at least 16” - 24” wide and deep will accommodate a good-sized hydrangea nicely for a few years.

Weight

If your container is very big, it will be heavy when fully moist. So it’s best to move it to the spot where you want it to be placed before planting. If you plan to overwinter it in a more sheltered spot, plan to have a dolly on hand to move it easily.

Proven Winners potting soil

Soil

For both temporary and permanent plantings, be sure to use regular potting soil and not seed starting mix, as that may have little to no fertilizer added.
watering a potted hydrangea

Watering

Containers dry out easily, especially in the height of summer when it’s particularly hot and sunny. Check your container every day and water thoroughly when it needs it. Instead of pouring water in one spot, pour water around the entire base of your hydrangea until water starts coming out of the bottom of the container. As your plant matures, it will need more frequent watering as the roots start to take up more soil space. Hand watering your hydrangea gives you the opportunity to observe your plant closely, but to make watering easier, you can grow your hydrangeas in self-watering AquaPots® or use a drip irrigation system.
gloved hand sprinkling fertilizer

Fertilizer

For temporary plantings, the fertilizer that comes in potting soil is likely enough to support the plant, but for permanent plantings, you’ll need to apply fertilizer each year. It’s best to use an all-purpose flowering shrub or rose fertilizer as these have the correct ratio of nutrients for any hydrangea. In early spring, apply the fertilizer around the base of the plant, without it touching any branches, and water it thoroughly. Be sure not to apply fertilizer after late July as this can promote growth and prevent the hydrangea from going into dormancy correctly.

Plant Choice

Consider these factors when choosing a hydrangea:

Zone

For a temporary planting, you’ll want to make sure the hydrangea is in your hardiness zone if you plan to transplant the hydrangea into your landscape. If you plan to use the hydrangea like an annual, there is no need to worry about its hardiness zone range.

For a permanent planting, you’ll want to choose a hydrangea that is at least in your hardiness zone and if you plan to leave it in an area that experiences freezing winter conditions, you’ll need to use a variety that is two zones hardier than yours. For example, if you live in zone 6, you would need to choose a hydrangea that’s hardy down to zone 4.

Light Requirement

Your hydrangea should receive at least 4 hours of direct sun or all-day dappled light. In warm regions, your hydrangeas would benefit from afternoon shade as this will help prevent the soil from drying out and giving the plant sunburn.

Plant Recommendations for each light situation:
Full sun (6+ hours of direct sun) – Panicle hydrangeas are the most sun-tolerant hydrangea variety. Try Limelight Prime® panicle hydrangea.

Part Sun (4-6 hours of direct sun) or dappled shade – anything but oakleaf hydrangeas*. This includes mountain, smooth, panicle, and bigleaf hydrangeas. Try Invincibelle Garnetta® smooth hydrangea.

* Because oakleaf hydrangeas don’t often look their best when grown in containers, we don’t recommend them for your container gardening, but if you like the whimsical look, go for it!

Size

For a temporary planting, choose a hydrangea that is already the size that suits your needs, as it won’t grow very much during the season. Quart-sized hydrangeas look nice planted with annuals or perennials while gallon sizes are often large enough to fill in a pot by themselves.

For a permanent planting, since the hydrangea will be living and growing in your space for a few years, you’ll want to consider its eventual size. Choose a hydrangea that is well-suited for the space you plan to display it in. Here are a few examples:

Compact
1-2.5’ tall and wide – Invincibelle Wee White® smooth hydrangea
2’ tall and 2.5’ wide – Wee Bit Grumpy® bigleaf hydrangea

Mid-size
3-4’ tall and 3’ wide – Let’s Dance Can Do™ Reblooming hydrangea
2-3’ tall and wide – Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha® mountain hydrangea

Large
6-8’ tall and 5-6’ wide – Quick Fire Fab® panicle hydrangea
6-8’ tall and wide – Pinky Winky® panicle hydrangea

Planting

There are a few minor things to consider when planting your hydrangea in a pot rather than in your garden. 

  • Prevent soil from escaping the hole in the bottom of your pot by covering the hole with a coffee filter, paper towel, or fine mesh.
  • Fill the container with soil, up to where the bottom of your hydrangea will sit.
  • Place the hydrangea (still in the plastic nursery pot) into the container and fill soil around it, firming it into place as you go. When the soil level of the potted hydrangea matches the soil level around the outside, remove the potted hydrangea.
  • Gently remove the hydrangea from the plastic nursery pot and place it into the hole. Firm the soil around the rootball, gently scratch the rootball, and water your new planting thoroughly.
  • About an hour later, check that the soil is still level around the entire surface as potting soil will occasionally settle and slightly expose the rootball. Fill in any exposed spots and lightly water again.
  • Place a 2-3” layer of mulch on the soil surface and your hydrangea is ready to show off!
3 different pot arrangements with blue hydrangeas

Preparing for Winter

Hydrangea in a pot on a front porch

Potted hydrangeas can often overwinter in place, but if you’re worried your hydrangea might be exposed to harsh wind or get buried under piles of snow, you can move it. A perfect spot would be next to your home, out of the wind, but still exposed to the sun and able to receive precipitation. Hydrangeas benefit from being exposed to the elements, as it helps them stay in their natural rhythm, so it’s best to overwinter them outdoors if possible. If you live in a very cold climate, you could pull them into an unheated space like a garage or breezeway for the winter.

Whether you live in a cold or warm climate, soil moisture is critical. A layer of mulch around the base of the hydrangea will help it retain water in all climates. For warm climates, be sure to check your hydrangea throughout the winter to make sure the soil is moist. For climates that experience freezing winters, give your hydrangea a healthy drink a couple of weeks before winter strikes as this will help it survive the drying winds of wintertime. If you’re planning to overwinter them in a covered area, give them some water throughout the season during warmer spells so they don’t dry out. Try not to get them soggy with too much water.

Transplanting

Your hydrangea will need to be transplanted once it starts to slow down noticeably. It may flower less or put on less height and width than normal. This can happen anywhere from three to five seasons after you’ve planted it. When this happens, you can transplant it into a bigger pot with new soil or you can find a spot for it out in your garden. Either way, you’ll have to plant it in the same way you’re accustomed to planting newly purchased shrubs, but be sure to scratch those close-growing roots with your fingers to loosen them up when repotting so it will happily grow in its new home.
newly planted hydrangea being watered

Ready to learn all about hydrangeas?

Have a question about growing a hydrangea in a container? Ask in the comments below.

2 Responses

    1. It depends on which type of hydrangea you have – in short, panicle and smooth hydrangeas are generally cut back in spring, when the new growth begins. Other types of hydrangeas – bigleaf, mountain, oakleaf – should not be cut back at all, as doing so will remove their flower buds. However, if the old flowers are still clinging to these types in spring, you can cut off just the old flower. When in doubt about which type you have, avoid pruning! It won’t hurt if they don’t get cut back, so better safe than sorry.

Comments are closed.

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2 Responses

    1. It depends on which type of hydrangea you have – in short, panicle and smooth hydrangeas are generally cut back in spring, when the new growth begins. Other types of hydrangeas – bigleaf, mountain, oakleaf – should not be cut back at all, as doing so will remove their flower buds. However, if the old flowers are still clinging to these types in spring, you can cut off just the old flower. When in doubt about which type you have, avoid pruning! It won’t hurt if they don’t get cut back, so better safe than sorry.

Comments are closed.