How To Grow French hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) In Your Garden

Hydrangea macrophylla has the common names of French hydrangea and Bigleaf hydrangea.

It is a deciduous shrub prized for its large, colorful, elegant flowers.

It belongs to the plant family Hydrangeaceae. It typically grows 3 to 6 feet (90 to 180 cm) tall, and has about the same width.

Plants produce clusters of large, generally elliptical dark-green leaves.

Hydrangea macrophylla is native to China, Japan, and to Central and South America.

This plant is loved for its constellations of long-blooming summer flowers.

Depending on the pH of the soil, flowers range in color from blue to lilac/pink; though there are varieties that bloom in white.

These verdant, bushy, and colorful plants are excellent for borders, or for adding a splash of summer-time color to gardens, or large yards.

Hydrangea macrophylla
Hydrangea macrophylla photograph by Forest and Kim Starr; CC.

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Hydrangea macrophylla

Growing Hydrangea macrophylla plants is generally straightforward. Although. there are a few important things to keep in mind when planting and cultivating them.

When planting hydrangeas, make sure it is into a fertile (or fertilized), well-drained soil. Ideally space each plant about 3 to 10 feet (0.9 to 3 m) apart.

Bigleaf hydrangeas grow best in mild sunlight. To get the best blooms, they need to have morning sunlight. However, they will need to be grown in an area shaded from hot midday and afternoon sun.

Another tip to maintain a well-flowering plant, is to trim Bigleaf hydrangeas early in the spring. When pruning be careful not to remove last year's growth.

Remove dead or stunted branches, and trim back overgrown ones. But make sure to leave the healthy "old wood" from last year's growth. This is where the majority of the season's blooms will come from.

Finally, ensure your Hydrangea macrophylla is well-watered. Also be aware that late frosts, cold springs, and hard winters can set back a hydrangea's blooms.

In the right climate, and with simple caretaking, Hydrangeas can make a beautiful and lush addition to any backyard or garden.

French Hydrangea
French Hydrangea picture by Alyenaa Buckles; CC.

Quick Growing and Care Guide

Scientific Name: Hydrangea macrophylla

Common Name (s): Bigleaf Hydrangea, French Hydrangea.

Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): USDA Zones: 5-9, UK RHS zone: H5.

Best Used For / Garden Location: Borders, hedges, and containers.

Plant Details

Life Cycle / Plant Type: Perennial.

Plant Height: 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters).

Plant Spread: 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters).

Blooms: Blooms in summer with large, showy flower clusters.

Flower Details: Rounded clusters of flowers; color varies based on soil pH (pink in alkaline soil, blue in acidic soil).

Leaf Foliage: Large, glossy, dark green leaves; opposite arrangement Sow Seeds Outside: Not typically propagated from seeds.

Fruit: Hydrangea macrophylla does not typically produce fruit.

Growing Conditions and Location

Best Light Conditions: Partial shade to full sun (preferably morning sun and afternoon shade).

Suitable Soil Types: pH influences flower color (acidic soil for blue flowers, alkaline soil for pink flowers).

Soil Moisture: moist, well-draining soil; regular watering.

Sowing, planting, and Propagation: Plant purchased container-grown plants in well-draining soil, preferably in early spring or fall.

Hydrangea macrophylla can be propagated through softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings taken in late spring or early summer.

Remove a 4-6 inch (10-15 cm) section of stem just below a leaf node, remove the lower leaves, dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and plant it in a well-draining rooting medium.

Provide high humidity and indirect light. Roots should develop within a few weeks.

Care: Mulch to conserve moisture and regulate soil temperature; regular watering, especially during dry periods; fertilize in early spring with a balanced slow-release fertilizer; prune after flowering to maintain shape and size; protect from strong winds and harsh afternoon sun.

Growing in pots and containers: Hydrangea macrophylla is primarily grown outdoors but can be grown as a houseplant in bright, indirect light.

Maintain moderate watering, provide proper humidity, and ensure good air circulation. Adjust indoor conditions to mimic outdoor growing requirements as closely as possible.

Further Information

Pests and diseases: Common pests include aphids, spider mites, and scale insects. Diseases include powdery mildew, leaf spot, and root rot.

Regular inspection and appropriate measures, such as using insecticidal soap or fungicides, can help control these issues.


Some popular cultivars of Hydrangea macrophylla include:

  1. 'Endless Summer': Known for its ability to bloom on both old and new wood, providing continuous flowers throughout the summer.
  2. 'Nikko Blue': Produces large, rounded clusters of blue flowers.
  3. 'Twist-n-Shout': Features lacecap flowers with a mix of pink or blue petals, depending on the soil pH.
  4. 'Penny Mac': A classic variety with big, mophead flowers that can range in color from pink to blue, depending on soil acidity.
  5. 'Forever Pink': Produces long-lasting pink flowers, even in alkaline soil.
  6. 'Mariesii Variegata': Notable for its variegated leaves with cream-colored margins.

Family: Hydrangeaceae.

Native: Japan and Korea.

References and Further Reading:

"Hydrangeas for American Gardens" by Michael A. Dirr. Timber Press.

The American Hydrangea Society (AHS)

Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Hydrangea guide

North Carolina Extension Gardener Toolbox: Hydrangea macrophylla

Common Questions

Where is the best place to plant a Hydrangea macrophylla?

The best location for planting Hydrangea macrophylla is in partial shade. It thrives with morning sun and afternoon shade to prevent heat stress. Choose a spot that is sheltered from strong winds to protect the delicate flowers.

The soil should be well-draining and enriched with organic matter. If the soil is alkaline, you can amend it with sulfur or aluminum sulfate to lower the pH and promote blue flower color. Remember to provide regular watering, especially during hot and dry periods.

What is the habit of Hydrangea macrophylla?

Hydrangea macrophylla is a deciduous shrub with a rounded habit. It typically grows in a mounding shape, reaching a height of 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 meters) and spreading about the same distance.

The branches are woody and can become quite dense with foliage.

The leaves are large, glossy, and broadly ovate in shape.

The overall habit of Hydrangea macrophylla is compact and bushy, making it a beautiful addition to garden beds, borders, or as a focal point in the landscape.

How and when to prune Hydrangea macrophylla?

Hydrangea macrophylla should be pruned in early spring before new growth begins.

Start by removing any dead or damaged branches. To encourage bushier growth and larger flowers, you can selectively prune back the stems to about 1/3 of their length, focusing on cutting just above a pair of healthy buds.

Be cautious not to remove too much of the old wood, as it may impact flowering.

Note that some varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla bloom on old wood, so avoid pruning them too heavily to preserve the flower buds.

Regular pruning helps maintain the shape and vitality of the plant.


Hydrangea macrophylla, commonly known as French hydrangea or Bigleaf hydrangea, is a deciduous shrub cherished for its large, elegant flowers. It thrives in fertile, well-drained soil and prefers mild sunlight with morning exposure.

Pruning in early spring helps maintain abundant blooms by removing dead or stunted branches while preserving last year's healthy growth.

With proper care and watering, Hydrangea macrophylla adds beauty and lushness to gardens, offering a delightful display of colorful flowers, making it a favored choice among gardeners.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Hydrangea macrophylla. You may also enjoy the following growing guides: Hydrangea paniculata, Common Peony, and Helianthemum nummularium plants.

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