Can Hydrangeas Survive a Cold Winter Freeze?

Did your hydrangea go through a nasty winter freeze this season? If so, you are likely wondering what kind of damage you'll be dealing with as spring approaches. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago examines what you can expect if your hydrangeas went through a significant bout of cold weather.

Hydrangea plants covered in snow during a cold snap

Hydrangeas are beautiful flowering shrubs that are best known for their giant blossoms. However, from small dwarf varieties to 80-foot climbers, there is a type of hydrangea that is suitable for almost every garden. 

There are six species of hydrangea that are most commonly grown in our gardens. Each of these six species has similarities, but they also have their differences, and it is essential to know what type of growing conditions each species requires. More on that later. 

If you live in an area where you experience very chilly winters, you may be worried about winter damage in your gardens. Or you may be wondering if you should even bother growing hydrangeas in a colder climate. Let’s learn a bit more about your hydrangea’s rate of survival after a winter freeze. 

The Short Answer

Absolutely! Hydrangeas are hardy shrubs that can survive a winter freeze. As long as the shrub isn’t subjected to repeated below zero temperatures, most species of hydrangea will be just fine through colder weather. It is critical to plant a species that is hardy in your area, as not all of them will thrive in certain hardiness zones.

The Long Answer

Hydrangea with ice on leaves after a cold winter frost spell. The flower petals of each bloom is brown and covered in frost.
Most species are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3-7.

As a genus, hydrangeas are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3-7. This is a pretty broad range, but they do grow happily throughout most of the United States. Most hydrangeas require partial shade to thrive, except for panicles which love full sun

Hydrangeas also like soil that is moist and well-draining. You may have some difficulties growing thriving plants in heavy clay or sandy soils. 

They do best when they are allowed to go dormant. This happens when the plant receives less sunlight throughout the day as well as colder temperatures. This process helps the plant to conserve energy, which will help them to survive the winter.

If plants don’t go dormant, they will continue to grow, and the new fresh growth could be susceptible to damage from cold weather, even if it doesn’t freeze. 

Hardiness Zones

Depending on the type of hydrangea you’ve planted and the hardiness zone you reside in, some species will be more resilient to winter frosts. Those that are hardy into colder weather zones should rebound faster than those that thrive in more warm, humid environments. The table below outlines which species are more frost resistant.

Species Common Name Hardiness Zone
Hydrangea anomala Climbing hydrangea 4-9
Hydrangea arborescens Smooth hydrangea 3-9
Hydrangea macrophylla Bigleaf hydrangea 5-9
Hydrangea paniculata Panicle hydrangea 3-7
Hydrangea quercifolia Oakleaf hydrangea 5-9
Hydrangea serrata Mountain hydrangea 5-9

Managing Frosts

Close up of a shrub covered in snow with dark and dry flower buds. The flower petals are all dead and brown for the winter season.
Colder temperatures will naturally cause the plant to go dormant.

Beginning with the first frost in the late fall, you will notice their leaves beginning to droop, darken, and eventually drop from the plant. Hydrangeas will produce new leaves every year.

So, there’s no need to worry about any dark or damaged leaves that remain on the plant through the winter. They will eventually shed, and new green leaves will appear. 

Cold Snap or Late Frost

Flowering shrub after a cold snap growing outdoors. The flowers are green, but some are faded on the outside of the blossoms.
A cold snap in the spring can cause plants to die if they aren’t properly protected.

This can be the most depressing thing to happen during the spring. Just when you think you are out of the woods, bam! You are hit with a late frost which damages all of your newly emerged buds.

You may notice discoloring of your freshly emerged leaves, as well as discoloring and the loss or discoloration of any blooms that may have already arrived. 

The good news about this damage is that it will not affect the overall health of the plant. It may not be as beautiful as you had hoped for, but it will return bright and healthy next year. Continue to water the plant as standard for the best results. 

Cold Winds

Shrubs growing in an area with bitter wind blowing against them. There are three tall shrubby plants with brown flowers on the top of them sitting in a windy area. The plants have been nipped by the winter winds.
Cold, bitter winds can cause irreparable damage to your shrubs.

It is not recommended to plant in an area that gets a lot of wind. In the summertime, these winds can dry out the plant. The same can happen in the winter, except these frosty winds, coupled with the weight of ice or snow, can damage the branches of the plant. 

Another issue with the cold winds is that they will continue to dehydrate your plants. This will happen even if there are no leaves to wick water from.

In the event that you knowingly planted in an area where it experiences a lot of wind, it is essential to water through the fall until the ground freezes. This will provide the plant with as much hydration as possible. It will also provide your plant the best chance of a strong recovery in the spring. 

Frost Protection

Gardener covering shrub before the winter frost hits. They are pulling a white cover over the plant to protect from the frost. The gardener is wearing green gloves and a brown coat.
Frost protection is essential in colder climates.

If you live in an area where you know you are going to get heavy frosts and you are worried about your plants, consider wrapping them for the winter. This is suggested anywhere where your temperatures drop below five degrees on most days in the winter. 

You can use burlap to wrap your plant. Use some garden twine to keep everything in place. This will protect your buds from any impending frost. When you are wrapping, be careful not to wrap it too tightly. This could cause the burlap to rub against buds and snap them off. 

Another method to protect your hydrangeas from cold weather is by using some chicken wire and some plant stakes. Set up a makeshift fence with these materials (or whatever similar materials you have on hand) and fill the cage with straw or dried oak leaves. 

Winter Damage

Plant in winter with broken branch is bent in half. The plant has brown leaves and will need to be cared for to be revived. There is frost covering the entire plant in the winter.
Winter damage can occur when plants endure the weight of snow or gusty winds.

As with any plant in your garden, there is always a possibility of some sustained winter damage. It’s almost unavoidable in cold and windy climates.

The most common form of plant damage are broken stems from the weight of snow or ice. While it may not kill the plant, it’s still best to avoid winter damage when possible so you don’t have to remedy it in the spring.

Prevention

Gardener is holding pruning shears to trim a shrub. Gardener is wearing gloves that are made of white cloth. She holds the branches of several cuttings of a dying shrub in the winter.
Plan ahead by removing branches that may be susceptible to damaging snow or wind.

If you are growing in a location where you know that snow may dump, for instance, near a roof line, then prune your hydrangeas to limit any branches from breaking. 

The most crucial factor is to make sure that you are planting a variety that is hardy where you live. It should also be placed in the perfect spot in your yard.

Plant Revival

Gardener wearing yellow gloves is pruning back a shrub after winter. The plant is coming out of its dormancy period and the gardener is preparing it for warmer weather.
Once spring approaches and the threat of frost has passed, you can start rehabilitating for spring blooms.

Even though you might notice the damage over the winter, it is essential to wait until the temperatures warm up before you start getting your plants back into shape. You will want to wait because you want to assess the damage properly.

Maybe your flower buds aren’t damaged as badly as you think they are. Wouldn’t you hate to chop off some beautiful blossoms unnecessarily? I know I would. 

Once the temperatures have leveled out in the springtime, you can begin to really assess the damage. Spring is a great time to prune away any broken branches or other stems that seem to have died. You can check this by scratching away at the bark in search of green tissue. If you wish to remove any discolored leaves, this is a good time to do so. 

Your hydrangeas will make a full recovery, and for the most part, these issues will only be aesthetic. You can expect your shrubs to make a full and healthy recovery. 

Overwintering Container Plants

Shrub with pink flowers blooming in a large terra cotta pot. There are five blooms coming off the shrub, and dark green foliage. The plant in the container sits on a ground outdoors.
Container-grown plants should be overwintered away from extreme cold.

If you have been growing hydrangeas in large containers during the summertime and you are expecting a heavy frost this winter, you will need to shelter them over the winter. You can either bring these large pots indoors or store them in a garden shed or garage.

Keeping them in the shed or garage will still expose them to cool temperatures without damaging the roots. The shelter will also keep any formed flower buds and branches from being exposed to any deep freezes that may occur. 

Final Thoughts 

As long as you have chosen a variety that is suitable for the hardiness zone you are growing in, your hydrangeas can survive a cold winter. If they get damaged, either the buds or the branches, there are ways to remedy the damage. 

If you are concerned about frost damage, protection is your best bet. Wrap your plants or bring them indoors to keep them safe. Hydrangeas are hardy shrubs, though and are resilient when they are left to handle mother nature on their own. 

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