Do Hydrangeas Prefer Full Sun, Partial Shade, or Full Shade?

Are you thinking of planting hydrangeas in your garden, but aren't sure if they prefer full sun or partial shade? Better yet, can they grow in fully shaded areas? While the answer to these questions is often variety dependent, there's some good general guidelines you can adhere to. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago examines if your hydrangeas need full sun, partial shade, or if they can live in full shade.

Hydrangeas Sun or Shade

Are you considering growing a hydrangea or two in your garden, but you are unsure where it should be planted? Do you have a woodland garden that could use some love? Or maybe you have an empty space in your sunny and warm flower garden? When you plant your hydrangea, will it need full sun, partial shade, or a fully shaded area?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a short answer to this question. But there is good news, and that’s that certain varieties of hydrangea can exist in full sun, partial shade, or even close to full shade. Again, this is variety dependent, and will also depend on the geographic hardiness zone.

In this article, you’ll learn all about some different varieties of hydrangea, as well as their optimal growing conditions. The good news is, no matter the sunlight conditions of your garden, there is a perfect hydrangea variety that will likely fit your garden space. Let’s jump in!  

So, Full Sun or Partial Shade? 

White Flowers Growing in a Shaded Garden
Either sunny or shaded areas of your garden will work for growing hydrangeas.

Well, the answer is both! Plants that prefer partial shade, or interchangeably partial sun, need between three and six hours of direct sunlight per day. Sun-loving plants require six hours or more of direct sunlight per day.  

If you are unsure how much sun you get in your yard, simply check a specific spot in your garden every hour or two from sunrise to sunset. Take note of how sunny or shady the spot is from there. Sunlight calculators are also available at garden centers and are a great option if you are short on time.  

All species of hydrangea will indeed grow well in partial shade. However, some of these species will actually thrive with a bit more sun. There is one variety in particular that loves full sun: Hydrangea paniculata, or the panicle hydrangea.  

Many hydrangeas are sensitive to soil pH, especially when it comes to controlling the color of your blooms. However, H. macrophylla and H. serrata are two species that are not great candidates for deep shade or full sun. 

Hydrangeas in the Shade 

Blue Flowers Growing in a Shaded Area
There are a number of hydrangea varieties that grow well in the shade.

Hydrangeas thrive with that perfect combination of morning sun and afternoon shade. Even Hydrangea paniculata, which is a sun lover, will do well in partial shade. However, there are some varieties of hydrangea that can tolerate full shade.  

Hydrangea quercifolia, or oakleaf hydrangea, is a large hydrangea species that can grow to eight or more feet tall. This large shrub is a great backdrop in a shade garden. The height will offer great summertime privacy. Blooming in the summer, oakleaf hydrangea has white flowers for the most part, intricate oakleaf-shaped leaves, and beautiful peeling bark.  

Another full shade option is Hydrangea anomala ssp petiolaris. Covered in white summertime, lacy blooms, this climbing species can grow up to 50 feet if it is well supported. The foliage is a deep shade of green and would be lovely covering the face of a building, the roof of a garden shed, or even growing up the trunk of a tree. 

The maintenance of full shade varieties is the same as partial shade. Keeping the plants free of leaf litter, with good airflow will be especially important in the deeper shade. Once your plant has been established, water about once a week. Keep your eye on the leaves and if they appear to be drooping, especially in the hot summer temperatures, water frequently. This is especially important in hotter climates

The interesting shape of these leaves would make a really nice accent to Hosta leaves. The white blooms would add some bright color to your shady areas, and would complement the lighter colors of your shady blooms nicely.  

Shade Varieties

There are a few different varieties of hydrangea that perform well in the shade. Some varieties can even grow in colder growing zones, all the way down to zone three which doesn’t start heating up until later in the spring. Let’s take a look at some of the top shade varieties!

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow queen’ 

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow queen’ 
The stark white blooms of the Snow Queen can pop out from the shade.

‘Snow queen’ is a stunner. As with all hydrangeas, the flowers are gorgeous. These blooms arrive in midsummer in a rosy blush tone. My favorite part of this plant is the foliage. The leaves start out in a very deep green, and as the season progresses they slowly change color, finally ending in a deep reddish bronze color and adding a gorgeous splash of color to your autumn garden. 

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’ 

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alice’ 
This hydrangea is considered to be one of the largest of the Oakleaf Hydrangeas.

This is among the largest of the Oakleaf Hydrangea, growing from anywhere between 12 and 15 feet. This plant produces really rich cream-colored flowers in the summertime. ‘Alice’ would be really special in a woodland garden. This variety would be especially stunning planted as a hedge to create a border. 

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ 

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ 
The flowers of this variety can grow to be very large – about a foot across in some instances.

Sporting some of the biggest flowers in the hydrangea family (I am talking 12 inches across!), ‘Annabelle’ loves partial shade. The stems are strong enough to support these massive flowers all season long. Give this shrub plenty of room to grow; it grows to five feet high and five feet wide. These whopper flowers are pure white and are long-blooming.  

‘Annabelle’ would be charming in a foundation planting, as a specimen shrub, or in a mass planting. Don’t count these shrubs out in your cutting garden! Imagine flowers that big in a bouquet! Wow! 

Hydrangeas in the Sun 

Blue and White Flowers Growing in the Sun
The Panicle Hydrangea is the best for growing in the sunny spots of your garden.

Now you know that every type of hydrangea will do well in at least partial shade. The species that is the best for growing in full sun is Hydrangea paniculata, or Panicle Hydrangea. Hydrangea paniculata is a very hardy species, thriving from USDA zones 4-8. This plant will require at least four hours of bright sun to produce strong stems, however, six or more hours would be best.  

The flowers on this species are cone-shaped clusters of white flowers that will change color as the season goes on. The colors range from white to pink, to beige, and sometimes green. These hydrangeas are later and longer bloomers than the shade-loving varieties. The blooms will dry on the plant and will continue to offer winter interest through most of the chilly season. 

Hotter climates will of course require different maintenance. In USDA zones 7 and above, Panicle Hydrangeas should receive afternoon shade to keep the plant from drying out. These climates will also require more frequent watering of the shrubs. 

Well-drained soil is all that Hydrangea paniculata requires from you. This is basically to keep the plant healthy and free of disease. Amend your soil as needed, adding organic matter to give your hydrangea the best chance for staying hydrated in the sun.  

Water as you would with any newly planted shrub. After the first year or two, the panicle hydrangea should be established and will be able to withstand drier conditions. Don’t ignore your plants though. Forgetting to water too frequently could cause weak blooms, so water regularly! 

Sun Varieties

Many hydrangeas love partial sun. This is great news for you as a gardener, because you’ll have plenty of options, and plenty of different colors to pick from. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular full-sun friendly varieties that you can plant!

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’ 

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’
The two-toned blossoms of this hydrangea are stunning and coveted by gardeners.

These large flowers bloom in mid to late summer. As the summer progresses the flowers will turn pink. The panicles continue to grow, producing new white flowers at the tips which gives you a gorgeous two-toned end result.  

The upright nature of this variety makes it a great addition to your garden, but also a very good choice for your container gardens as well. Growing from 6-8 feet tall these plants would work really well as a border. The blooms would  be beautiful in fresh arrangements, or saved and used in dried arrangements 

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’  

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’
The bright lime green blooms of this hydrangea add nice color to your garden.

Very large blooms open into a beautiful green color that is a very welcome sight in the heat of summer. The blooms will age to a variety of colors. This shrub can also bloom in red and pink which will last through the long blooming period of these plants.

This shrub also grows from six to eight feet tall and just like ‘Pinky Winky’ will make a great hedge or privacy screen. Its growth is more mounded in style, and still makes an excellent choice for a container. 

I really love the companion plantings with ‘Limelight’. To me, the green color of the flowers makes it really fun to plant with. Sweet low growing roses or catmint will create a cottage feel. Whereas planting with blue fescue can offer a more modern vibe.  

If you cut these flowers for an arrangement, you will still be gifted with the changing of the blossom colors. They may be a bit more muted than if they are left to mature on the plant, but are still captivating nonetheless.  

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pee Gee’  

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pee Gee’  
The Pee Gee is one of the more common hydrangeas planted in gardens.

I saved the most popular for last! ‘Pee Gee’ can be grown as a shrub or, wait for it, pruned into a tree form! Typically the tree forming of these shrubs is done by the grower and simply maintained by you once they are established in your garden.  

Occasional pruning of low-growing branches may be needed if you prefer the clean look of the trunk. These plants could reach up to 15 feet in height at maturity. Lovely blush-colored blooms cover this very dependable variety. I love a tree form of ‘Pee Gee’ as a statement plant in a flower garden or anchoring your foundation plantings.  

Final Thoughts 

Planting hydrangea in a non-traditional space in your garden, such as full sun or full shade, would be a great way to add some unsuspected beauty to your gardens.  

Wherever you choose to plant a hydrangea, it will be a lovely addition to your garden. Both the sun and the shade varieties offer their own special characteristics to your space. It all comes down to your creativity, which species you love the most, and where you have the right amount of space in your garden. If you can dream it up, these plants will not disappoint you.  

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