How to Grow Hydrangeas in Pots

Written by Daniel Woodley. Reviewed by horticulturist Elizabeth Smith. Published to Hydrangeas on the 8th July 2021. Updated 1st March 2023.

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Hydrangeas can really pack a punch in any garden with their large, distinctive blooms that I’ve seen them last from mid-summer all the way into early autumn.

Generally easy to grow and pest-resistant, my hydrangeas are tolerant shrubs that reward me with magnificent flowers each year.

But can hydrangeas be grown in pots?

They certainly can, and on this page, I’ll show how to grow a healthy, stunning hydrangea in a pot.

Hydrangea mophead

The Best Hydrangeas For Pots

You can grow almost any hydrangea in a pot, but you may wish to consider one of the dwarf varieties that only grow up to 1 metre.

The most popular hydrangeas for medium-sized pots are:

  • Hydrangea macrophylla little pink/white – a mophead that reaches 0.6 metres.
  • “Ab Green Shadow” is my favourite compact hydrangea. Discover how to grow ab green shadow here.
  • Hydrangea switch ophelia – a paniculata that I’ve seen grow no more than 0.5 metres.
  • Hydrangea macrophylla selma – a compact shrub that will eventually reach 1 metre in height.
  • Hydrangea paniculata early sensation – an early flowering variety that I grew at my previous property. It will reach up to 1.5 metres, but by aggressively pruning it, I kept it compact.

Climbers such as the hydrangea anomala petiolaris can be grown in large containers but based on what I’ve seen. they are unlikely to reach their full potential of 12+ metres unless relocated to the ground.

Choosing a Suitable Pot

If you plan on growing a tall hydrangea, consider a heavier pot so it won’t topple over in the wind.

As a general rule of thumb, shop-purchased hydrangeas should be potted up as soon as possible for two reasons:

  • Hydrangeas need moist soil and small pots dry out much quicker than larger ones.
  • The roots of these shrubs grow quickly, and a root-bound hydrangea will be more prone to winter frost damage.

Based on my experience, I feel that:

Climbers and large hydrangeas should be grown in large pots at least 0.75 metres wide.

Medium-sized hydrangeas that grow up to 1 metre high can be placed in pots around 0.5 metres wide.

Dwarf hydrangeas can be grown in smaller pots, but you may need to relocate them to a garage or shed for frost protection during the winter.

While hydrangeas are thirsty plants, they should never sit in waterlogged soil, so I always drill drainage holes in the base and lift them off the ground in winter.

The Best Location For Potted Hydrangeas

Climbing Hydrangeas

I’ve seen these grown along fences, up walls and even around the trunks of trees. These climbers thrive in shaded areas so are best suited to north and east-facing gardens and they may struggle in waterlogged or chalky soils but are otherwise easy to grow.

Hydrangea anomala is the most popular climber and I’ve seen it reach nearly 12 metres high with a spread of over 4 metres. A slow starter, I’ve witnessed this hydrangea grow up to 1 metre per year in the right conditions, making it perfect for covering walls in shaded areas.

Shrubby Hydrangeas

Almost every other hydrangea will require a brighter spot, and many can cope with full sun although for optimal results, they should be given some protection from midday sun when it’s at its strongest. Over the years, I’ve noticed that potted hydrangeas are more susceptible to damage from weather extremes, so I recommend a location that provides a least a little respite from the midday sun in the summer.

Watering and Fertiliser

Needless to say, hydrangeas are thirsty plants that don’t respond well to long periods in dry soil; however, the pots should have adequate drainage as no hydrangea likes sitting in waterlogged soil, which can lead to disease and leaf chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves).

During the summer, I’ve found that they may require a good soaking twice a week and up to once a day during extreme hotter conditions.

Hydrangeas require little nitrogen, and too much can cause them to grow leggy with plenty of leaves and few flowers. I usually apply a specialist slow-release hydrangea fertiliser once or twice a year in spring and summer and I rarely feel the need to apply more than this.

I usually refresh the compost in the spring as this provides the shrub with plenty of fresh nutrients.

Winter Care

Most hydrangea plants will produce new buds in early spring, and these are prone to frost damage which will blacken and kill them. Depending on the severity of the frost and how much of the stem is damaged, the hydrangea may not flower or may produce fewer flowers that year.

Many hydrangeas are prone to this damage but in my garden, I’ve noticed that the potted plants seem far more susceptible.

Hydrangeas have extensive root systems, and those in my pots seem more prone to frost damage.

Here are my tips:

  • If feasible, move the pots into a shed or porch during hard frosts, I do this whenever there is a harsh frost forecast.
  • Consider covering the hydrangea with a protective fleece.
  • Water the pot before the frost arrives, I’ve found that this helps prevent frost damage.
  • Hydrangeas grown in small pots are more likely to suffer root damage from frosts, so consider potting on to a larger container as this will provide some extra insulation around the root system.
  • Make sure the pots are raised on feet and not sitting on the ground.

How to Prune Hydrangeas in Pots

Some hydrangeas will only flower on new stems while others only on old wood that grew the previous season.

If you prune a hydrangea incorrectly, there’s a chance it won’t flower for a whole season, this happens regardless of whether the hydrangea is in a pot or the ground.

Use the table below as a guide to general maintenance hydrangea pruning:

Macrophylla (Mopheads & Lacecaps)
Oakleaf hydrangea
Paniculata hydrangea
Arborescens hydrangea
Climbing hydrangea
When to Prune:
Two methods: In spring after frosts or immediately after blooms fade in summer, before next years buds have been set.
Two possible methods: In spring after frosts or immediately after blooms fade in summer, before next years buds have been set.
Early spring.
Early spring.
Late summer after blooms fade.
Flowers on:
Old wood
Old wood
New wood
New wood
Old wood
Method:
Doesn't require yearly pruning but you can prune off up to 20% of stems just above the crown in spring as this encourages new stems from the base, these will flower in the second year. Leave old blooms on over winter for frost protection and cut them off at the nearest set of buds after the last spring frosts but be aware that the deeper you prune a stem, the more buds you'll remove and the fewer flowers that will appear. Alternatively, prune in summer after the blooms fade and before the plant sets buds for next year.
Often requires less pruning. Cut off old blooms to nearest set of healthy buds. Remove up to 20% of old stems just above ground level to encourage new growth if required.
Either cut back leaving 2-3 sets of buds on the previous year's growth or prune entire shrub back close to the framework (the thickest stems), leaving some buds on the stems. Ideally, remove about 30-50% of the plant and all skinny or weak stems, leaving a framework of thicker stems.
Prune hard, 25cm from the ground to promote fewer but larger blooms or prune lightly to a framework 50cm from the ground to encourage more but smaller blooms.
Prune in summer after blooms have faded and before new buds form. Cut out overly long and wayward stems to desired length or to nearest large stem/branch.
Warnings:
If you prune a stem by more than half, it's unlikely to produce blooms for the season but will in the second year. Or it may produce small blooms which are smoothered by leaves on longer, newer stems. Alternatively, prune after the blooms fade in summer and before the plant has set buds for next year. Be aware that in some climates, the old faded blooms offer winter protection from frost, hence why some gardeners leave them on over winter. If you cut off buds, or they are damaged by frost, then it won't bloom in the coming season.
As above.
Can cope with more aggressive pruning. If pruned lightly, panicles will be more numerous but noticably smaller.
Can cope with more aggresive pruning and is more forgiving.
To control a large wayward climber, consider twice yearly pruning to gradually bring it under control, leaving at least some buds for blooms.

Pests, Diseases and Other Problems

I’ve found that hydrangeas in pots are easy to grow and are generally free of pests and diseases. They even made it onto our list of plants that slugs don’t eat.

The most common problem I’ve come across is leaf spot disease, a fungal infection spread via overhead watering/splashing. The first sign of a problem is often brown spots on the hydrangea’s leaves.

Hydrangea Scale has been a problem in the UK since the 1980s. The insects suck the sap from the plants and the side effects are:

  • Leaf loss.
  • Fewer blooms.
  • White scale on leaves and stems.
  • A sickly appearance.

The Royal Horticultural Society has more details about this pest and how to treat it here.

Compared to most other plants, my hydrangeas are easy to grow and rarely troublesome, so if you’ve never grown one before, give them a go.

Cuttings and Propagation

I’ve experimented with hydrangea propagation many times, and it’s fun because of the very high success rate.

I’ve had good results by taking cuttings in late spring or summer, but cuttings taken in autumn can still take root if grown on a heat mat.

The steps I usually take are straightforward:

1) I cut 15cm long (new wood) stems that don’t have any blooms on them, I then trim the stem to just below a leaf node and cut any large leaves in half. Ideally, the cutting should have only two half leaves remaining.

2) I then dip the cut end into a rooting hormone and then insert it into a small pot containing moist cutting compost. I then place a plastic bag or a trimmed plastic drinks bottle over the cutting and keep the compost moist.

3) The cutting should be left in a bright spot away from direct sunlight, and usually, after 3-4 weeks, roots will have taken hold. The new hydrangea can then be grown as any other new plant would be.

4) I’ve used heat mats to speed up the rooting process before but I had to switch them off once the hydrangea has taken root; otherwise, the plan grows very leggy with few leaves.

Propagation is a great way to increase your stock of hydrangeas, and it’s fun and educational too.

A more detailed guide to hydrangea propagation can be found in our rooting hormone article.

Propagating hydrangea

One of our hydrangea cuttings (macrophylla “ab green shadow”) taken in mid-autumn, rooted on a heat mat and then overwintered in a garage for protection.

Hydrangea in a pot, grown from a cutting

The same hydrangea in early July the following year.

Don’t Forget: You Can Easily Change the Colour of Hydrangea Flowers

Red and pink hydrangea flowers will turn blue or purple if you make some changes to the soil or compost they grow in and potted hydrangeas are easy to work with and perfect for colour altering.

I’ve done this before and it’s a fun exercise to undertake.

Explore our guide to changing the colour of hydrangea flowers.

Summary

The hydrangeas I’ve grown are beautiful, long-lived and easy-to-grow plants suitable for pots, containers and flowerbeds.

I believe they are a perfect shrub for beginners to grow and are forgiving, easy to propagate and look good in any garden, large or small. 

Here is a recap of the main points:

  • Consider dwarf varieties if your garden is very small.
  • Pot size is important; go one size bigger if in doubt.
  • Hydrangeas like a bright spot that also provides shelter from the blazing midday sun.
  • Protect from frost in spring as the new buds will be tender and roots vulnerable.
  • Pruning can make or break your hydrangea, get it wrong, and it may not flower for up to a year.
  • Plenty of water and moist soil is ideal, but avoid waterlogged pots.
  • Fertilise once or twice a year with a slow-release feed and fresh compost topping once or twice a year.
  • Propagate to replenish stocks and have fun, it’s so easy.

Author: Daniel Woodley

Daniel has over 18 years of experience in the construction, home improvement, and landscape garden industries.

He previously worked as a project manager and has experience in managing teams of tradespeople and landscape gardeners on both small and medium sized projects.

Daniel is also a keen gardener and enjoys growing unusual plants and tending to his lawn.

More About Daniel Woodley.

Daniel Woodley

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