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When deciding what to plant with hydrangeas, consider not just varieties that will complement the plants visually, but those that will thrive in the same growing environment.
'Hydrangeas have an easy sort of elegance. Their bold yet simple blooms make them the perfect companion for an exciting range of plants in the landscape,’ says Kip McConnell, director of Southern Living Plant Collection.
‘When choosing companion plants for hydrangeas, think about maximizing color and extending bloom time in your garden. With the right pairings, hydrangeas can help you do just that – they can amplify a color palette and provide months of beauty before passing on the "baton" to their companion plant.’
What to plant with hydrangeas – best varieties
‘The best companion plants for hydrangeas depend on your type of hydrangea, where you grow it (warm or cold zones), how you site it (south facing, east facing, etc), and the color of the flowers,’ says Lorraine Ballato, author of Success With Hydrangeas.
Hydrangeas grow best in moist, well-draining soil, and will thrive in both acidic or alkaline soil. It’s important to know what soil type you have, so when considering what to plant with hydrangeas, you can choose other varieties to suit.
Interestingly, the flowers of some types of hydrangea will change depending on the soil pH – blue for acidic and pink for alkaline.
You should also bear in mind that most hydrangeas prefer some shade, and can struggle in full sun.
Knowing how to prune hydrangeas will also ensure you are able to get the best out of them.
‘Hostas are a great companion plant for hydrangeas,’ says Julia Omelchenko, a botanist expert for the NatureID app.
‘These small bushes feature drop-shaped leaves with bright margins that highlight the plain greenery and pastel-colored inflorescences of hydrangeas.’
Hostas thrive in nutrient-rich, moist – but not waterlogged – soils, preferring slightly acidic growing mediums. Like hydrangeas, they prefer partial shade
‘I recommend growing hostas in flower beds and using them in multi-level garden compositions,’ adds Omelchenko.
When considering what to plant with hydrangeas, think about classic color combinations.
‘If you have a big leaf hydrangea with big blue or pink flowers, try daylilies in contrasting colors like orange – it's a classic Van Gogh color scheme,’ says Ballato.
Daylilies are striking perennials with exotic-looking lily-like flowers. Though they may appear delicate, they are surprisingly hardy and easy to grow, and will thrive in most soil types.
‘The trouble-free daylilies can take the part shade needs of the hydrangea and still produce great flowers,’ adds Ballato.
As well as orange, daylilies come in other colors, ranging from pure white to deepest red.
‘I love the cloud-like blooms of a white hydrangea paired with the fragrant white blossoms of gardenia,’ says McConnell.
‘The large, sculpted leaves of hydrangea meld seamlessly with the deep green foliage of gardenia, creating the perfect backdrop upon which the plants’ white blossoms pop.’
McConnell particularly recommends the 'Diamond Spire' gardenia, which produces fragrant, single white blossoms late spring through fall with an upright habit.
However, bear in mind gardenia will only thrive outdoors in warmer climes – there are varieties suitable for USDA zones 7a-10b – otherwise they can only be grown indoors.
‘Gardenias enjoy plenty of moisture; to maximize their glorious blossoms, feed them by applying an acidic, slow-release fertilizer such as an azalea or camellia fertilizer,’ adds McConnell.
4. Echinacea purpurea
‘Echinacea purpurea blooms around the same time as hydrangeas and adds a pop of color. It is a great plant to include in the foreground of your hydrangeas,’ says Sam Hoadley, manager of horticultural research at Mt. Cuba Center botanical gardens.
Tolerant of partial shade, echinacea purpurea grows well in moist fertile soils where hydrangeas thrive – as long as it is well draining – and can be planted in acidic or alkaline soil.
‘As an added bonus, this species is also known to attract a large number of insect pollinators,’ adds Hoadley.
5. Pieris japonica
Flowering early in the season, pieris japonica is a great companion plant for hydrangeas. ‘This spring-blooming shrub partners well in a shrub border with hydrangeas; I consider it the opening act for the summertime hydrangea display, says Bob Polomski, horticulturist with Clemson University Cooperative Extension.
‘This evergreen prefers acidic soils and is a suitable companion for hydrangeas that produce blue flowers at a soil pH of 5.5 or less.’
As with hydrangeas, pieris japonica needs a partially shaded, sheltered spot.
When thinking about what to plant with hydrangeas, don't overlook trees and bushes.
‘Conifers – thujas, junipers, pines, and dwarf pines – are some of the best companion plants for hydrangeas,’ says Omelchenko.
She recommends creating various elegant compositions by combining tall thujas and spreading hydrangea bushes. 'It’s better to grow these plants on two levels – high trees in the background and lower bushes in front of them.
‘This design isn’t only beautiful but also beneficial for hydrangeas – thujas give them the necessary shade.’
Conifers are a broad species, but generally they prefer acidic, well-draining soil. As evergreen plants, they add color and interest to the garden year round, including in winter. When the cold weather arrives, make sure you know how to winterize hydrangeas to protect them from the elements – and to show them off against the conifers.
7. Ornamental grasses
Ornamental grasses add a wonderfully textural contrast to hydrangeas. Many species are non-invasive, and will happily fill a border, nestling in around other plants.
‘If your hydrangea has a white flower, try some black mondo grass. The contrasting color which it holds all season long marries well with the hydrangea and grows happily in similar conditions,’ says Ballato.
‘Another very popular companion plant is Japanese forest grass. Like the mondo grass, it holds its golden color all season long and enjoys the same growing conditions as the hydrangea.’
‘Some hydrangeas, such as "Heart Throb", provide glorious blooms over three seasons, offering a radiant show when the weather is on the warmer side. But what about winter? A clever pairing of camellia offers blooms that pick up where hydrangeas leave off, ensuring your garden has almost year-round flowers,’ says McConnell.
'October Magic Ruby' is a lovely recommended variety, with winter blooms and shiny green leaves all year. A compact grower, Ruby is a convenient semi-dwarf but with a soft, romantic appearance. It thrives in full sun to part shade, in USDA Zones 7a-9b
‘Camellias prefer well-drained, acidic soil. The simplest way to provide it is to use a commercial mix for rhododendrons and azaleas or camellias – avoid peat moss, which can dry out quickly and harden,’ adds McConnell.
‘Commonly known as the false goat's beard, astilbe grows well alongside hydrangeas,’ says Omelchenko.
The frothy flowering plant tolerates shade, requires abundant watering, and thrives in acidic growing mediums.
‘Astilbe's appearance is also a good match as it reflects rather than outshines the beauty of hydrangea. With its lush foliage, the false goat's beard keeps its decorative value even after the blooming season is over,’ adds Omelchenko.
‘The plant’s fern-like delicate branches please the eye and look gorgeous against the background of hydrangeas’ round leaves.’
10. Clematis viorna
‘Clematis viorna is a lesser-known native plant species that would be stunning when allowed to climb up Hydrangea arborescens,’ says Hoadley.
The clematis roots thrive in cool shaded conditions at the base of the hydrangea shrub while their vining top growth is tolerant of part shade to full sun and can gently twine though the hydrangea shrub itself.
‘Their whimsical flowers would offer a pop of color and contrast to the large showy inflorescences of the hydrangeas,’ adds Hoadley.
Planting roses and hydrangeas together
It is possible to plant roses and hydrangeas together. However, as roses are sun loving, while hydrangeas prefer some shade, you will need a more tolerant variety.
Paniculate hydrangea 'Limelight' thrives in full sun, and its limey colored blooms make a perfect foil for romantic pink roses.
Can you plant peonies and hydrangeas together?
As peonies flower earlier in the season than hydrangeas, they can make lovely planting companions. Once they are over, the plant will begin to die back, making way for hydrangeas to shine.
Peonies thrive in full sun or partial shade, and prefer a sheltered spot. They are also tolerant of most soil types, provided they are free draining.
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As editor of Period Living, Britain's best-selling period homes magazine, Melanie loves the charm of older properties. I live in a rural village just outside the Cotswolds in England, so am lucky to be surrounded by beautiful homes and countryside, where I enjoy exploring. Having worked in the industry for almost two decades, Melanie is interested in all aspects of homes and gardens. Her previous roles include working on Real Homes and Homebuilding & Renovating, and she has also contributed to Gardening Etc. She has an English degree and has also studied interior design. Melanie frequently writes for Homes & Gardens about property restoration and gardening.
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