Climbing Hydrangea Plant – Tips On How To Grow a Climbing Hydrangea

By: Jackie Carroll

Climbing hydrangeas feature large, fragrant clusters of white flowers that bloom in late spring and summer against a backdrop of dark green, heart-shaped foliage. These massive vines readily climb columns, trees, and other supporting structures. A climbing hydrangea plant grows 30 to 80 feet (9-24 m.) tall, but it tolerates pruning to shorter heights. You can also grow it as a shrub.

Info on Climbing Hydrangeas

Climbing hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris) are large, heavy vines that need substantial support. A climbing hydrangea plant clings to the supporting structure by two methods — twining vines that wrap themselves around the structure, and aerial roots that grow along the main stem cling to vertical surfaces.

The flower clusters consist of a central mass of tiny, fertile flowers surrounded by a ring of larger, infertile flowers. You can leave drying flower clusters on the vine after they bloom, and they will keep their shape and add interest, even after the foliage begins to fall. The fertile flowers may also produce seed pods for propagating, if desired.

How to Care for Climbing Hydrangea

Growing climbing hydrangeas is easy. The plants are hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 7. Climbing hydrangeas need a rich, moist soil that is well-drained. If your soil needs improvement, dig in a generous amount of compost before planting.

The vine grows well in full sun or partial shade. In areas with hot summers, provide some afternoon shade. When growing climbing hydrangeas against a wall, choose a northern or eastern exposure.

How to care for climbing hydrangea isn’t difficult either. Water the vine regularly to keep the soil moist. A layer of mulch around the base of the plant will help the soil retain moisture and help keep weeds at bay.

Feed the plant in late winter or early spring, just before new leaves begin to bud and again in summer when the flowers bloom. Use compost or a slow-release fertilizer.

Prune the climbing hydrangea plant in late spring or early summer to remove dead, diseased or damaged branches. Remove crossed branches that may rub against each other; rubbing creates an entry point for insects and disease.

How to Grow a Climbing Hydrangea as a Shrub

Without a supporting structure, climbing hydrangea plants form a mounding, arching shrub that grows to a height of 3 to 4 feet (.9-1.2 meters). It is slow to become established, but later spreads at a rapid pace.

The aerial rootlets that grow along the main stem take root wherever they make contact with the soil, and this potential to spread makes a climbing hydrangea plant an excellent choice as a ground cover for a large area.

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Climbing Hydrangea

Hydrangea anomala petiolaris

Hydrangeas [hy-DRAIN-gee-ahs] are highly valued for their abundant handsome foliage and their showy flower clusters. While the most familiar hydrangeas are shrubs, Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) is a woody vine. It clings to surfaces by small rootlets all along its stem. One of the most satisfactory of all woody vines, it ranks among the top 10 climbing vines in the world for ornamental value. Once established, it climbs with gusto up trunks of tall trees or various kinds of walls.


Unrestrained, climbing hydrangea will grow up to 75 feet. Vine branches may extend laterally as much as 3 feet from the main stem on which it is climbing. It clings to its support by means of holdfasts resembling rootlets. It does not require tying or fastening. While it takes several years to begin vigorous growth, once it takes hold, climbing hydrangea rapidly forms a dense mat of flowers and foliage.

Climbing hydrangea leaves are 4 to 5 inches long. Broadly egg-shaped with pointed tips and toothed edges, the leaves are a lustrous, bright green. They turn brownish gold in the fall. Because this vine is deciduous, they (drop)in the late fall. The exposed woody stem with its peeling cinnamon colored bark makes an attractive winter sight.

Climbing hydrangea blossoms are usually about 6 to 8 inches across. They blanket the vine in mid-June in creamy white flat clusters composed of tiny bud-like florets ringed by open florets. They have a nice fragrance. As the season wanes the blossoms become pinkish, and then brown. They often cling to the vine well into winter.

There is only the one form of climbing hydrangea available. However, a plant in a related species offers many of its virtues. Japanese hydrangea vine ( Schizophragma hydrangeoides ) grows to only half the size of climbing hydrangea, making it more suitable for residential yards. Its flowers are similar, as are its leaves which are more obviously toothed at the edges. It does not have the attractive peeling bark of the climbing hydrangea.

Where Hydrangea Grows Best

Climbing hydrangea is hardy as far north as the Great Lakes and northern New York. It survives winters in these regions and along the Atlantic Coast into Maine (zone 4), tolerating temperatures as low as -25 F.

Climbing hydrangeas are extremely flexible, handling full sun to medium shade comfortably. Furthermore, these vines do well on many kinds of soil, insisting only that it be well-drained. They do best if the soil is slightly acid to somewhat alkaline (pH 5.5 to 7.0.).

Climbing hydrangeas are readily available in most nurseries, often found tied to a supporting stake in their container. Choose containerized plants that are from 8 inches to 2 feet tall. They do not look very attractive at this stage, but it is best to plant young plants, since older ones do not like to be transplanted. Choose a spot in an east or north exposure, near a brick or stone wall that it can fasten to. Plant climbing hydrangea in the spring or the fall.

Remove the vine from its container and gently loosen and spread any matted roots. Dig a saucer-shaped hole that is wide enough to accommodate the spread roots, and as deep as the container. Set the plant in the hole, taking care that the top of the rootball is at, not below, ground level. Fill the hole with soil, firming it around the rootball periodically until it is at the level of the surrounding ground. Water generously to provide good root to soil contact. Do not fertilize at this time. Climbing hydrangeas are notorious for their slowness in establishing themselves. Newly transplanted plants take a year or two to start major growth, 3 to 5 years for first flowering.

Climbing hydrangea can be utilized as a low growing ground cover, a low, dense shrub, or a vine. Encouraged to climb a wall or fence, it provides a wall of flowers early in the season and a cool foliage back(drop)in the summer. Do not locate it against a wall that requires periodic maintenance. Avoid clapboard walls because this vine will insinuate itself underneath the boards and pull them loose. Choose any mature hardwood tree, except maple, or even an open softwood tree such as white pine, as a support for climbing hydrangea. Allow it to cover a prominent rockpile, ledge, or utility area. Encourage it to cover an arbor or pergola in the shade, or a trellis. It is ideal for softening harsh architectural lines.

Hydrangeas are fairly heavy feeders. Sprinkle a handful of an all-purpose granular fertilizer on the soil over the vine roots in the early spring for the rain to soak in. A fertilizer featuring a slow release or timed release form of nitrogen will supply steady nutrition over the growing season.

Mulching and Weed Control

Spread a layer of organic mulch 2 or 3 inches thick on the soil under each hydrangea vine. Either alone or over landscape fabric laid on the soil first, a mulch of chopped leaves, wood chips, pine needles, peat moss or the like, will deter serious weed problems and keep the soil moist longer. It will also protect vine roots in winter from heaving of the soil caused by its alternate freezing and thawing.

While climbing hydrangeas cannot tolerate wet, soggy soil, they also are not comfortable in very dry soil either. It is important to water generously when they are first planted and just before the ground freezes in the winter. Check them when rainfall is irregular and supplement their water when their soil is dry more than a few days. During prolonged droughts in the summer, they will need periodic watering. Run the sprinkler or a drip system for about one half hour weekly.

Climbing hydrangea vines do not require routine pruning. However, they do respond to clipping to control their size and spread. Do this in the early summer, immediately after blooming. Thin dense growth by cutting back branches to the main vine trunk. Cut back the growing tips of branches to reduce top heaviness that may cause the vine to pull away from its support. Because they are brittle and easily damaged, it is important to prune damaged or broken stems promptly to forestall disease.

Occasional Cultural Problems

Hydrangeas can not handle very alkaline soil. It causes their leaves to turn yellowish. In the absence of evidence of insect attack or disease, this may be the cause of leaf yellowing. Scratch some ammonium sulfate into the soil to acidify it. Avoid excessive use of lime, which renders the iron in the soil unavailable to plants. A new way to cure chlorosis is to use iron chelates either as foliage sprays or soil drenches. These compounds are sold under such trade names as Sequestrene of Iron, Versenol and Perma Green Iron 135. If the problem persists, consider doing a soil test.

The following pest control recommendations stress products that selectively kill target pests without harming other insects in the yard. Use all pesticide products with care. Read and follow the instructions on their labels for use, storage and disposal.

Leaves Skeletonized, Flowers Damaged

Rose chafers are grayish or fawn-colored and 1/2 inch long. These slow-moving beetles chew holes in leaves and damage flowers, especially white ones, by feeding on the petals and soiling them with excrement. Control them by hand-picking. For major infestations, spray beetles with a pyrethrum spray. Use it late in the afternoon to avoid harming beneficial insects and honeybees. If rose chafers are a chronic problem, cover plants with cheesecloth or fleece a week or so before their estimated appearance time. For long-term control, scratch milky spore powder ( Bacillus popilliae ) into the soil. This disease will attack their larvae over 2 or 3 years, reducing the problem substantially.

Leaves Curled And Distorted

Aphids are soft-bodied, pear-shaped sucking insects, about the size of the head of a pin. They cluster on tender new shoots and leaves, sucking plant sap. They retard and distort plant growth. Under their attack hydrangea leaves may turn yellow or brown, wilt under bright sunlight, or sometimes curl and pucker. Check leaf undersides for small groups of the pests. Hit them with a forceful spray of water 3 times, once every other day, in the early morning. If that does not work, spray them with insecticidal soap every 2 to 3 days until they are gone. A neem insecticide sprayed on shrub foliage 2 or 3 times at 7 to 10 day intervals will also control aphids.

Hydrangea leaftier larvae are green caterpillars, 1/2 inch long, with dark brown heads. These caterpillars protect themselves while feeding by binding adjacent leaves together. Hydrangea foliage becomes ragged and unsightly, turns brown and dies. For minor infestations, crush the larvae in their rolled hideouts. To counter major attacks, spray the foliage of vulnerable shrubs with Bt ( Bacillus thuringiensis ) just as the caterpillars begin feeding. Repeat every week or 10 days while the caterpillars are feeding. They will ingest the bacteria as they feed and die in a day or two.

Mites are about 1/50 inch long, barely visible to the unaided eye. They may be yellow, green, red or brown. Two-spotted spider mites cause damage on hydrangeas resembling sunscald. The leaves look burned, especially along their edges. Start control measures as soon as you notice evidence of burning on the leaves or delicate webbing near leaf stems. Spray the shrubs in the early morning with a forceful water spray to knock the mites from the leaf undersides. Repeat the water spray daily for 3 days. If that does not do the job, spray the mites with insecticidal soap every 3 to 5 days for two weeks. Spraying the bare canes with dormant (heavy) oil spray in early spring before leaves emerge destroys many overwintering mites.

Small, Round Bumps On Twigs

Oystershell scale sometimes attack hydrangeas. They usually appear on the upper ends of the stems. Scale insects are covered by rounded waxy shells, which protect them while they feed. The shells may be white, yellow, or brown to black, and are about 1/10 inch in diameter. Spray infested shrubs with light, or "superior" horticultural oil which will coat the scale and smother them.

Knotted Growths On Stems, Roots

Nematodes are not insects, but slender, unsegmented roundworms. Most are soil-dwellers, less than 1/ inch long, and are invisible to the unaided eye. They have piercing-sucking mouthparts. Stem nematodes cause hydrangea stems to become swollen and split. As a result their leaves (drop)off. Infested plants look sickly, wilted, stunted, and have yellowed or bronzed foliage. They decline slowly and die. The root systems of affected plants are poorly developed, even partially decayed. To control these pests, add lots of compost or leaf mold, if it is available, to the soil around the hydrangea plants to encourage beneficial fungi that attack nematodes. Pour liquid fish emulsion into the soil as a drench to fertilize affected shrubs and to repel nematodes.

Buds And Flowers Spotted, Deteriorate

This blight disease is caused by a fungus which attacks dense hydrangea flower clusters during wet weather. The flowers become spotted, and the spots coalesce into blotches. Promptly remove all diseased parts, and spray shrubs with a copper fungicide when symptoms first appear. Repeat the spray every 10 days in wet seasons. Increase air circulation around the hydrangeas and avoid overhead watering which dampens their leaves and blossoms.

Leaf Undersides Covered With White Powder

Powdery mildew is caused by a fungus which covers leaf undersides with white mold. The upper surfaces of the infected leaves may stay green or turn purplish brown in color. Buds and new growth may also be attacked. Spray affected shrubs thoroughly with a wettable sulfur fungicide once or twice at weekly intervals starting as soon as the whitish coating appears. Collect and discard all aboveground refuse in the fall to prevent the fungus from overwintering on yard debris. Mulch shrubs to prevent rain from splashing fungal spores up onto leaves. Recent research suggests that spraying foliage vulnerable to mildews with anti-transpirant spray helps it resist infection, as the spores have difficulty adhering to the coated leaves.

Leaves Spotted With Powdery Brown Pustules

A rust disease caused by a fungus attacks certain hydrangea varieties. The leaves become brittle and spotted with many yellowish to rusty brown pustules, especially on the undersides. The disease overwinters on old plant parts. Prune out and destroy any affected branches and spray with wettable sulfur at weekly intervals until the symptoms disappear.

Circular Rings Form On Leaves

This virus causes circular areas consisting of concentric bands of alternating dark and light green to develop on the hydrangea leaves. These areas then become small spots of dead tissue. There is no cure for viruses, so dig up the infected plant promptly and destroy it to prevent the spread of the virus to nearby healthy plants.

Ball and Ball. Yardening: The Nongardener's Guide to Creating a Beautiful Landscape , Macmillan 1991.

Buscher and McClure. All About Pruning , Ortho Books, 1989.

Cresson, Charles. Charles Cresson On the American Garden , Burpee Expert Gardener Series, Prentice-Hall, 1993.

New Response, Inc. and the authors have researched this information as thoroughly and carefully as possible. They take no responsibility for any personal harm or plant damage that might occur from using the information contained herein.

Liz and Jeff Ball, New Response, Inc. 1993. Box 338, Springfield, PA 19064 215-544-5308.

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What Are Hydrangeas?

Blooming in spring and summer, the hydrangea is considered a shrub. But despite their ability to be rather large showstoppers in your yard, how to grow hydrangeas isn’t a question even the novice gardener will need to ask – these beauties all but grow themselves. Reaching up to 15 feet in height, the hydrangea grows quickly and often fills in a space in just one summer. You’ll find hydrangeas growing in hardiness Zones 3 to 7 as perennials. With flowers starting in spring and often last throughout summer into early fall, hydrangea flowers can be the foundation plant of your landscape.

Common Hydrangea Problems

There are two problems most associated with them, firstly you may be wondering why your plant wont flower even though its been in the garden for years and was flowering when you purchased it.

Secondly the flower colour is also something many gardeners have trouble with (flowering pink instead of blue) , Some have the unique ability to change flower colour and its all down to the soil PH level.

Not all Hydrangeas do this but the most common varieties which are the large mop head and delicate looking lacecap cultivars do. The more acidic the soil, the higher the Aluminium levels in the soil. It’s this trace element in the soil that causes the flowers to change colour. The higher the aluminium level the more acidic the soil the flowers tend to turn blue.

How to Propagate Flowering Hydrangea Vine

You can propagate climbing hydrangeas by seeds or cuttings.

Growing From Cuttings

If using cuttings, make sure you’ve got a sharp, clean pruner.
Cut off a shoot, being careful to cut as low as possible. Plant the cutting in a pot with plenty of potting soil and proper drainage.
Keep the pot in a shady spot and keep the soil moist until the plant begins to take root.

Growing From Seeds

When growing from seeds, make sure you collect seed capsules in September and October.
They should be no more than 1/10″ to 1/5″ of an inch long.
Dry the seeds for about two weeks after which you should crush them so the seeds are more visible.
Once you’ve got your seeds, store them until it’s time to plant them in winter.
Sow the seeds on top of the potting mix and cover the pot or container with plastic wrap.
Place the container in a room with a temperature ranging from 65° to 70° degrees Fahrenheit.
It will take about 18 days or so for the seeds to germinate.

Hydrangeas in the Garden

Hydrangea macrophylla Bigleaf Hydrangea French Hydrangea Hortensia

In good hydrangea years, years without a late season hard freeze, having hydrangeas in the garden is very rewarding. Even in difficult years there are hydrangeas that will preform beautifully. Hydrangeas can provide masses of color, interesting flowers and striking foliage, a gardener’s dream.

There are many kinds of hydrangeas. There are the big mop heads, the lovely lace caps and cone shaped flower types. There are even climbing hydrangeas. Some bloom early in the season, usually June in the Piedmont NC area, and others bloom later. Then there are some that continue to bloom throughout the season, if conditions are to their liking.

The challenge for the gardener is getting to know and understand the needs of the hydrangeas you are growing. Each type has its own requirements. Some bloom on new growth, some bloom on last years growth and some do both. Confusing, yes, it can be. For this reason it helps to identify the hydrangeas you are growing and learn about them. KnowIng if and when to prune is important. If you have a hydrangea that blooms on old growth and you prune late fall or early spring you will reduce or eliminate the blooms for that year. If you are growing an Annabelle type that blooms on new growth you may want to cut the plant back severely in early spring to encourage strong new growth. Hydrangeas that bloom on new growth will still bloom in the years with a late freeze, the weather that damages the buds of many hydrangeas.

Some hydrangeas have blooms that respond to the soil pH. In a more acidic soil, lower than 6.0, the flowers will be blue because the plant can tap into the aluminum in the soil which encourages the blue color. In alkaline soils the aluminum is blocked and the blooms are pink. Some hydrangeas have bloom colors that are determined by their genetics, so the pH doesn’t make a difference.

Hydrangeas are enticing plants that will fulfill their potential with thoughtful planting and care. Enjoy them.

Hint, more mature blooms will last longer in arrangements. Soaking the entire stem and bloom in warm water for 10 minutes or so will extend the life of the cut flower.

  • Spring or autumn is the best time to plant hydrangeas in New Zealand. Choose a shady or partially shaded spot.
  • Prepare your soil well with organic matter like compost and sheep pellets.
  • Add a layer of flower mix.
  • Feed hydrangeas in spring and late summer or early autumn to promote flowering and lush green leaves.
  • Prune back hydrangeas in autumn or early spring.

Follow our full guide below to beautiful vibrant hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas are a hardy flower favourite that add colour, texture and vibrancy to the garden. The flowers are perfect for picking and drying and are widely used in bouquets or own their own in a vase. As hydrangea flowers age the colour fades to reveal wonderful antique shades of lime, rose and copper which make a beautiful feature in vases.

3 steps to planting hydrangeaS

Hydrangeas will cope with sun, but the flowers tend to not last as long, and the leaves can turn brown in intensely hot areas. Therefore a shady or partially sunny spot is preferred.

Hydrangeas are a vigorous, hardy plant, and quick to establish. They are best planted in spring and autumn and provide a stunning show over summer.

Some favourite varieties include Climbing, Lacecap varieties, Mopheads, Oak-leafed Hydrangea and Grandiflora.

Like building a house a good foundation is the key to success in your garden. The better the soil, the better your hydrangeas will grow. Hydrangeas enjoy a well-worked, fertile soil. If you are starting with an existing garden bed dig in organic matter like Tui Sheep Pellets and Tui Compost to your soil. Then you can add a layer of Tui Flower Mix.

The best times to plant are early in the morning or late in the day, so the plants aren’t exposed to the hot sun straight away. Always water plants well before and after planting.

Directions for planting in garden beds

  • Water plants thoroughly before planting and allow to drain.
  • Dig a hole, approximately twice the depth and width of the root ball of your plant.
  • Gently loosen the root ball of your plant and position the plant in the centre of the hole.
  • Fill in with Tui Flower Mix.
  • Press soil gently around the base of the plant.
  • Water your plant well and continue to water regularly.

Directions for potting plants

  • Water plants thoroughly before potting and allow to drain.
  • Half fill your container with Tui Flower Mix.
  • Gently take the plant from the current container, loosen the root ball and remove any loose or dead pant material and roots.
  • Position the plant in the centre of the new container and fill with Tui Flower Mix up to 3cm from the top.
  • Gently firm mix around the base of the plant. The mix should be at the same level on the plant as it was in the previous container.
  • Water your plant well and continue to water regularly.

Feed your plants and they will feed you. Plants use nutrients from the soil as they grow, so replenishing the nutrients ensures your plants grow to their full potential. Feed your Hydrangeas with Tui NovaTec® Premium Fertiliser in spring and late summer/early autumn.

A well watered, well nourished garden will have a better chance of keeping insect pests and diseases at bay. While your Hydrangeas are growing regularly apply a dose of Tui Organic Seaweed Plant Tonic to give them a welcome boost.

Changing the colour of your blooms

Hydrangea colours can change with different soil fertility. Flower colour can be altered easily but adding either Tui Lime to enhance red or pink flowers, or Tui Hydrangea Blue to deepen blue tones. Changes should appear within a few weeks.

To learn how to make a dried floral bouquet with your hydrangeas click here >

You can prune your hydrangeas in autumn or early spring/late winter. Around August/September the fat flower buds will start developing so it is easier to know where to prune to get maximum flowering. Vegetative buds (leaves) will be long and skinny. Our advice would be to deadhead in autumn and then in August/September prune back to a fat bud after the threat of frosts have passed, to maximise flowering.

Watch the video: How to Transplant Climbing Hydrangea

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