Climbing Hydrangea, A Plant For All Gardens

Climbing hydrangea elegantly drapes an arbor

A climbing hydrangea shows its best stuff on this arbor in a shade garden


If you’re lucky enough to have a climbing hydrangea (hydrangea anomala petiolaris), you already know what a fabulous plant it is. And right now it is in its glory in my zone 5B garden. The fact that it grows in shade and is drought tolerant makes it doubly attractive. And in my little slice of heaven, deer have avoided it for 28 years.



The lacecap flowers are once again dependably in full view. Not only are they beautiful but they are perfuming the garden. Since I have it planted in several places, its non-stop scent practically follows me around.

Climbing hydrangea flower

Climbing hydrangea flower is a lacecap form that starts creamy white and smells fabulous.


It’s not uncommon to see this shade loving vine draping arbors and adorning walls. It works really well climbing a tree which does the tree no harm. It’s also a plant you can use as a ground cover. The glossy foliage will scramble over anything in its way. An unsightly tree stump for example is one such eyesore you can make disappear. Know, however, that flowering is less pronounced when it grows horizontally. But since you’re looking for a ground cover, consider those flowers incidental. This year for the first time, I actually have a few flowers on my ground cover climbing hydrangea – what a bonus! 



Climbing hydrangeas make a good backdrop and trellis for other vining plants. Just this past week I saw it interplanted with a red honeysuckle. The combination was inspiring. Think of all the hot colors that would add more garden interest when you use a climbing hydrangea to support clematis. The two play well together.

Climbing hydrangea with red honeysuckle

Climbing hydrangea can make a great structure for clematis in a contrasting color.


Although it is drought tolerant when established, you don’t want it to work too hard for moisture. Keep it mulched with leaves, compost and such.

Climbing hydrangeas rarely need pruning unless they have completely outgrown their bounds. If you must prune it, cut it right after the flowers fade. Yes, you’re right: this plant flowers on old wood. A climbing hydrangea will start to set its buds for next year within a few short weeks of initial flowering, so any cutting back later on will reduce your flower count next year.

The one issue with this plant is as its flowers age to soft creamy white, the fragrance also fades. Yet the long-lasting flowers continue to add interest to your garden for the rest of season and through the winter. What a delight while it delivers a dependable show, year after year.

If ever there was a garden-worthy plant for shade, this is it. Get one and join the club of climbing hydrangea lovers. You can read more about this fabulous shade loving plant in my popular book, Success With Hydrangeas: A Gardener’s Guide.


On another note, if you are in the Pennsylvania viewing area, you might be able to catch me on TV talking about climbing hydrangeas and the rest of their “cousins” tomorrow Saturday, June 15. I was honored to be a guest of Mike McGrath on his PBS show, You Bet Your Garden. We’ll be talking hydrangeas on PBS Channel 39, WLVT, from Bethlehem, PA at 10 a.m. If you can’t make it then, you can catch the replay and/or podcast a few days later. Join us!


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