The Best Companion Plants for Hydrangeas

Every Southern beauty can use a little accessorizing.

French Hydrangeas
Photo: Ralph Lee Anderson

It's an established fact that the hydrangea is the Queen of the Southern Garden. As long as they are protected from the blazing afternoon sun and given adequate shade, fertilizer, and water, hydrangeas will give you big, bouncy blossoms and deep-green foliage all summer long. Every queen needs her court, however, so increase the enchantment of these flowering bushes by carefully selecting companion plants that will enhance your garden. Read on for some tips on what to plant with hydrangeas.

More Flowers

Too many flower gardens act like supernovas—they shine brightly for a few weeks, then quickly burn out. To ensure long-lasting color, plant an assortment of flowering plants that will blossom before, during, and after the blooming season of your hydrangeas. It is up to you if you want to plant similar hues or bright contrasting colors. A combination of sun-loving spring and summer flowering annuals, such as zinnias and snapdragons, will not only add eye-catching appeal to your hydrangeas, but will give you a convenient cut-flower garden, as well. Take a look at the entire area of your garden—if you have space behind your hydrangeas, say close to a brick wall or fence, a sprinkling of tall sunflowers will afford an explosive pop of color throughout the summer.

Ornamental Grasses

If you want the focus of your garden to be mainly on hydrangeas, consider the understated elegance of ornamental grasses. Typically low-maintenance and easy to grow, these grasses subtly enhance the beauty of the flowers without calling attention to themselves. Anchor the corners of your garden with the tall and handsome, burgundy-colored, fountain grass; a sun-lover, its showy purple plumes will float in the breeze and provide a bit of shade for the hydrangeas. Blue fescue, which forms bluish-gray tufts, loves full or partial sun, just like hydrangeas. These tufts will grow anywhere from 4 to 11 inches and is an ideal choice for edging your garden.

Hosta Plants

The real glory of a hosta is the foliage. The thin spikes of trumpet-shaped flowers that appear in the summer are just an added benefit. Native to Asia and introduced to American gardeners in the mid-19th century, hosta plants share hydrangea's love of morning sun and afternoon shade. There is an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and colors to choose from. While many varieties of hostas can tolerate the sun, hostas generally prefer shade, which is why this plant works well growing under the canopy of hydrangea foliage. New selections of hostas enter the scene in droves, and names change periodically. To be sure you get the hosta you want, buy the plant in full leaf or deal with an expert.

Trees and Shrubs

When you are considering what to plant next to a hydrangea, (or even where to plant a hydrangea) consider taller plants like small- to medium-sized trees that could offer the shade the shrubs prefer. Some varieties of dogwood trees, such as the Tartarian dogwood, which reaches about 10-feet high, and the pagoda dogwood, which reaches 20-feet high, are just the right size to provide essential shade to neighboring hydrangea plants. Dogwoods also offer attractive blossoms, foliage, and bark. Double Reeves spirea, or bridal wreath, is a popular, easy-growing shrub. Reaching 5 to 6 feet, its arching, white-flowered branches also provide protection from the mid-day sun for hydrangeas. If planting a hydrangea close to an existing tree, check with your local nursery as to how close to the tree you should dig a hole. You want to avoid nicking or destroying an existing root system.

Hydrangeas are beautiful on their own, but there are other plants that can enhance the visual appeal of these Southern garden favorites. Whether you want to provide additional color, ground cover, or shade, consider planting a companion plant.

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