The Best Compact Hydrangea Varieties for Small Yards

Short on size, big on blooms.

Pale Pink Hydrangea Blooming in Terracotta Pot
Photo: Getty Images

No garden flower can hold a candle to the bloom bonanza of hydrangeas. They deliver year after year with an explosion of color in the garden and can act as the easiest centerpiece of all time when cut and brought indoors (just don't forget the alum powder). "I think one of the main appeals is the big flower display that lasts a long time," says Rip Weaver, executive director of Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama. "Regardless of whether it is a French hydrangea, an oakleaf, or the panicle hydrangea, all have long-lasting bloom displays and most are extremely dependable for a good display year after year."

While their visual allure can't be denied, there are also many of us who are drawn to these showy blooms for more sentimental reasons, as Georgia Clay, new plants manager for Monrovia points out. "They are flowers that your mother or grandmother grew, or they remind us of places we've traveled."

While most of us fit into one (if not both) of these hydrangea camps, nearly all of us can agree that we're willing to do just about anything to ensure hydrangeas find a home in our yards and porch containers, regardless of how much space we have to work with. That's where these compact or dwarf hydrangea varieties come in. Here's what you should know about the best small hydrangea varieties to add to your yard.

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Compact French Hydrangea Varieties

French Hydrangea Container Garden
Robbie Caponetto; Produced: Mark Thompson; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller

"Mophead hydrangeas bloom in summer with big, fluffy blue or pink flowers. Properly called Hydrangea macrophylla (for their large leaves), they're also known as French, garden, or florist's hydrangea," says Dan Stuppiello, division merchandise manager of Live Goods at The Home Depot. Lacecaps, which are known for their frilly floral edges, and repeat-blooming varieties like 'Endless Summer' are also part of this category, he says.

If you're looking to add a compact French hydrangea to your yard, the 'Pink Elf' is suitable for USDA zones 5 – 9, taking partial shade and regular watering to thrive. It tops out at a diminutive 18- to 24-inches in height. Clay also recommends the 'Seaside Serenade' Cape Hatteras hydrangea, which can grow up to 3.5-feet high and 3-feet wide. "Cape Hatteras is a tetraploid variety so it will stay compact in the landscape, with strong stems, thick foliage, and long-lasting blooms," she says. "The flower color is not influenced by soil pH, so the bold red blossoms will capture attention no matter where they're planted."

For a statement-making impact, the green-edged, dark-red blooms of the 'Heart Throb' hydrangea can't be beat. According to the Southern Living Plant Collection, it's hardy in USDA zones 5 – 9 and its mature dimensions are 3-feet-by-3-feet.

02 of 04

Compact Oakleaf Hydrangea Varieties

Oakleaf Hydrangea
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Oakleaf hydrangeas might call to mind tall, thick foliage and conical blooms that are better suited for large, meandering yards. "Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) looks just like it sounds. This hydrangea features plumes of creamy white or pink blooms on stems with distinctive lobed leaves like those found on oak trees," says Stuppiello. "Oakleaf hydrangeas are one of two hydrangea species that are native to the U.S. and are best suited for moist woodland gardens, or the edge of woodlands." If your garden fits the bill in all but size, Clay suggests the 'Ruby Slippers' oakleaf hydrangea and the 'Munchkin' oakleaf hydrangea.

"'Munchkin' oakleaf hydrangea is an exceptional U.S. National Arboretum introduction," says Clay. "Loads of beautiful bright white blooms transition to a pretty pink as they age." She recommends planting a cluster of them in a small garden or for use as a hedge. The fast-growing summer bloomer is best suited for USDA zones 5 – 9 and reaches a height of 3- to 4.5-feet. If you're looking for a little color, 'Ruby Slippers' might be for you. According to Clay, they're covered in white blooms during the summer, but as the flowers age, they turn a deep pink. You'll also get a fall leaf show when the "dark green, deeply lobed oak-like foliage turns brilliant mahogany." It can be grown in USDA zones 5 – 9 and will grow up to 3.5-feet tall.

One more petite oakleaf hydrangea to consider is 'Sikes Dwarf.' According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, it's hardy in zones 5 – 9 and maxes out at a tidy 2- to 3-feet in height. It also features white blooms that change to pink as they mature with foliage that puts on a show of its own come autumn.

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Compact Panicle Hydrangea Varieties

Panicle Hydrangea
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Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) are loved for their easy-growing nature, thriving in USDA zones 3 – 8. According to Stuppiello, 'Limelight' hydrangea, one of the most popular cultivars, can even stand up to the scorching heat of zone 9. "Plant panicle hydrangeas in sites with up to six hours of sunlight a day," he says. "Like most hydrangeas, they appreciate afternoon shade."

Look for dwarf varieties that clock in between 3- to 5-feet tall like 'Little Quick Fire,' a dwarf panicle that Proven Winners says will begin flowering a full month before other varieties in USDA zones 3 – 8; 'Little Lime,' a showstopper come bloom season as it flourishes with lime-green flowers; and 'Bobo,' a plant of minuscule size that Proven Winners says will positively overwhelm with white blooms come summer.

04 of 04

Compact Smooth Hydrangea Varieties

Smooth Hydrangea
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According to the Southern Living Plant Collection, smooth hydrangeas (hydrangea aborescens) are sometimes incorrectly referred to as Annabelle hydrangeas. They're native to the Southern United States, which is why they're an excellent choice if you're looking for a low-maintenance hydrangea that's well suited for our climate.

Clay recommends the 'Seaside Serenade' Bar Harbour hydrangea if you're looking for countless white blooms but need a compact grower. "Growing to only 4-feet tall and wide, 'Bar Harbor' blooms sit atop strong, sturdy stems that can handle wind and rain," she says. "It is stunning in the landscape and makes a wonderful cut flower too." Plant in zones 3 – 8.

No list of compact smooth hydrangea varieties would be complete without mentioning the 'Invincibelle Wee White' smooth hydrangea. According to Proven Winners, it tops out a mere 1- to 2.5-feet tall when mature. Its blooming season begins in the summer and carries through frost, tolerating partial sun to full sun in USDA zones 3 – 8.

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