Showstopping Hydrangea Varieties That Were Made for the Shade

From full-shade to filtered-light lovers, these hydrangeas are meant to flourish with minimal sun exposure.

Big Daddy Hydrangea
Big Daddy Hydrangea. Photo: Southern Living Plant Collection

We all know about the morning sun and afternoon shade preferred by many hydrangea varieties, but there are some hydrangeas that can stand even more respite from those rays, particularly in warmer climates. It's important to know that when talking about shade-loving hydrangeas, sunlight is still part of the equation. Filtered sun is ideal, though many of the hydrangeas we included in this list can tolerate a few hours of direct morning light too.

So what's to love about shade-loving hydrangeas—other than their minimal light requirements, of course? Kip McConnell, plant expert with Southern Living Plant Collection says shady hydrangeas often prove to be sturdier than their sun-loving friends, meaning you don't have to worry about drooping. "Hydrangeas grown in shade also offer additional benefits in terms of the long-term health and appearance of the plant," he says. "Shade grown plants are typically slower growing, allowing the stems the opportunity to grow stronger to hold heavier flower heads."

Whether you're selecting a shade-tolerant hydrangea due to your garden's needs or the appeal of more upright blooms, you'll have plenty of options to choose from. Should you ask David Doggett, president of the Alabama Hydrangea Society and Advanced Master Gardener with certification in Hydrangeas, about his hydrangea preferences for shade, he'll say it's bigleaf hydrangeas all the way. There's something about those large, exaggerated blooms that always appeal, especially under the cover of a shady maple.

As Doggett would have it, the bulk of our list of the best shade-loving hydrangeas fall within the Hydrangea macrophylla species, but we also included a smooth hydrangea, panicle hydrangea, and oakleaf hydrangea if those varieties are more your style. Here are the best hydrangeas for the shadiest spaces in your garden.

Best French Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) for Shade

'Big Daddy'

"Pink in alkaline soils and blue in acidic soils, Big Daddy's blooms are easy to grow in hot, humid summers and make the perfect addition to cut flower arrangements," says McConnell. Plant them in part shade to full shade and they'll reward you with gigantic blooms.


Doggett calls this lacecap variety "a showstopper when in flower." Show it the proper care and you can expect to see an abundance of vibrant blue flowers.

Endless Summer BloomStruck

For blooms that keep on coming, opt for this repeat bloomer. It features vibrant-hued, long-lasting, medium-sized mopheads with small leaves and sturdy stems to create a tidy-looking shrub.


You'll find long-lasting blooms well into the summer with this Doggett-approved pick. He says to expect "large, rosy red mophead (round) blooms on a stout, substantial shrub."

'Lady in Red'

According to Doggett, this lacecap with "reddish-green stems and leaf veins of red" aren't the most reliable when it comes to blooming, but their shape and foliage make them a pretty addition to your garden even when they aren't showing off their blooms.


If you're looking for a classic beauty, Doggett says this is it. "[It's] a vigorous grower with large lacecap blooms in lilac to pure blue."

The Best Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) for Shade

Seaside Serenade Bar Harbor Hydrangea

Georgia Clay, new plants manager for Monrovia, suggests this compact hydrangea if you love Annabelle hydrangeas but just don't have enough space. It grows up to 4-feet tall and wide and features sturdy stems topped with white blooms that pop all summer long.

The Best Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) for Shade

White Wedding Hydrangea

"Cold-hardy (USDA Zones 4-8) and more compact than most paniculatas, White Wedding Hydrangea will provide masses of beautiful white blooms from midsummer to fall, without much work," says McConnell. They have the benefit of strong stems so drooping blooms don't become an issue.

The Best Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) for Shade

Tara Hydrangea

This easygoing oak leaf variety is shade tolerant and makes for an elegant choice for both mass or accent plantings. "Maturing to a height of 6' by 6', Tara's cloudlike blooms rest atop elegant oak shaped leaves that take on a rich red hue in fall," says McConnell.

How To Care for Shade Hydrangeas

To get the most of your shaded hydrangea, it's important to do your homework. "Choosing the right location for your hydrangea is key," says Clay. They'll need some sun (filtered or direct morning light) and rich, fertile soil. Once planted, you should give them plenty of water, but how you do it will be important since they won't have as much sun to soak up excess moisture. "Shady areas tend to stay cooler than the sunnier areas in your landscape, and the higher density of trees and shrubs shading the area can lessen air circulation," says McConnell. "Because of this, it's better to water shaded hydrangeas in the morning, when the leaves will have an opportunity to dry. This helps prevent fungal diseases from developing."

The Best Hydrangea Companion Plants for Shade

Selecting the best hydrangea variety for shade isn't a one-and-done decision, companion plants should be considered as well. You'll want to think about what plants will work with your level of sun exposure (or lack thereof) while also adding to the overall look and feel of the garden. Clay suggests Hosta, ferns, and Heuchera. For added texture and interest, she suggests going with a dwarf conifer, but if you're looking for a more structural route, McConnell says boxwoods are a classic choice. "Their compact growth habit and smaller leaf shape provides structure that contrasts beautifully with hydrangeas' easy elegance."

If you want to punctuate your hydrangea blooms with even more floral interest, Clay says azaleas can bring early spring color before the hydrangeas start to put on a show. But if you're looking for a mix of pretty foliage and delicate (read: not overpowering) flowers, look to begonias like 'Sterling Moon' Lunar Lights. "[They]offer beautiful blooms and fascinating foliage at a slightly smaller scale than hydrangeas, and can act as accents between larger plants," says McConnell.

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