Hydrangea Tree vs. Hydrangea Bush: The Key Differences

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A blooming tree makes a great addition to the garden. However, when the flowers are gathered into huge inflorescences, it does look stunning. Tree hydrangeas have become very popular in recent years because not many trees can produce this look.

Do Hydrangea Trees Really Exist? Why do seed and nursery suppliers often add the word "tree" to many types of hydrangeas, which are often shaped like bushes? In fact, none of the hydrangeas are trees. Instead, they all grew into bushes. Still, some trees can grow into a small tree shape if pruned properly.

In this guide, we'll learn about the growing characteristics of hydrangeas and how to grow a specific variety as a tree rather than a shrub.

Comparing Hydrangea Trees vs. Hydrangea Bushes

hydrangea tree hydrangea bush
Classification hydrangea Hydrangea
alternative name Peegee Hydrangea, Limelight Hydrangea, Hardy Hydrangea Hortensia
origin China, Japan Asia, South and North America
describe A hydrangea shrub that can be grown and pruned as a tree. A deciduous shrub with flowers that vary in color from white to pink to purple.
use The roots are used in traditional medicine, while the plant itself is used for decoration. Mainly used for decoration.
growth tips Can benefit from full sun or afternoon shade. Also grows well with a layer of mulch to retain moisture and reduce soil temperature. Choose varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases, as hydrangeas are susceptible to pests and diseases.
interesting features It can be used to treat diseases such as urinary tract infections. It can also be pruned for a tree-like look. Hydrangeas are highly poisonous, so keep them away from pets and small children. Their flowers can come in a variety of colors, depending on the variety.

Key Differences Between Hydrangea Trees and Hydrangea Bushes

All hydrangeas belong to the same genus, hydrangeas . Contrary to popular belief, a hydrangea "tree" in the traditional sense does not exist. Hydrangeas can technically be considered trees, but due to their small size, they are classified as shrubs or shrubs. Tree-like growth is not characteristic of hydrangea trees. All hydrangeas will develop into shrubs with many stems if left to their own devices.

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Hydrangeas are the only hydrangea species that can grow into trees, but only with human intervention. When they are very young, nurseries will prune them into single-stem trees. Midsummer cones bloom every year in fresh growth for a stunning display, whether or not they've been pruned to look more like trees. However, there are many species of hydrangeas besides panicles, and they are all just as lovely as any other hydrangea.

Hydrangea grows into a tree after pruning
Hydrangeas are the only species of hydrangea that can be pruned into trees.

©Edita Medeina/Shutterstock.com

Hydrangea Trees vs. Hydrangea Bushes: By Classification

Hydrangea, also known as hortensia, is a genus of 75 different flowering plants collectively known as hydrangeas. The vast majority are classified as shrubs. Hydrangea , a species of hydrangea, is the only variety that can be pruned into a tree.

Hydrangea Trees vs. Hydrangea Bushes: Description

Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs with terminal clusters of round, umbrella-shaped, white, pink, blue, and even purple flowers. If your soils turn blue, your soil is acidic, and if they turn pink, your soil is alkaline. If your soil is between acidic and alkaline, you may have purple flowers. Hydrangea leaves are opposite, erect, stalked, pinnately veined, up to eight inches long, toothed, and occasionally split.

The two flower forms of hydrangeas are corymbs and panicles, which usually appear at the ends of the stems. Flower heads typically come in two different flower shapes: small, uninteresting flowers in the center or inside, and large, showy flowers with prominent, vibrant sepals. While commercial hydrangeas have been bred and selected for larger blooms, plants in wild populations often have few to no prominent blooms.

Eight to fifteen feet tall, panicle hydrangeas have erect, spiky, cone-shaped terminal panicles containing fertile and sterile flowers that bloom from midsummer to fall. Like all hydrangeas, this variety can come in nearly any color imaginable, all depending on soil acidity.

Pink, blue, lilac and purple hydrangeas
Hydrangeas are shrubs that bear clusters of round, umbrella-shaped, white, pink, blue, and even purple flowers.

© iStock.com/Maryna Andriichenko

Hydrangea Tree vs. Hydrangea Bush: Uses

Hydrangeas are known the world over for their showy flowers with delicate round heads. Because they are ornamental shrubs, hydrangeas and other hydrangea varieties are used primarily in landscaping. Most hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs that can reach a height of three to eight feet. Therefore, they are perfect as garden centerpieces.

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Hydrangeas have stunning spherical flower heads that are perfect for bouquets. Most varieties bloom between early spring and late fall, making them perfect for summer vase displays. Some varieties also emit a pleasant, subtle scent, giving your cut flower arrangements another dimension.

Since hydrangea is the only type of hydrangea that can be pruned into regular trees, it is used almost exclusively for landscaping and decorative purposes.

Made from the underground rhizomes and roots of the medicinal hydrangea. Although there is no solid scientific evidence to support these claims, people use hydrangea to treat kidney stones, enlarged prostate, bladder infections, and other conditions. Using hydrangea in large quantities can be harmful.

An ornamental garden filled with colorful hydrangeas.
Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs that can reach a height of three to eight feet and are ideal for use in ornamental gardens.

© iStock.com/Cheryl Ramalho

Hydrangea Trees vs. Hydrangea Bushes: Origins

Japan is where hydrangeas were originally grown. These flowers are native to South and East Asia, as well as North and South America, Japan, Korea, China, the Himalayas and Indonesia. Although hydrangea plants were first domesticated in Japan, fossils of prehistoric plants from 400 to 65 million years ago have been found in North America. It is believed that a colonist who brought the North American variety to England in 1736 was the first to introduce hydrangea to Europe. Hydrangeas are native to China and Japan.

Hydrangeas are in full bloom.
Hydrangeas have erect, pointed, cone-shaped, terminal inflorescences.

© iStock.com/pcturner71

Hydrangea Trees vs. Hydrangea Bushes: How To Grow

All hydrangeas, including panicle hydrangeas , can be planted in much the same way, following the same general guidelines.

The best seasons for growing hydrangeas are fall and early spring. The goal is to give the shrub enough time to establish a strong root system before flowering. The best place to plant hydrangeas is in a protected area with morning and afternoon shade. For hydrangeas to thrive, the soil must be rich in organic matter. Drainage is critical. Although they like moist soil, hydrangeas cannot tolerate standing water. When planting hydrangeas, simply make the planting hole two feet wider than the root ball. Match the depth of the hole to the size of the root ball so that your plants are level with or slightly above the surrounding soil.

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Hydrangea is the only type of hydrangea that can take the shape of a small tree. It does not grow new shoots from the roots, making it ideal for forming desired ornamental tree shapes. Other hydrangea varieties are impossible to grow as trees. Even with severe pruning, they will continue to grow new branches above the ground and regain their shrub-like appearance.

If you want your hydrangea to look like a tree, there are a few procedures you should follow. These bushy plants are hardy in farming zones 3 – 9 and bear large, cone-shaped flowers. They germinate in spring, bloom on new shoots, and are fast growing and hardy.

Having clean equipment on hand is crucial throughout the pruning process, so keep that in mind when getting ready for some serious pruning. After pruning, your plants will be vulnerable, especially after the initial pruning, so you don't want to introduce pests or pathogens to them. Before starting and between planting plants, clean by dipping the shears or clippers in a 10% bleach solution.

You can choose to start with more established plants, or you can choose rooted cuttings like a nurseryman. In either case, please be patient! Be prepared to be tight-lipped with your pruning shears during this process, as it can take upwards of five years to create a perfectly manicured tree with hydrangeas.

Hydrangea blooming in the form of a tree.
It can take upwards of five years to create a manicured tree with hydrangeas .

©Okyela/Shutterstock.com

Hydrangea Trees vs. Hydrangea Bushes: Features

Hydrangeas, including hydrangeas , don't actually have petals. The colored flowers you see are actually sepals, which are the leaves that protect the inner flowers. Hydrangeas can actually drink water through their sepals, not just from their roots.

Whether you choose a hydrangea to prune into a tree or any other hydrangea variety, you'll get a beautiful flowering plant that will be a real eye-catcher in your garden. If you follow the planting and watering instructions correctly, you should have no problem growing any hydrangea you like!

Next:

  • Pee Gee Hydrangeas vs. Limelight Hydrangeas: What's the Difference?
  • Are hydrangeas poisonous to dogs or cats?
  • Hydrangea Seeds: Experiment With This Popular Shrub!

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featured image

Hydrangeas are pruned into tree shapes.

© SariMe/Shutterstock.com


about the author

em casalena


I'm a fan of all things sustainable, from urban farming to not killing houseplants. I love carnivorous plants, native crops, and air-cleaning houseplants. My area of expertise lies in urban farming and conscious living. A proud Southwestern Academy of Therapeutic Arts graduate and certified Urban Agriculture Instructor.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is there a difference between a hydrangea tree and a shrub?

All hydrangea varieties are shrubs. However, they can grow into a tree in specific ways.

Which hydrangea varieties can be grown as trees?

Hydrangeas can be grown into trees by pruning the leaves when the plants are young.

Do Hydrangeas Get Big?

Yes. Hydrangeas can grow up to 30 feet tall, but their average height is about 25 feet.

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source
  1. YouTube, available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGDjr2OrS_0
  2. Wikipedia, available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrangea
  3. North Carolina Extension, available here: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/hydrrangea/