If you’ve ever dreamed of a garden full of blooming hydrangeas, you might just want to try propagation. The best part? It’s free. While propagating hydrangeas isn’t tricky, it takes some know-how and patience to get it right. Here’s our handy guide for everything you need about propagating hydrangeas in your garden.
When to Propagate Hydrangeas
The first step in successfully propagating your favorite hydrangea is to know when to do it.
While opinions on this can vary, there does seem to be a range of time in which propagating makes the most sense—mainly during the hydrangea growing season with at least 6-8 weeks before the first fall frost.
This is because you’ll want enough time for your plant cuttings to root into the soil before conditions get too cold.
Since you’ll want to take a cutting from the new growth (sans flower) of your chosen hydrangea, you might be better off doing this towards the beginning of the growing season when you have ample choice, especially if you’re using a smaller plant with less new stems to choose from.
In either case, propagating in late spring through mid-summer is likely the best time (similar to fertilizing hydrangeas) when the plant reaches a mature height.
Choosing the Right Plant for Propagation
Since propagation is a form of cloning, you’ll want to pick a plant that you like that seems healthy and will thrive in your garden. You may want to propagate from a happy hydrangea in your garden or take a cutting from a friend or neighbor’s garden.
Plant health is probably the number one thing to consider before propagating your hydrangea, and you’ll want to choose a cutting from a plant that seems vibrantly healthy.
Avoid plants with diseases or pest infestations or those suffering from stress (including lack of water or too much sunlight). Taking cuttings from these plants will only further jeopardize their health, and it’s also much less likely that your cuttings will survive and thrive in a new garden.
You’ll also want to avoid taking cuttings from very young plants with only a few new shoots on them. These plants need every leaf they’ve got, so let them be and instead choose a more mature, healthy plant to propagate from.
Varieties of hydrangeas
Before choosing a plant, brush up on your knowledge about the various types of hydrangeas (and their color characteristics), and make sure you have a space in your garden for the new one.
Remember that some hydrangeas will require more sunlight than others, and you’ll want to propagate from a healthy plant that can thrive in the conditions in your garden.
If you have a shadier garden, then an Oakleaf or Climbing Hydrangea might be better than a Panicle or Smooth Hydrangea (which both prefer more sunlight).
The best thing to do when choosing a plant to propagate from is to observe where it’s growing and the conditions of that garden.
Can you mimic those conditions closely enough to make your new plant happy? If yes, then that might be an excellent plant to propagate from.
Gathering Your Cuttings
Once you’ve chosen a plant or two to propagate from, you’ll want to decide just how many plants you’d like to take from each.
Keep in mind that each cutting has the potential to become a full-fledged hydrangea one day—so don’t take more than you need.
When propagating hydrangeas, you’ll want to look for a shoot of new growth with several leaves and no flowers.
You can make your cut several inches down (usually six inches or so) just above a leaf node, which is where new leaves emerge. By snipping at the leaf node, you’ll encourage your new cutting to sprout roots more quickly, and you’ll also help the mother plant recover faster.
Although it’s best to plant your cuttings immediately after trimming them, sometimes this isn’t possible. If that’s the case, keep your cuttings in a cup of water or wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a cool spot until you can get them planted.
It’s worth noting that hydrangeas are considered toxic, so it’s prudent to wear a pair of gardening gloves throughout the process.
Preparing Your Cuttings
Once you’ve taken several cuttings, it’s time to prepare them to be planted in soil. Unlike other garden plants you may propagate, hydrangeas cuttings can be directly planted in soil and don’t require a period of time in water.
Before planting your cuttings, you’ll want to trim off any excess leaves along the stem, leaving just two leaves at the very top of the cutting. This will take some of the burden off the young plant and help it concentrate on building roots.
You might also consider dipping the end of your stem into some root stimulator (via Amazon) before putting it in soil as this can help your new hydrangea to root in more quickly.
Planting your cuttings
Have several small pots ready (at least six inches in diameter) for your hydrangea cuttings, and fill them with a seed starter mix or potting soil mix.
You’ll want to choose soil rich in nutrients but not too dense, and be sure your pots have drainage holes so that your cuttings can drain properly between waterings. Hydrangeas don’t like to have wet feet!
Moisten your soil, then make a hole in each pot with a pencil. Plant one cutting per pot, deep enough so that the soil will cover at least two levels of leaf nodes (where you removed the excess leaves).
If you’re short on pots, you can plant multiple cuttings per pot, spacing them at least two inches apart. Add more soil to the base of your cutting and tamper it down so that it feels secure.
While your plant’s root in (which takes about two weeks), you’ll want to keep them watered and in a cool space out of direct sunlight. This would be ideal if you have a covered outdoor area that still receives some indirect light.
Just as you would with a full-grown hydrangea, be sure your cutting is kept in moist, well-draining soil. You can use your finger to check the soil moisture every few days, which will help ensure your plant is receiving plenty of water.
Some garden experts recommend using a homemade humidity dome for your hydrangea cutting. While this is a nice extra step, it isn’t an absolute requirement.
However, if you live in a humid climate where your hydrangea will receive ample moisture in your garden, then a humidity dome can be a good bit of extra protection while your plant grows roots.
If your garden tends on the drier side, it might be best to do without—as you’ll only be training the plant to grow in conditions that can’t be sustained once it gets transplanted into your garden.
To create a humidity dome for your budding plant, use a plastic bag and some stakes to fully cover it and lock in any environmental moisture around it.
Alternatively, you may also use a cut-off milk jug or plastic water bottle. The most important thing is to be sure your dome isn’t touching the leaves, as this could damage them or cause them to develop various fungal diseases.
You may also want to read up on the type of hydrangea you’re propagating, as some tolerate wet conditions better than others.
Transplanting cuttings into the garden
Once you’ve given your plants a few weeks to root into their initial pots, you’ll want to consider transplanting them into your garden.
Plan on transplanting your new hydrangeas at least three to four weeks before your first fall frost so that they have ample time to settle in before temperatures drop.
To transplant your hydrangea cuttings, start by digging a hole that’s one to two inches deeper and wider than your pot. Add some organic material (like compost or composted manure) to your soil.
Then, gently remove the plant with as much soil attached as possible—this will help ensure you don’t damage the root ball too much.
If you use flimsy disposable pots, you may also consider cutting the pot off the plant rather than trying to extract it. Place your plant into the prepared hole and cover it halfway with your amended soil.
Consider using a root stimulator (via Amazon) to water in the roots. Then finish covering the plant up to the same level as it was planted in the pot, and be sure to give it plenty of water.
Cover the base of your plant with mulch or peat moss to lock in more moisture between waterings.
Propagating Hydrangeas FAQs:
Can you root a hydrangea branch in water?
While soft-stemmed plants can often be rooted in a cup of water, woody perennials like hydrangeas will root best in the soil. To propagate a new hydrangea, cut off a healthy new shoot and replant it in a small pot of soil for a few weeks before transplanting it into your garden.
When should you take hydrangea cuttings?
You can take hydrangea cuttings anytime during the growing season, although it’s best to do so before it gets too late in the summer (and the time has arrived to cut back your hydrangea plants) as you’ll want to give your new plant time to get established before the cold weather.
How do you propagate hydrangeas from cuttings?
To propagate a hydrangea from a cutting, cut a fresh new shoot from a healthy hydrangea bush and plant it in a small pot of rich, moist soil.
How long does it take hydrangeas to root from cuttings?
Hydrangeas take about 2-3 weeks to form new roots after being cut. You can improve their chances of survival by applying a root stimulator to the cutting tip.
How do you split a hydrangea?
You can split a hydrangea by dividing the root crown in half and replanting one half separately. What’s more, you can also propagate a hydrangea plant from new growth—which tends to be much less labor-intensive and less likely to kill or damage your original plant.
Propagating Hydrangeas – The Final Word
Propagating hydrangeas isn’t hard, but it helps to know a bit about the process before attempting it on your own. Before gathering any new cuttings, be sure you have a spot picked out in your garden for a new hydrangea. This will help ensure you only take the number of cuttings you actually need and will help set up your new plants for the best possible success. For more, see our essential guide to growing hydrangeas.
Larissa is a writer, gardener, and herbalist living in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. Her writing has been widely published in lifestyle and personal finance publications all over the country, and she's also the creator of the weekly newsletter @rootedintribe.