Best Lighting for Hydrangea Plants in Your Garden

Besides healthy soil and adequate watering, light is another major factor to consider in the overall health of your hydrangeas. If you’ve only recently added hydrangeas to your summer garden, then it may come as a surprise as to how little light they need to be happy in a garden—and how too much direct sun can harm them by scorching their leaves. While plants like lavender and mint can take hours upon hours of scorching sun, hydrangeas fall somewhere on the other end of the spectrum—enjoying some direct light, lots of indirect or dappled light, and plenty of shade. How much light is too much when keeping your hydrangeas happy? We’ll cover everything you need to know about how much light your hydrangeas need to thrive. 

Hydrangeas & Sunlight: How Much Light do Hydrangeas Need to Thrive?

Hydrangea Light Requirements

Colorful hydrangea plants in bloom growing under ideal light conditions in a garden

Now that you know a bit about the general types of light, let’s dive into the specific light requirements of hydrangeas. Depending on where you live, hydrangeas will thrive in gardens with as little as three hours of direct sunlight per day. They prefer dappled light, so if your garden gets continuous indirect light all day, this might also be sufficient for them. Hydrangeas also like morning light, which is typically gentler and less hot than afternoon light. While some hydrangeas will tolerate full sun (six hours or more of direct light), they’ll likely perform better with a bit of shade. 

The exact preferences of your hydrangea will depend on which type of hydrangea it is. While Oakleaf, Climbing, and Mophead Hydrangeas will all take between three to six hours of direct sun, other varieties (like Mountain, Panicle, and Smooth Hydrangeas) prefer more than that. 

For the best results, plant your hydrangea in a partly-shaded garden bed where it’s protected from the wind and from getting too much sun. Be sure to monitor your hydrangea for signs of too much sun (or underwatering)—which generally manifests as burnt leaves and a lack of healthy-looking blooms. 

Because of their size, hydrangeas are popular for the edge of gardens underneath trees or as background or border plants. Hydrangeas are also relatively easy to propagate if you want to expand your collection. Remember that most hydrangeas can grow as tall as they do wide, so it’s best to place them towards the back of the garden rather than in the front, where they’ll likely obstruct the view of your other plants. Most types of hydrangea will also benefit from fertilizing twice each growing season and from pruning and cutting back hydrangeas at the end of the season.

Growing hydrangeas in less-than-ideal light conditions

A collection of colorful hydrangea plants in bloom during the growing season

When it comes to growing hydrangeas, it’s possible to give them too little or too much light. For many hydrangeas, at least some shade is preferred. If you have an overly sunny garden, then you might consider planting one of the varieties that do best in full sun, which include Mountain, Panicle, and Smooth Hydrangeas. Oakleaf, Climbing, or Mophead Hydrangeas would be better for shadier gardens with less direct light. 

Despite these guidelines, the light requirements for all hydrangeas will vary based on the conditions of your garden. While hydrangeas in moist, humid gardens may tolerate more sun than usual, those in drier ones may not. The best way to deduce if your hydrangea is getting what it needs is by simple observation. If the plants seem happy, and the leaves don’t appear burned or with stunted growth, then chances are your hydrangea is getting the amount of light it needs to thrive.  

Transplanting your hydrangeas isn’t overly complex if you need to relocate the plants to a better spot in your garden.

The Role of Light in Plant Health and Development

Hydrangea plants growing alongside a building on a sunny day in an urban location

You’ve likely heard that plants need sunlight to survive, and adequate light is crucially vital for having happy plants. The reason is that light is an essential component of photosynthesis—the process by which plants use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. 

Without enough sunlight, most plants won’t survive, let alone thrive enough to do all the other amazing things they can do—like bearing flowers, creating fruit, and building new root systems and fresh shoots. 

But you may not have heard before that not all light is created equal or equally beneficial to all plants. Take, for example, Mediterranean plants like thyme and lavender. These thrive in hot, direct sunlight and likely won’t produce a bountiful harvest without it. But a colorful hydrangea’s light requirements differ from those of a lavender. Whereas lavender likes full sun, hydrangeas are much happier in the understory of a garden—tucked at the edge of a tree canopy where they can be protected from the hottest sunlight and still receive plenty of indirect light. 

Types of Light Explained 

Types of Light Explained 

You’ll often hear gardeners talking about ‘types of light’, which can be confusing if you aren’t aware of any differences in light and how plants use it. Light is often categorized for gardening by two defining factors: duration and time of day. 

The first category includes descriptions of light like ‘full sun’ or ‘part shade,’ which accounts for the hours of sunlight a plant receives. Depending on your location and altitude, full sun can mean anything from four to six hours of direct sunlight per day, with half of that number generally used to describe part-sun or part-shade gardens. 

The second category describes what time of day your plants receive sunlight. This is a surprisingly important distinction since the morning sun tends to be gentler than the midday or afternoon sun, and a plant that does well in one may not equally benefit from the other. 

Hydrangea Light Requirements FAQs: 

Do hydrangeas like sun or shade?

Hydrangeas prefer a partly shaded garden, ideally with four hours of direct morning light and several hours of dappled light or shade thereafter.

Can hydrangeas get too much sun?

Yes! Being a shade-loving plant, hydrangeas can get too much light. Watch for signs of burnt leaves and drooping flower buds to determine if your hydrangea is getting too much sun.

Do hydrangeas prefer morning or afternoon sun? 

Hydrangeas prefer the morning sun, which is generally cooler and less intense.

Can hydrangeas grow well in shade?

Hydrangeas grow best in part-shade, meaning they get some direct sunlight and a period of shade every day.

Do hydrangeas need light to germinate?

Hydrangea seeds do need light to germinate.

The Final Word

Selecting a good spot in your garden to ensure your hydrangeas get the light they need. Spend time observing how much sun your garden gets and at what times of day. Pick a spot for your hydrangea where it will be protected from the wind and can still enjoy some sun each day with plenty of shade during the warmer parts of the day. By planting your hydrangea where it can thrive (rather than just a spot where you’d like it to be), you’ll be closer to having a healthier, less demanding garden.

Contributing Editor | larissa@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

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.

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