Garden | Hydrangeas

My One & Only Annabelle Hydrangea

Tips for growing Annabelle hydrangea bushes and arranging their beautiful blooms. Advice for when to prune an Annabelle hydrangea, and how to harvest.

annabelle hydrangea beside shed

*Updated 5/11/2021

For me, the struggle is real when it comes to growing hydrangeas. I love them so much, but have not been able to successfully grow them. I currently have three Limelight hydrangeas in front of our porch…and they are full of leaves, but of course, no buds yet. The bushes look healthy, so I’m hopeful the blooms will be plentiful. (Last year they did quite well. Still a little top heavy, but there were abundant blooms.) I also have one Annabelle hydrangea in our backyard, by our garden shed. Every other hydrangea I have planted over the past 30 years, and there have been many, has either died or refused to bloom. 

You may be wondering why I’m sharing a post on growing Annabelles, when I very clearly haven’t had much success. There are actually three reasons. First, I want you to know that even though some plants fail to thrive, it’s not always your fault. There are many, many reasons why some plants live, and some don’t. Second, I don’t want you to give up. Working in the garden is one of the great joys of my life…and if you feel the same way, please don’t stop. Third, and most importantly, every time I’ve had a disappointment in the garden, I have learned something. Success is measured in a million different ways. So even though you’ve experienced “failures,” if you learned something, I would call that success. Learning and trying are part of life…so just keep humming along!

The Annabelle hydrangea bush I’m featuring today is one of two that were planted about 25 years ago, a few years after we moved into this house. The second one was on the opposite side of the shed. It never bloomed, and after several years, I removed it. The remaining plant continued to grow, but for a long time, there were no blooms. About 10 years ago, the blooms began to show up, and they have been reliable and beautiful ever since. 

annabelle hydrangea blooms on bush

Because of my less-than-successful career as a hydrangea grower, I have read countless articles and blog posts on growing hydrangeas. The most asked questions are in regards to pruning. It can be confusing, but the answer lies firmly in knowing if your hydrangea blooms on old wood, or new wood. 

When to Prune an Annabelle Hydrangea

Annabelle hydrangeas (considered smooth hydrangeas) bloom on new wood, or in other words, the current season’s growth. To make sure that you are not cutting off any buds, the best time to cut your bushes back is in the late fall or very early spring. It’s perfectly OK to deadhead (remove spent blooms) your Annabelles any time. Annabelles can occasionally benefit from a hard pruning…but don’t do it every year. If your bushes are thin and leggy, or if your blooms are small, go ahead and hard prune in the late fall. Cut the stems back to about 18 inches so the new growth will have a sturdy framework. New growth will appear in the spring, and your bushes will be thicker, with bigger blooms. 

*Author’s note: some master gardeners say to cut back Annabelles in the late winter or early spring. There are also some who say it’s fine to prune in the late fall. I found it confusing until it was explained to me this way: once the growing season starts, do not prune or cut back your Annabelles. So when to prune an Annabelle hydrangea? It’s fine to prune in the late fall, late winter, or very early spring. 

*Affiliate links (Amazon & others) included. Click HERE for my disclosure statement. 

pitcher of annabelle hydrangeas

Arranging Annabelle Hydrangeas

First of all, nothing could be easier than arranging Annabelle hydrangeas. Annabelles are so beautiful that there is no need to add any other type of flowers or filler to an arrangement. 

  • To harvest Annabelle blooms, cut the stems so they are about 12 inches long. Strip all but the very top set of leaves, and plunge the stems into a bucket of cool water. 
  • Use a tall vase or pitcher, so you can take advantage of the long stems. 
  • Re-cut the stems at an angle, and dip them in alum before adding to your vase or pitcher.
  • To prolong the life of your arrangement, change the water every few days, and give the stems a fresh cut.

My Favorite Flower Scissors

annabelle hydrangeas in pitcher and bowl

It’s a personal choice, but I don’t like to see stems between the blooms and the top of the vessel. I love when the fluffy blooms sit nicely on the top of the vessel, with a few leaves draping over the edges to add interest. 

summer shelf decor

Like most things in my life, my garden is a continuing work in progress. I plan to plant more lavender, because it’s my favorite. It’s also low maintenance, and falls right in line with my “simple is best” motto. I am also replacing the plants that didn’t make it through the winter, and moving some daylilies and purple coneflowers. As soon as that is finished, I’ll be back to show you how it looks. 

Thank you so much for stopping by…and for your friendship. Happy Gardening!

DIY Mod Podge Terra Cotta Pots

garden bundle graphic below post 600

42 Comments

  1. Ann Lynch says:

    What is alum? I googled it and it looks like McCormick makes it. Is it a spice?
    We moved in November and are just learning what types of plants are coming up. One hydrangea but I don’t know what color. Bought an endless summer with some buds on it. I’m praying I get something this summer.

    1. Hello Ann
      Allium are flowering bulbs in the onion family. Their flowers are large, tall blooms which are beautiful. They can be grown in more than one color. Give them a look. They are lovely.

      1. claudia bassano says:

        I think she is referring to ALUM which you use to preserve cut stems?

  2. Kathy Menold says:

    Ann, Thankyou for your honest gardening article about Hydrangeas. I am Master Gardener and have been for 30 + years. My success with Hydrangeas has also been quite unsuccessful till I started growing Annabelle and Limelight. My experience with the beautiful Blue types I see thriving around town has never been good till this year when a Bush that was here when we moved in has started to bloom. Even this year when it was damaged by a late frost it is covered with buds. The difference is we cut down a Gumball tree that was obviously giving the Hydrangea too much shade. Live and learn. Hope to enjoy some big bouquets in the house this summer and maybe even dry some. Happy gardening.

  3. I grow hydrangeas….annabelle, blue Nikko, blue and pink Everbloom/Everlast and Pee Gee (tree form 4 of them)…water is key!! Hydro as in H2O is important as they are Hydr…angeas. Dappled sunlight is also a key plus do not fertilize unless it’s very early in the growing season like early spring and use a liquid gentle fertilizer 4-6-8 or just compost and some coffee grounds. If you fertilize too soon and your soil phosphorous is off or you get too much of one thing then the blooms will not generate. I keep my blue hydrangeas blue by keeping them in acid soil…aluminum sulphate or sulfur for blue, lime for pink. The measurements again is important to what color you will get.

  4. Your Annabelle looks awesome!!! Does get any direct sun??

  5. What kind of lavender do you plant?

  6. Diane LaSauce says:

    Ann, at least this one survivor looks lush and healthy!
    I live in central VA (outside Charlottesville) and planted two Little Limes two years ago. One in front bed and one in rear border. Both receive full sun and both are thriving. Cannot remember if I gave Plant Tone this spring or not, but the blossoms now are gigantic and plentiful!
    I decided to create cut stem bouquets for my farmer’s market this weekend, as one sample cut earlier this week is doing just fine in the house.
    I may, as we discussed earlier, make a cut wreath with fresh flowers, and let them dry in place on the wreath form. When I dried flowers they all disintegrated when I tried to assemble.
    Not sure if I can paste photos here. Cheers, Diane

    1. Have you ever sprayed hair Spray on the wreath? It makes the flowers less papery.

  7. 5 stars
    Enjoy getting your recipes. Made the zucchini bread this week. That was one of my Moms favorite breads to made as a dessert.

  8. Hi Ann, You so inspired me with your beautiful flowers . We decided to make a boarder on the back yard of 23 Annabelles. Can’t wait till the are planted. Thank you for inspiring my husband and me. Still miss seeing your craft shows . I use to watch every week.

  9. Beth Roossien says:

    4 stars
    Very helpful. I am planning on planting several Annabelle bushes this fall.
    Thank you Ann!

  10. I have had my Annabellas for 20 plus years and every fall I remove the flowers and air dry them. They are so easy to grow. I also prune to about a foot or so before winter. As far as the colored varieties, I too have a hard time getting them to bloom. Not sure if it’s where I live or the soil. My former home I was able to grow lovely pink and blue! Hoping some day I’ll find the right variety!

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Thank you Janine…so you cut back your bush every year?

  11. I feel your pain on the hydrangeas! They are one of my favorite flowers and I CANNOT get mine to bloom. I bought a limelight and am going to try it.

  12. Rebecca (Becky) Hackman says:

    I love hydrangeas and they, along with coneflowers are my favorite summer bloomers. Several years ago, my daughter gave me a hydrangea ( I do not remember what kind) for mother’s day. I planted it and it bloomed the following summer and never bloomed again. I’m guessing at least ten years ago. I threatened it every summer that it was going if it didn’t bloom! finally this year, I removed it. It was healthy, had nice green leaves, but just did not produce blooms. I never ever trimmed it so I know I did not trim the buds off. This year my limelight hydrangea started leafing out very nice and we had the two very late freezes and I covered it both times. However, it is pitiful. Very few leaves and what leaves are on it, are tiny. I’m just watching it and see what happens.

  13. I just bought an Annabelle this spring…so far so good. My limelight’s are all doing well, after a hard pruning earlier this spring. But…two still do not have any buds. But, they are late bloomers here in Wisconsin. So, we’ll see what happens.

    Your hydrangeas have always inspired me. I tried growing lavender, but after 3 unsuccessful tries…I decided to plant cat mint. I still get the purple color I wanted, they are good for pollinators, and they’re flourishing! Go figure! Enjoy your day! ;)

  14. Have you had your soil tested? Out of whack content can keep plants from blooming.
    When I had Annabelles I pruned them late winter/early spring.
    Also, do you fertilize your hydrangeas?
    Check out Garden Answer on You Tube. Laura is an incredible gardener who works with Proven Winners, She has videos on just about every gardening situation you can ask for.
    Im’ a Master Gardener and I’m learning new stuff from her all the time.
    Good luck!

  15. The Annabelle is absolutely gorgeous! I’m on the second cutting of my Limelight here in Florida. The blooms are pretty, but they’re not as amazing as in years past. The travails of hydrangea gardening.

  16. Kathy Menold says:

    Ann, I have been a Master Gardener for over 25 yrs and have always struggled with growing Hydrangeas until I discovered Annabelle and Limelight both that can be pruned in late winter down to 12 inches. This also applies to Pee Gee and the now large variety of Panicle Hydrangeas on the market. As for the blue hydrangeas this is the first year I have enough to cut and dry.I also struggle with Lavender but now do it in containers and mulch with white pebbles and so far so good. Anyway don’t give up on your gardening. It’s a project in progress no many how many years we do it.

  17. I was about to give up growing hydrangeas, wouldn’t bloom much. I finally realized, after a few yrs, the deer were sneaking it and trimming them for me. For past year, I have been using that stinking deer & rabbit spray. This year the hydrangeas are beautiful.

    1. I have the same problem with deer eating all the buds so hydrangeas never bloom. I have given up.

  18. claudia bassano says:

    Ann
    These are doing well because they are native hydrangeas!
    Not the color ones, including the Endless Summer series

  19. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this….I live in San Diego, and planted 2 pink hydrangea bushes about 25 years ago. Every year they bloom…profusely. The blooms themselves are the size of a volleyball, and are a very pretty raspberry pink. At times, the bush is more color than leaves. And I am not an especially good ‘hdrangea-mama’. We just cut them back in January and water them. But – this time next year I expect to be living in Fort Wayne, IN, so I will need to learn how to grow hydrangeas in the Zone 6…!

    1. claudia bassano says:

      They transplant successfully

    2. I live in Elkhart, Indiana and have an Annabelle hydrangea. It does quite well with partial shade. (Kind of mottles shade). Summers get quite hot. It’s been 90s with not much rain for the last two weeks. So if you can put in drip watering you will have a happy hydrangea.

  20. Suzanne Carrier says:

    I was just thinking of buying a couple today. Thanks for your honest sharing. I’m always so hard on myself when things fail. ……. I appreciate the tips! ……Gorgeous pics. 😍

  21. 5 stars
    Ann ~ So beautiful, so sweet, just like you!! I had two pretty blue Hydrangeas, but after the first year, they NEVER bloomed again. i was spending summer’s watering green bushes!!

  22. Thanks for your honesty in your struggle to grow hydrangeas. I have three Endless Summer Hydrangeas that have occasionally over ten years produced a few blooms. I’ve tried everything and am ready to yank them! I added a couple of Annabelles last year and already they seem to be doing better than the others. I, like you, prefer no fuss plants. Those darn Hydrangeas are just teasing us because we love them so much!

  23. Hi Ann~ I am also a lover of hydrangea & lavender. Am considering getting an Annabelle (seeing some in our neighborhood in beautiful bloom right now!). So thanks for your advice about them.
    My Limelight is actually my prize, consistent bush in my yard. I do not prune it except to harvest blooms or deadhead after winter.
    Wondering if you prune yours? My limelight has quite a bit of sun also.
    I’d also like to recommend a variety of lavender called “Phenomenal “.
    It truly is! loves sun & produces SO many flowers. I have 3 plants & have been harvesting bunches all week to dry. I live in central OH, so we have similar weather.
    I love your blog for so many reasons. Good luck with your Limelight’s this year!

  24. Lucia Donahower says:

    Hello Ann,
    Thank you for your tips. Hydrangeas are beautiful, my bush has only two flowers this year, last year, was full of blooms. So this year, I will fallow your tips.
    Thank you
    Lucy

  25. Nicola Deigan says:

    Hi Ann
    You may be cutting the stems too long. I read an article that showed where to cut stems so you don’t impede blooms for next year. Bud vase lengths are better. I wish I could find the article bc it was specific to where you made the cut to ensure your flower will bloom again next year and it was specific to cutting blooms for vases/not cutting back in the fall. Also my mostly shade hydrangeas go nuts. But the ones I have that get more sun definitely struggle more. Hope that helps!

  26. Hydrangeas are one of my favorite flowers.I love how lacy the Annabelle are and look beautiful in a vase all by themselves.

  27. I think I must be fairly lucky. My home came with a monster of a arborescens that I’ve divided and placed in other areas of my yard. A friend gave me Annabelle and it’s at the point where I can now divide.

    I don’t do anything special other than keep them watered. However the beds they are in do get a layer of leaf litter every 2 years or so to improve the tilth of the soil. In terms of watering my gutter downspouts are nearby.

    Even though one of my Hayes Starburst struggles a bit, arborescens hydrangea are the easiest to grow in Zone 5 gardens. Endless summer on the other hand not so much for me.

    1. Sorry my comment was probably confusing. Yes, Annabelle is an arborescens. However, hydrangea arborescens with no cultivar name refers to the wild type. The wild type is a native plant and that’s the hydrangea that came with my home. It’s blooming very profusely this year. The blooms are not the nice rounded corymb form of Annabelle. Instead it’s more of a flat corymb and isn’t nearly as showy as Annabelle. The flowers along the edges of the corymb have larger petals like a lace cap (forgive me if I get that terminology wrong… still learning.). I find it’s useful because it hosts quite a bit of wildlife in my garden.

      The bees love the native plant and when in bloom the bush seems to hum. It’s also what my cottontails use to conceal their babies during the summer months. Because it’s native it grows very well for me and I’ve been able to divide it and place it in other areas along my fenceline where I also have hosta, hellebore, and pulmonaria growing in the same bed. In early spring this bed wakes up with bulbs (snow drops, scilla, and daffodils). There’s probably corydalis & rue present as well since they both reseed reasonably well but don’t get out of control. Along the edges of the bed where there is more sun is a tree peony, a hardy hibiscus, spirea and brunnera. The brunnera is becoming a bit of a thug but it’s better than weeds so I live with it. And ivecalso planted garlic in this bed so it’s nice to see spikes of garlic growing amongst the ornamental plants.

      This bed is pretty long and it’s what I see from my kitchen table and as I sit on my deck. Even when I am not actively looking at he flowers I enjoy sitting on the deck , reading my kindle, and listening to the hum of the bees. I occasionally catch a glimpse of the rabbit mamas coming out and nursing their babies after they’ve decided I’m no threat to the bunnies.

      However, I also have another arborescens. Hayes Starburst which is a bit shorter in stature but grows just as easily as Annabelle but the blooms are very different in appearance. Google it to see a photo. They kind of remind me of popcorn. In addition I also have a few hydrangea paniculata. I chose these because they can handle more sun without wilting In the summer heat. These include Little Lime, Bobo, and PeeGee. The one oak leaf (hydrangea quercifolia) I have is called Gatsby pink. The oakleaf is blooming quite well this year as a 3 year old plant. The blooms are just beginning to turn pink. I’d love to place a native oak leaf at the base of the yard but I just haven’t gotten around to it.

      I am learning as I go along so some of my info in this post may be incorrect but I’m getting better at recognizing what works best for me. I’d encourage any one to do more reading on these wonderful plants. The Dirr book was most helpful to me. It isn’t a coffee table book but does a very good job a describing the different species for someone with limited knowledge of hydrangea.

      I started out with just the wild type and endless summer. But after I picked thru Michael Dirr’s book (Hydrangea for American Gardens), I’ve been trying to learn a bit more about hydrangea in general. There are many different hydrangea to learn about. It was great reading for me during my commute into Chicago.

      Unfortunately there aren’t many that will survive a zone 5 winter. Arborescens and paniculata are two species that reliably bloom profusely for me. I would love to have serrata and macrophylla but neither are hardy in my zone 5 garden.

      I basically look at the hydrangea offered on the Joy Creek Nursery website and drool over what I can’t have.

      Happy gardening.

      1. claudia bassano says:

        Jonni
        Thank you for all this valuable info!
        So happy that you are including natives in your space. It sounds amazing.
        I have two Oak Leaf hydrangeas that are huge!

        1. I love hydrangea because they arevery easy care as long as you select the one for your growing situation. I’ve never fertilized them growing under my neighbors oak tree where the soil is likely just slightly acidic than neutral or alkaline.
          I don’t do many natives but I do try to use plants that are reasonably fuss free. I also only use herbicides selectively on thistle and bindweed. The biggest thing is I do not desire a monoculture lawn. I have quite a few weeds amongs my Kentucky blue grass; some I planted (clover) and some that blow in on the wind or hitch hike with the local animals.
          But more importantly I chose not to use herbicides as my small town is very walkable and there is always someone walking their pup or kids doing their thing. I just don’t want to expose anyone’s pet or kids to herbicides applied in my yard. The added benefit of limited use herbicides has been that a lot of the insect and weed problems I had when I first moved into my home have sorted themselves out. Ground ivy will never go away but I’ve learned to live with the weeds y keeping the grassy areas neatly trimmed.

          Now on to make face
          masks.

  28. Stella Napier says:

    I have success with hydrangeas,but, I still watched P. Allen Smiths YouTube video in hydrangeas. You should take the time to watch it, it does help with the pruning issues and where to plant. Hope u had a happy 4th!

  29. Annabella says:

    Had problem with bloom too, found out dad kept putting lawn fertilizer & evergreen fertilizer on it, once he stopped it bloomed again

  30. Maureen Provost Ryan says:

    Thanks, Ann! We have three hydrangea bushes, each about 3 years old, that are happily blooming profusely in red, white and blue this year. They make us so delighted! Your advice has helped us over the years and encouraged us to be patient when they are not blooming. Our pink shrub roses, hostas, lavender and clematis are doing well, too. It’s a very good year for the garden! All the best to you for a great summer ahead!

  31. Hydrangeas love acid soil and I put Azalea food on mine 3 times a year during spring, summer, and fall and they love it. So many blooms. Good luck.

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