How to Identify Hydrangeas in Winter

February 1st, 2022

The garden is humming with somber beauty right now. We were hungry for a little garden joy and figured you are too, so we took photos of the details to share with you. With those photos, we also put together some tips on how to identify the most common hydrangeas in the winter. If you already know which ones you have, scroll to the bottom to see what we made with their dried flowers.

Panicle Hydrangeas – Hydrangea paniculata

  • The dried flowers are cone-shaped (sometimes lacecaps).
  • The overall shape is rounded, with plenty of branching.
  • The buds are small and blend in easily.

Smooth Hydrangeas – Hydrangea arborescens

  • The dried flowers are flat or more ball-shaped, not cones.
  • The overall shape is V-like, upright with straighter stems.
  • The buds are tiny and blend in fairly easily.

Bigleaf and Mountain Hydrangeas –

Hydrangea macrophylla and Hydrangea serrata

These hydrangeas are very similar looking and some people argue that they’re the same plant, so we’ve combined them to simplify the ID process.

  • Most bigleaf hydrangeas have mophead flowers (with noticeably larger petals than a smooth hydrangea), but a few have lacecap flowers.
  • Mountain hydrangeas have flat lacecap flowers. 
  • The buds are thick and kind of succulent looking.
  • They keep most of their leaves attached during winter.

Oakleaf Hydrangea – Hydrangea quercifolia

  • The dried flowers are cone-shaped (sometimes lacecaps).
  • The buds are fuzzy and protected by attached (also fuzzy) leaves.
  • The overall shape is whimsical and non-uniform.

And that’s it! With a few key traits to look for, you’ll be able to tell which type of hydrangea you have growing in your garden. Even in the winter.


We made hydrangea paper! Click the link below for DIY Valentine’s Day gift ideas. 

Dig In

Which panicle hydrangea is right for you? See them in the garden and decide!

Learn all about panicle hydrangeas – their scientific name, history, + growing tips.

Make your own floral paper with dried hydrangeas (and other flowers).

Written by
Picture of Kristina Howley

Kristina Howley

I am all in when it comes to gardening. Almost every part of the experience delights me – new leaves emerging in spring, pollinators buzzing in summer, birds devouring berries in fall, and the somber beauty of seed heads in winter. Thanks to a background in horticulture and gardening my own clay-filled, flowery USDA zone 5b plot, I’ve learned plenty of practical things as well. I like sharing these joys and lessons with my fellow gardeners and soon-to-be gardeners any way I can.


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