Master Gardener: Can I grow hydrangeas in Routt County?

Estella Heitman
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The answer to this question is a bit of a “maybe so — maybe not.” If your image of hydrangeas is focused on the hydrangea shrubs that grew in your mother’s yard in the Midwest or Northeast — hydrangeas that grew to amazing heights, with prolific blooms, that rarely failed to come back year after year — you may be in for a bit of a challenge. Hydrangeas, in general, like water and acidic soils. These characteristics are not typical of Colorado gardens. Hydrangeas, however, can and do grow in Colorado and in Routt County, but some care must be taken to assure they are planted in a good place in your garden, the soil is suitable, and adequate hydration is provided.

Searching the internet for information about hydrangeas must be pursued with caution. In beginning this article, this master gardener took the usual run around the internet to check her facts and look for additional information about hydrangeas. Many articles contained suggestions absolutely wrong for our growing conditions here in Routt County, mostly because there seemed to be a presumption that the soil was primarily acidic. If you search the internet, add geographical markers that will direct you to useful information.

Estella Heitman’s hydrangea a few years ago. (Courtesy photo)


As this writer searched the internet for information about hydrangeas and hardiness, her favorite sentence read, “Hydrangeas come back year after year, unless they die over the winter.” I hope I never hear such a prognosis from my medical provider. It is wise to purchase your hydrangeas locally and to check hardiness indicators on the labels. With proper hydration through the driest parts of the summer and through the fall until a killing freeze sends the hydrangea into dormancy;, healthy plants do return for several seasons.

Where to plant

In our climate, hydrangeas grow best in north-facing and east-facing exposures. They should be placed in an area that receives some sunshine but in circumstances where there is also some filtered shade. Morning sun and afternoon shade is best.

Soil amendments

Hydrangeas prefer soil that has been well amended with peat moss and compost. The goal is to help the soil drain well and to reduce the pH.

Water needs

Hydrangeas need substantial water, but the soil needs to be well drained so that water does not accumulate around the roots. It is particularly important to maintain watering through the early fall months


If this master gardener was required to rank the plants most attractive to deer in her fall garden smorgasbord, hydrangeas would, unfortunately, be right up there with roses and hostas. Deer do not abide by recommendations that it is best to prune hydrangeas in the early spring. If at all possible, protect your hydrangeas with some sort of wire enclosure as fall approaches. Hydrangeas can come back in the spring after deer have grazed on them, but the plant is weakened and unlikely to bloom as it may have in previous years.

Estella Heitman is a master gardener who has made her retirement home here in Routt County for the past 12 years after many years of part-time residence. Migrating from the Midwest, she had many lessons to learn as a transplanted High Country gardener. She enjoys the challenges and joys of gardening in the mountains at 8,000-feet elevation at her home near Stagecoach Reservoir.

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