From about Easter through Mother's Day, "indoor hydrangeas," also known as "gift hydrangeas," hit the shelves in warehouse clubs, box stores, grocery stores, and florists. They're irresistibly beautiful, and practically fly off the shelves. They also tend to be very lean on details, with little in the way of tags, labels, or any information at all on how to care for them, and what to do with them when they finish blooming. While we don't sell this type of hydrangea on our site, we're happy to share our expertise and provide some insight and guidance on what to do should you find yourself the lucky recipient of one - whether as a gift from a friend, or as a gift to yourself.
What is an indoor hydrangea?
This term is used primarily to indicate that this plant is intended to be enjoyed indoors for the duration of its bloom. Indoor hydrangeas tend to be mostly the species Hydrangea macrophylla, also known as bigleaf hydrangea, florist hydrangea, or hortensia. "Indoor hydrangeas" are developed by plant breeders specifically for this gift plant market, with an eye toward their suitability to greenhouse production, quality, disease resistant foliage, and of course, unique and colorful blooms. Because these hydrangeas are intended to be enjoyed indoors, little if any consideration is given to their outdoor or long-term performance.
How do I care for an indoor hydrangea?
For the longest lasting blooms, place your indoor hydrangea in a cool, bright spot that's out of direct light, as well as out of the path of blasts of hot or cold air. When you get it home, feel the soil surface - it should feel somewhat moist. If it doesn't, and/or if the pot feels unusually light, it could use some water. However, before you water it, take a close look at the container: gift hydrangeas are often packaged with a foil wrapper over the bottom, or placed in some kind of non-draining decorative outer container. In these cases, you'll want to remove anything that would accumulate water in it, water your hydrangea, and once it has drained thoroughly, replace it in the decorative element if desired.
Keeping your hydrangea cool and well-watered but never soggy are the two most important factors in getting the longest possible bloom time from it.
Should I cut off the flowers when they fade?
As the flower color fades, the spent blooms can be left in place or snipped off, whichever you prefer. Some definitely age more gracefully than others. But once all of the blooms on your plant have opened and faded, the show is over - it won't create any more flowers that season, especially if you are trying to grow it indoors.
What do I do with the plant when it's done flowering?
Despite the fact that these are sold as "indoor hydrangeas," they are not houseplants. In other words, your chances for long-term success growing the hydrangea indoors under regular household conditions are extremely limited. Given the light levels and temperatures of a home, it's very unlikely the hydrangea will set flower buds again, and the low humidity and air circulation can cause outbreaks of pests or diseases.
You could try planting the hydrangea outdoors if weather allows, but it's important to remember that most indoor/gift hydrangeas were not developed with outdoor performance in mind. A large number of them are not very cold tolerant and will die in winter in areas colder than USDA zone 7 or 8. Obviously, attempting to grow a hydrangea outdoors if you have the space is better than just throwing it away, but if you do plant it in the ground, it's important to have reasonable expectations about what it will do. For best results, plant it in a protected spot and put down a good 2-3" layer of mulch over the roots.
Are outdoor hydrangeas ever sold as gift plants?
Yes, especially around Mother's Day. Outdoor hydrangeas are specifically developed for the outdoor/landscape/garden market, and selected for their suitability to nursery production and long-term outdoor performance, as well as aesthetics of flowers and foliage. If your plant comes with outdoor planting instructions, it is likely safe to assume that it is intended to be planted outdoors and survive there long-term. In this case, it's perfectly acceptable to enjoy it indoors for a few weeks first, caring for it as described above.