Snowball Bush vs. Hydrangea: The Key Differences

Written by Nikita Ross
Published: December 7, 2022
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There are many stunning flowers in the plant kingdom that are similar in appearance and growth habits. This creates confusion among aspiring gardeners trying to plan a garden or identify what’s growing already.

The snowball bush and hydrangea are two popular flowering shrubs that often get confused with one another. Here are the key differences, so you know which one to grow.

Comparing Snowball Bush vs. Hydrangea

Snowball bushes grow significantly larger than hydrangeas.


Snowball BushHydrangea
Alternative NamesChinese snowball, European snowball, Japanese snowballHortensia
OriginChina, Japan, Europe, South America, AfricaAsia, North America
DescriptionA genus of flowering shrubs with upward of 175 varieties. Flowers grow in a corymb formation with small petals. Colors range from white to pink. Flowers emit a fruity aroma with hints of vanilla. Grows 6–10 feet tall with a 6–10 foot span.A genus of flowering shrubs with 75 varieties. Flowers typically bloom in clusters with either showy blooms, small non-showy blooms, or a combination in some varieties. Petals are typically blue, purple, pink, or white, dependent on the cultivar and soil acidity. Grow 3-5 feet tall with a 3-5 foot span.
UsesCommonly used in landscaping and pollinator gardens. Stems were traditionally used in arrow-making by ancient civilizations.Commonly used as a border plant in landscaping or in pollinator gardens. Also, a popular wedding bloom (both fresh and dried).
Growth TipsSnowball bushes typically range from USDA Zones 6-9, with some variants found in USDA Zones 2-5. These plants prefer well-draining soil and full sunlight. Overwintering with burlap covers is recommended in colder zones. Requires air movement and moisture in warmer climates.Hydrangeas tend to be hardy, ranging from USDA Zones 4-9, with some varieties better suited for warmer or colder zones. Well-draining, acidic soil with partial sun is ideal for these blooms. Overwintering with burlap covers and mulch is recommended in colder zones.
Interesting FeaturesSnowball bushes are adaptive plants with evergreen varieties in Northern climates and deciduous varieties in warm climates.The hydrangea variant most commonly confused for a snowball bush is the Annabelle Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). It’s commonly called the Snowball Hydrangea.

The Key Differences Between Snowball Bush and Hydrangea

Despite similarities in their appearance, the snowball bush and hydrangea are two completely different plants. Some of the confusion stems from the Annabelle hydrangea, which is often called a snowball hydrangea.

Most snowball bush varieties are limited to warmer climates, growing in USDA Zones 6-9. While there are a few varieties growing in colder zones, it’s not ideal for the species as a whole. Hydrangeas tend to be cold-hardy, spanning USDA Zones 4-9.

Snowball bushes grow significantly larger than hydrangeas, reaching up to 10 feet tall and wide in warm climates. Hydrangeas tend to stop growing at 4-5 feet tall, though they’ll often span outward further.

Growth and care also vary between the snowball bush and hydrangea plants. Snowball bushes require full sun to thrive while hydrangeas prefer some shade. Pruning a snowball bush in the fall after the blooming season promotes new growth the next year. Hydrangea pruning shouldn’t occur until the spring to see if new buds will grow on old wood.

Snowball Bush vs. Hydrangea: Classification

Viburnum macrocephalum or Chinese snowball bush
Snowball bush has a lot of deciduous varieties.


The snowball bush is a member of the genus Viburnum with upward of 175 other flowering shrubs. Plants in the Viburnum genus are localized, with both evergreen and deciduous varieties. Some of the most common varieties include the European snowball bush (Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’), the Chinese snowball bush (Viburnum macrocephalum), and the Japanese snowball bush (Viburnum plicatum).

Hydrangeas are in the genus Hydrangea, with 75 varieties of this popular garden bloom. Several cultivars have received recognition via the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Snowball Bush vs. Hydrangea: Origin

Snowball bushes are native to the Northern Hemisphere, with species found across Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. Some species of Viburnum can be discovered in South America. Snowball bushes found in North America have been imported and domesticated.

Hydrangeas originate in China, though early traces have been found across Asia and fossilized in North America. Many of the popular cultivars originate in the United States, with the horticulture experts at Bailey Innovations responsible for breeding fan favorites like Endless Summer, BloomStruck, and Twist-n-Shout.

Snowball Bush vs. Hydrangea: Description

Close up of vibrant pink mophead hydrangeas
Many hydrangea cultivars have a floral fragrance, it’s mild and subtle.

©Joanne Strell/

Snowball bush flowers grow in globe-like clusters, similar to hydrangeas. The petals typically start as a pale green, turning white or pink as they grow. Leaves are a rich green and similar in shape to maple leaves. In warm climates, the snowball bush can grow up to 10 feet tall and wide. The blooms are fragrant with fruity, vanilla tones — one of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a snowball bush and hydrangea at a glance.

Hydrangeas also grow in globe-like clusters or flat (lacecap) clusters with blooms in shades of pink, blue, purple, and white. Leaves are rich green and ovaline. Hydrangeas can grow up to 6 feet tall with an even span. While some hydrangeas can grow taller, most span outward as they age. Many hydrangea cultivars have a floral fragrance, it’s mild and subtle.

Snowball Bush vs. Hydrangea: Uses

Snowball bushes and hydrangeas are primarily used for decorative purposes in gardens. Both plants are great for pollinators, providing bees and butterflies with plenty of nectar.

Hydrangeas are also a popular wedding flower, and their delicate nature also makes them a great bloom for drying and preserving for home decor.

Snowball Bush vs. Hydrangea: Growth Tips

Bobo hydrangea close up
Hydrangeas are cold-hardy, thriving in USDA Zones 4-9,


Hydrangeas should be planted in well-draining soil in partial sunlight, though full sun is recommended in Northern climates. Keep soil moist, using mulch as needed (particularly during the winter months). Hydrangeas are cold-hardy, thriving in USDA zones 4-9, but they should be covered in burlap for overwintering in colder climates. Prune in the spring after the buds have popped, trimming only dead wood.

Plant your snowball bush in well-draining soil in full sunlight. Keep the soil moist, using mulch as needed. Water once per week or more in hot, dry climates. Cover in burlap for overwintering in USDA zones 6-9. Prune in the fall after the petals have bloomed and died. Snowball bushes are not cold hardy, and won’t do well in extreme winter weather.

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The Featured Image

Blue Endless Summer hydrangeas
Hydrangeas thrive with morning sun and afternoon shade.
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About the Author

Nikita Ross is a professional ghostwriter with a background in marketing and fitness. An aspiring plant parent and avid coffee drinker, you can often find Nikita watching her Coffea Arabica plant for signs of a single coffee bean (no luck yet) or giving her 30 indoor plants a pep talk about surviving the impending Canadian winter.

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