More Spring Pruning…Hydrangeas

Since I was fortunate and did not get flooded last week I spent a few days pruning my hydrangeas…second only to my roses in that they “must be done,” and following the spring-blooming clematis – discussed in my last post – which has to be first according to the calendar. But, you may say, “Aren’t hydrangeas supposed to be pruned in the fall after blooms fade”? Well, no, they can be pruned either in the fall or in the spring…I prefer spring, so let me explain.

Prune your hydrangea when the buds start to swell.

There is no advantage to pruning in the fall because you will have to prune again in the spring anyway. Why? Because parts of the plant will be damaged or killed by winter weather and these parts have to be removed. So you might as well do all pruning at one time. Now I originally thought hydrangeas were the easiest of all plants to prune because you can cut to them any height and there is no “shape” to worry about. I soon found out that it is quite the opposite and while I prune the plants with loving care each spring I struggle and swear while I am working. The reason they are so hard to work on is two-fold: when you remove dead branches you have to cut them at ground level and when you work around the budding stems you knock off the buds!

Here are some guidelines that may help you with this task. First, wait until you see the buds starting to swell so the dead ones are obvious. Then, cut out all dead stems, stems that are rubbing against other stems, and stems that look like snakes twisting and turning in all directions. Now you can cut back the

Before pruning, the shrub may look like a jumble of stems.

remaining branches and this is where some informed decisions have to be made. Endless Summer hydrangeas produce blooms on both old and new wood. This means you can cut the stems as much as you want without losing a bloom cycle for the season. If, however, you have an “old fashion” hydrangea, such as a Nikko or lace cap variety, care must be taken because if too much stem is cut off the flower buds will be removed and there will be no bloom until next year. I like to keep my hydrangeas at the same height every year so I cut about 6 to 8 inches off the tops of all stems, which is the amount of seasonal growth and the plants will always stay the same height. When you cut the stem back, always cut just above a pair of healthy, swelling buds.

After pruning...now there is room for new growth, and the plant will be healthier.

There is one footnote to all of this. Endless Summer hydrangeas do not have cold-hardy flower buds, so if the winter was severe they may be killed and you will only have blooms on whatever new branches grow this season.

The third part of my pruning series will talk about roses, so check back next week.

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4 Responses to More Spring Pruning…Hydrangeas

  1. Forest says:

    Hi,
    My wife and I recently moved into a new apartment with a large (by Brooklyn standards) backyard garden, containing hydrangeas. I believe that they of the macrophylla/mophead/lacecap varieties, based on those descriptions, but unfortunately I can’t ask the previous tenant & I don’t know where they were bought. They bloomed last month & the flowers are now starting to fade. I’d like to prune them back some, but can’t seem to find the bloom buds anywhere on the stems. Could this be because it is already late for pruning? Or should I wait a bit longer? No new flowers seem to be blooming, although several new stalks have emerged from the ground and are now ~1.5m high. Could this indicate that these particular plants are of the Endless Summer variety? I guess the main question is: without any obvious buds on the stems, when & by how much should I prune? Thanks for any advice!
    Cheers,

    Forest

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    • elderberry says:

      The answer to your question is not related to the variety of hydrangea. It simply isn’t the right time to prune. To stimulate new blooms (and hydrangeas usually continue blooming well into October and sometimes longer) just dead head your plants. This works well for mopheads but it is rare to get a second bloom on lace caps. In any case, the new blooms will appear at the ends of stems so look there for the buds. Hope this helps.

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  2. anna basset says:

    are you suppose to cut your hydrangea s at all and if you don’t what happen to them

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    • dirtynailz says:

      You should cut back your hydrangeas in the spring, when you are able to determine which branches are dead. Those are the ones you should remove completely. As for the rest of the shrub, you should cut it back so that last year’s flowers are removed and the rest looks tidy, but not too short. Wear eye protection when you do this. I can’t tell you how many times I have nearly poked an eye out leaning down to prune a branch.

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