When and How to Prune Hydrangeas

My Garden Life
July 28, 2021
Table of Contents
Oh, how we love our hydrangeas! Whether it’s one of the bigleaf hydrangea bushes with its large blooms, so perfect for statement floral arrangements, or the climbing hydrangea, sending its fragrant white blooms up steady supports, or the hardy hydrangea filling in without complaint where other flowers are reluctant to grow – it’s worth learning to prune them properly to keep them healthy and thriving. Here’s how to prune your hydrangea:

Prune Bigleaf Hydrangea in Late Spring

Bigleaf hydrangea - Hydrangea macrophylla - shrub in full bloom and another image demonstrating pruning a bigleaf hydrangea

Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) are the most popular species with home gardeners and often found in older, established gardens. It flowers on old wood and should be pruned after the flowers have bloomed (late spring for some cultivars, as late as late July for others). You want to prune as early in the season as possible to avoid stimulating autumn new growth that might be killed over the winter.
  • Prune by taking about one-half of your older stems to the ground and the rest of the old wood to shape your bush. This will open the plant for better air circulation and stimulate healthy blooms in the future.
  • Don’t prune plants younger than six years old.
  • Avoid winter pruning, except to remove damaged branches. Pruning in winter will cut the new growth that produces the flowers in the following spring.

Prune Smooth Hydrangea in Fall or Late Winter

Smooth hydrangea - Hydrangea arborescens - shrub in full bloom and image of woman demonstrating pruning a smooth hydrangea

Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) blooms on new wood. Cut down all the branches to one foot above ground level in late winter. Also, trim out the suckers the plant throws up to propagate itself. If it is not pruned regularly and vigorously, the bush may become top heavy and flop to the ground by midsummer.

Prune Hardy Hydrangeas in Late Winter

Hardy hydrangea - Hydrangea paniculata - shrub with pink flowers in full bloom and image demonstrating pruning panicle hydrangea

Hardy hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata), also known as panicle hydrangeas, bloom on new wood but don’t need the sort of drastic pruning that the smooth hydrangea does. They need about one-third of their growth cut back, and the rest shaped to your liking in late winter.

Climbing Hydrangeas Don’t Need Pruning

Climbing hydrangea - Hydrangea anomala petiolaris - lush climbing hydrangea growing around a garage doorway

The climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) requires no special pruning to bear its beautiful flowers. Simply shape it when necessary to keep it climbing where you want it to. And be aware that only vertical branches will sport blooms. Those running along the ground will not.
Though many plants are like the hydrangea and have specific pruning needs, there are some basics of pruning techniques that everyone should know. Or if you the more easygoing type, check out some of the gorgeous shrubs that need little to no pruning at all.

Close up of pink bloom clusters on a Daphne shrub


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