A Guide to Pruning Hydrangeas
08 Jun 2022
By Michael Jacobson
Hydrangeas are a beautiful flower that will bloom year after year and provide huge bursts of brilliant color. However, to continue blooming, certain hydrangeas need to be pruned, or else it may affect how it flowers the following year. Hydrangeas also tend to keep growing, and pruning helps control growth so they don’t become untidy, woody, or out of control.
But how do you know which hydrangeas to prune, and how? Follow our guide below to care for and prune your hydrangeas so they always produce a magnificent bloom.
When to prune hydrangeas
The best time of year to prune most hydrangeas is during late winter or spring, as this protects the emerging buds underneath. However, climbing hydrangeas should be pruned in the summer after it has flowered.
If you prune during the summer or fall you can damage your hydrangea and risk it not flowering that year. Hydrangeas have cork-like stems which hold a lot of moisture. If pruned too late (or too early) in the year the stems can freeze, which kills the buds and prevents it from flowering.
Which hydrangeas are pruned?
Depending on the type of hydrangea you have in your garden, there may be a slightly different method of pruning. The following are pruned by removing the dead flower heads to reveal the bud below:
- Hydrangea serrata
- Hydrangea macrophylla
- Hydrangea quercifolia
- Hydrangea aspera
The following can be cut back a little harder, as they flower on new wood so there is less risk of harming this year's flowers:
- Hydrangea paniculata
- Hydrangea aborescens
Pruning for hydrangea paniculata and hydrangea aborescens isn’t vital, but not pruning means the plant will continue to grow and the flowers will bloom at the top.
There are also climbing hydrangeas, which need to be pruned during the summer after flowering:
- Hydrangea anomala
- Hydrangea seemannii
- Hydrangea serratifolia
If you’re unsure which hydrangea is growing in your garden, you’ll have to undertake some trial and error to figure it out. Deadhead the plant and watch how it grows throughout the spring and summer. If flowers grow from new wood, it’s likely either a hydrangea paniculata or hydrangea aborescens.
How to prune hydrangeas correctly
As there are three types of hydrangeas that flower in different ways, there are three slightly different methods for pruning each.
Pruning hydrangea serrata, macrophylla, quercifolia, and aspera
First, remove the dead flowerheads by cutting around an inch above a pair of buds. The buds are especially delicate, so take care not to damage them during the process.
Remove any weak, brittle, damaged, or thin stems from the base, as well as two older, larger stems. This will encourage new shoots, which will produce new blooms in future years. If your hydrangea is overgrown, consider cutting it liberally to give it a good chance of flourishing.
Pruning hydrangea paniculata and aborescens
These varieties of hydrangeas can be pruned in three ways: light, medium, or hard.
- To light prune, remove the dead flower heads and the dead stems. You can also reshape by pruning back lightly. By doing this the plant will produce more flowers of a smaller size.
- To medium prune, cut back to four buds on last year's growth.
- To hard prune, cut back to two buds on last year's growth. This means there will be fewer flowers than last year, but they should be much larger.
Pruning climbing hydrangeas
Overlong shoots will need to be cut back after flowering to ensure you don’t accidentally cut away any buds. Remove any sick or dead stems at any point throughout the year.
If a climbing hydrangea is established then it can handle hard pruning during the spring, but being too heavy-handed may limit blooms over the next year or two. If you need to prune heavily, try to do so gradually over several years to allow flowers to continue growing each summer.
Hydrangea pruning tips
- Before you prune your hydrangeas, make sure you know which type you have growing in your garden. If you prune a hydrangea incorrectly it can kill the flowers for the next couple of years
- Hydrangeas can be shaped, but be careful not to over prune, as this can damage your plants
- Add fertilizer to the soil around your hydrangeas before they start growing in the spring - then again during the summer. This encourages growth after pruning and will help your hydrangeas to bloom
- Pruning isn’t necessary for hydrangeas, and if you don’t prune them they will still flower - however, the plant will get taller with most of the new flowers growing at the top
What happens if you don’t prune hydrangeas?
If you don’t prune your hydrangeas it isn’t a dealbreaker - the plant will still flourish so long as it gets enough water, sunlight, and shade. However, an unpruned hydrangea will start to look unruly and will become tangled and untidy, with plenty of dead stems and flowers.
Flowers on an unpruned hydrangea will grow high, meaning it won’t look as full when it blooms.
If you do miss your window for pruning, make sure you don’t prune too much the following year. Compensate your pruning over the next couple of years to shape it to a manageable size to ensure you don’t hurt the chances of it flowering.
Don’t fancy pruning hydrangeas? Order your vase arrangement from French Florist for same-day local delivery
If you don’t have the confidence to grow your own hydrangeas, or there isn’t a suitable spot for growing them in your garden, French Florist has a range of beautiful hydrangea arrangements available.
Our local team of experts lovingly prepares every bouquet to pass strict quality control. We deliver nationwide, and offer next-day delivery in the LA area, with our in-house delivery team using state-of-the-art refrigerated trucks.
Browse our range of hydrangeas and bring some bold blooms to your home, or gift one to friends or family.