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How to Prune Your Hydrangea

How to prune all the different types of Hydrangeas.

Contributors: Ryan McGrath

You prize your hydrangeas for their beautiful flowers. You also want to make sure you prune them at the right time to encourage the stunning blooms every season. But do you wonder whether or when to prune them?

“The first step is to determine the variety of your hydrangea,” said Tim Wood, new product manager at Proven Winners ColorChoice. “This is fairly easy to do. If your plant produces big pink or blue flowers, it is a Hydrangea macrophylla. If its flowers are round and white—or pink in the case of the new Invincibelle Spirit—the plant is a Hydrangea arborescens. Finally, if the plant has large, conical flowers, which are often white but may also be green or pink, you own a Hydrangea paniculata.”

Bigleaf Hydrangeas

If you have Hydrangea macrophylla, also known as Bigleaf Hydrangea, Wood says you can relax. This plant requires little more than a trimming and only immediately after flowering. You should never prune it in winter or spring, because it sets flower buds the year before and if you shear it back, then you will cut off all of summer’s flowers.

Newer reblooming varieties such as the Let’s Dance® series from Proven Winners® ColorChoice® will also bloom on the current season’s growth, but you still want to leave the plant intact through spring so you can enjoy early summer flowers.

Smooth Hydrangeas

Hydrangea arborescens, also known as Smooth Hydrangea, are beloved for their adaptable nature and reliable blooms. You should prune it back in late winter or early spring. These hydrangeas bloom on “new wood”—the current season’s growth. Pruning them back at that time encourages new growth, which produces flowers. Spring pruning will also result in a fuller, stronger plant that’s less likely to flop under the weight of its abundant summer flowers. Cutting the stems back to one or two feet will leave a good framework to support the blooms.

Today, there are two new “Annabelle” Hydrangea arborescens with stronger stems, so they won’t flop after being established. Invincibelle® Spirit II Hydrangea is the very first pink-flowered form of “Annabelle.” Invincibelle® Spirit II continues to produce new pink flowers right up until frost, providing a beautiful display across several seasons in your garden, from mid-summer to fall. Incrediball® Hydrangea has the biggest flowers and the strongest stems of any of the “Annabelle” hydrangeas. Incrediball® produces incredibly large white blooms as big as a basketball. 

Hardy Hydrangeas

Hydrangea paniculata, sometimes called Hardy Hydrangea, also blooms on new wood. You should prune it back in late winter or early spring. You can cut it back to the ground or, if you want slightly taller plants, cut it back to one to three feet. This is a great job for one of those early spring days when everything is still dormant but it’s so beautiful and warm you need to be in the garden.

A newer variety of Hydrangea paniculata won’t require as much pruning to keep it smaller. The Little Lime Hydrangea boasts the same colors and benefits of the famous 'Limelight' Hydrangea though only reaching three to five feet fully grown. At one-third the size of other hardy hydrangeas, it fits well into practically any landscape. Little Lime produces bright cone-shaped lime-green flowers, later turning into pink, from mid-summer to frost.

Fortunately, even if you make a mistake and prune at the wrong time of year, these plants will forgive you. You may not have flowers for a season but, with proper timing, you’ll see them the following year. Just remember to start by correctly identifying which kind of hydrangea you have. With just a little work, you’ll get beautiful flowers from your hydrangeas year after year.

For general information on pruning other types of flowering shrubs, click this link.

Incrediball® Hydrangea arborescens 'Abetwo' USPP20,571, CPBRAF; Invincibelle® Spirit II Hydrangea arborescens 'NCHA1' PP: 20765 Can. COPF; Little Lime Hydrangea paniculata 'Jane' USPPAF, Can. 3914; 'Limelight' Hydrangea paniculata USPP12,874, Can. 2319;

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 06/06/2019 - 1:17pm

We just purchased 2 PW Zinfin Doll Hydrangea. We received instructions on planting and watering while planting.

After planting, how often do they need to be watered? A lot the first season and then just regularly once they are established?
Will they be established in the first season?
We leave in Massachusetts.
Thank you,
Ann

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 03/23/2019 - 1:36am

I bought my Incrediballs in 2010 and they did amazing for several years. Since then, I’ve lost a few and had to replace. I’m not sure what the issue is since they grew so well for several years.

My tree nearby has grown significantly in the past five years and likely shading the hydrangeas more. We did some major pruning this winter of that tree, which I’m hoping will provide more light to the hydrangea. I also installed drip irrigation last summer to try and keep the soil moist, but maybe I’m overwatering? Any tips on how much water to give them and when to know that they need it again?

Last summer, the stems were spindly.
I’m hoping the plants survived the winter. When should I expect to see new growth? I’m in Edmonton, Alberta, zone 3a.
Thanks for any help.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Fri, 05/24/2019 - 6:32am

It's difficult to say without seeing the plants, but my guess would actually be too little water. Planting hydrangeas near trees can create a lot of competition for water. Normally, when plants "shrink" like this, it indicates that they need more water. If you haven't already, I would definitely put down a nice 7cm thick layer of shredded bark mulch over the roots.

If you'd like to send us a message through your feedback line (https://www.provenwinners.com/feedback), you can attach an image - that would help us give you the very best advice.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 02/27/2019 - 2:35pm

Planted last spring. Was about to cut it back from about 18 inches of old stems to a foot. It’s feb 27th in Memphis and they already have buds popping out on old stems. Should I still cut these back and if so how much?

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Mon, 03/04/2019 - 9:14am

We generally recommend cutting it back by about one-third its total height each spring. I would not recommend pruning it its first year, so go ahead and leave it for this year. Next year, plan to cut it back by a third in early spring.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 02/16/2019 - 10:59am

I have a PW Limelight Hydrangea, and need some information about pruning them that I have not seen addressed in previous posts. My plants (they grow in morning shade, afternoon sun, and evening shade) all seem to send the majority of their branches out sideways, with very little sturdy growth growing upwards. I wanted a plant that grows higher, rather than out sideways. Should I just keep pruning that sideway growth closer to the center of the plant, leaving 2-3 feet in height and hope that this will make them more upright? My fear is that if I cut to much of the sideway growing habit, that it will encourage more new sideways growth that is not sturdy enough to hold the blooms.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 02/26/2019 - 1:49pm

To give you the very best advice, it would be helpful to see the plants, so if you'd like, please send us a message here: https://www.provenwinners.com/feedback. The point of pruning panicle hydrangeas like Limelight is to ensure the growth comes from thick buds lower on the stems rather than the thin buds toward the tips, which was created later in the previous season. So I would recommend pruning all of the stems back by at least one-third their height. On the sides, you can remove entire branches if you wish, but do be aware this situation could be caused by the amount and direction of the light. 

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 11/25/2018 - 1:35pm

I have a little lime plant I love. I live near Harrisburg, PA. I’m not sure exactly how to prune it. Last year was it’s first year, I read to prune it in late winter or early spring. I pruned it in early spring, just taking the flower heads off. Is that correct? How do I trim it back if it gets to big?

Cindy Meyers's picture
Cindy Meyers Mon, 11/26/2018 - 2:32pm

Late winter/early spring is the correct time to prune your Little Lime. We have some really helpful articles on pruning that you can find using this link: https://www.provenwinners.com/search/content/pruning%20hydrangea?f[0]=bundle%3Aarticle

This reliable performer blooms on new wood, so a quick trim in late winter or early spring will encourage fresh growth and an abundance of buds all while maintaining its short stature of 3-5’ tall and wide.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 11/06/2018 - 3:08pm

I have 3 standard LImelight Hydrangeas - the blooms this summer where huge and plentiful so much so that the branches started drooping down with the weight of the flowers leaving me to suspect I did not prune them back far enough in the spring. Now I am afraid the giant dried heads will get even heavier when the snow falls and possibly start breaking branches - so can I deadhead all the dried flowers off?

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Thu, 11/08/2018 - 3:49pm

Yes, it's fine to do so if you wish. Just wait until the plant is completely dormant - in other words, has lost all of its leaves.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 10/28/2018 - 3:03pm

Hi, I have two Bigleaf plants that grew large this year and produced decent flowers. I live in a 5b/6a zone in Indiana. It’s the end of October and the plants are still green, with the exception of some older stems that are brown, and some of the leaves are starting to die. How should I prepare them for winter? Should I at least trim the flowers off?

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/30/2018 - 10:07am
You may trim the flowers off if you wish, but it's not necessary. And in fact, in the Midwest, it is advisable to leave them in place, as they serve to protect the lower buds and minimize any potential winter damage. In fact, I would not recommend any trimming or pruning on bigleaf hydrangeas now - wait until spring, once you see the new growth start to emerge. That will clearly show you where any damage did occur and you can then prune off any dead portions accordingly.
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 10/11/2018 - 6:50am

We are in southeastern Michigan and have 2 different hydrangea varieties: Incrediball and Quick Fire. When is the best time to prune and how far back should they be cut back?

Also, our Incrediball leaves turned from dark green to lighter shade during the summer...could this have been caused by overwatering?

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Mon, 10/15/2018 - 2:41pm

The leaf color could definitely be caused by overwatering and/or a lack of nutrients (which can also be caused by overwatering). But it's impossible to say without seeing the plant and getting a bit more information about the issue. 

As for pruning Incrediball and Quick Fire - cut them back by about one-third their total height in spring, just as the new growth begins to emerge on the stems. Cut back just above where a large, healthy bud is emerging.

 

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 10/10/2018 - 12:24am

We planted 2 of these. The large white flowers turned pink to red and are now brown. They have been in the ground maybe 2 months. We also used some Myke when we planted. We are in zone 2 to 3 and get -40 degrees Celsius in the winter. Can I still dead head or should I wait until spring? We have snow already and freezing temperatures at night.

Cindy Meyers's picture
Cindy Meyers Wed, 10/10/2018 - 12:31pm

You can deadhead the brown blooms now or leave as winter interest. I usually leave them. If you do leave them, we recommend in the spring, if you’d like to prune it to encourage more branching, do so just as the new growth appears. You can trim the branches back by as much as 1/3 each year if necessary. Also, remove any dried flowers that have hung on through the winter at this time to tidy up the plants’ appearance.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 09/22/2018 - 5:50pm

I live in Tallahassee, FL and we purchased a number of little lime hydrangas around July 28 of this year and planted them around August 25th. I have watered daily every morning when in the pots and now in the ground. Unfortunately, it’s September 22 now and they have lost most of their leaves and the blooms are all a crispy brown. However, they do appear to be getting new leaves below the brown blooms. I’m not sure what this means other than they appear to still be alive, but I’m curious why they lost all their leaves and turned brown. Please help.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 1:40pm

It's hard to say without a bit more information - planting in mid-summer in Florida is definitely going to be very stressful on a hydrangea, so it could simply be that. It's also possible that the plants experienced water stress - either too much or too little. If the plant is putting on new growth now, that's definitely a good sign that whatever happened to cause the plants stress has abated and that they are recovering. 

If you'd like to send us a photo and a bit more information here: https://www.provenwinners.com/feedback, we'd be happy to provide further thoughts.

asbgarden's picture
asbgarden Sun, 09/09/2018 - 2:23pm

The can my plant was in said Hydrangea "Lacecap Variegata" -which variety does my Hydrangea fit into? I have only gotten pinkish buds but no blooms-they just die. Did I plant it too deep or some other issue?? And how/when do I prune it? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 1:45pm

It's really impossible to say without seeing the plant - can you send us a message and a photo here: https://www.provenwinners.com/feedback. That way, we can give you the best and most accurate advice!

 

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 09/08/2018 - 11:27am

when to prune and what fertilizer to use in spring and summer

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 09/07/2018 - 11:06am

I just completed planting three " limelight hydrangeas", and two "little limes" on the Labour Day weekend. Should I prune them late fall or early spring, or not at all ? I live in a Canadian Zone 3.
Thank you for any information you can offer.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 1:46pm

You would normally prune them in early spring, but since this is their first year, I would skip it and starting pruning in spring of 2020.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 09/07/2018 - 10:40am

My neighbor and I have Little Quick Fire Hydrangeas, both of which did not bloom this year. We pruned them in early spring. Is this typical with this variety?

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 1:47pm

No, they should have bloomed, even if pruned in early spring. Are they still young plants? How much sun do they get? Do you have deer in your area? These are the three most common causes of a panicle hydrangea like Quick Fire not blooming.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 09/07/2018 - 9:03am

I live in Upstate New York. My plant is 7 years old. Over the years I have been getting less and less blooms. This year only one. The greenery is large and beautiful. I wondered if I left it too long to trim or not long enough.... is it getting too much sun ? I’m really confused.. I believe From your description it is a Hydrangea macrophylla
Thanks for any help....
Ruth

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 2:14pm

This type of hydrangea does benefit froim periodic removal of the oldest wood, which is less productive in terms of flowers. This spring, before the plant leafs out, trim out about one-third of the oldest branches. This should help, but do be aware that the problem may also be winter weather, which can freeze the buds.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 09/07/2018 - 8:05am

Hi, I have several hydrangeas and none bloomed this year. I have large beautiful green bushes with zero blooms. Should I cut them back now or wait for winter? Thanks

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 09/07/2018 - 7:22am

Sorry I am new to Hydrangea's. I bought 2 Proven Winner hydrangeas with beautiful blue flowers on them. I did nothing to them except about towards the end of May when it was coming back to life and making new leaves I cut the old woody ones out, which you say not to do. Is that why we had no flowers bloom on them this year? They are beautiful, healthy looking additions to our garden but no flowers. So what you are basically saying is to cut them back right after they flower. Do I prune the whole bush and how much do I cut them?

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 1:49pm

It's best not to cut this type back at all, as cutting them back after they bloom does not allow them enough time to set new flower buds before winter comes in. You should only cut this type of hydrangea back to remove any dead wood that does not show signs of life.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 09/06/2018 - 1:34pm

I have a cottage in Ontario Canada - Zone 4 -this year I planted several Limelight and Phantom hydrangeas which have done well for new planting’s. We will be leaving here at the end of September and will not be back until late June (although I may fly out during May). I will deadhead the blooms before I leave but should I trim the shrubs back a little now or wait until I return in mid June. I know they flower on new wood - but would June be too late. Any advice would be appreciated.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 1:52pm

Yes, June is too late and late September is too early. I would simply not prune them and don't worry about it - they'll still look great! Perhaps every 4-6 years or so, you give the plant a good prune in late September.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 09/05/2018 - 9:14am

I planted 5 bigleaf hydrangeas "Let's Dance" and one "Nantucket Blue" this spring. They bloomed great and currently fading in colors. Winter in my area in Michigan is really strong and snowy. Do I prune the flower heads on them? I was planning to put some composite and leafs on them and cover them with burlap. Is this the right way to do it with this kind. I was reading for fertilize them in the spring.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 1:52pm

In a cold climate like Michigan, I would recommend leaving the flowers on - they will help provide a measure of protection to the dorman buds lower on the stem.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 09/04/2018 - 6:46pm

I just purchased two little lime hydrangeas for my flowerbed. They were beautiful at the nursery. Lots of full blooms, green leaves. Less then a week later they look awful. Flowers look like they are dieing, leaves are pointing downwards and brown and crispy. We did get a hot spell, and it should be breaking to cooler weather in a day or so. I watered the roots well when I planted and have watered every other day since. Are they in shock or am I doing something wrong? What should I expect when planting them in early September? Thanks for your advice.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 1:55pm

It sounds like they experienced some kind of water stress - it sounds like it may have been too much water, which hydrangeas really cannot tolerate. However,  it's very difficult to give you a proper diagnosis without seeing the plant. Please send us a message with a photo here: https://www.provenwinners.com/feedback.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 08/30/2018 - 9:17pm

My little lime hydrangeas are huge for where they are planted. They were supposed to be about 3 feet tall. They are 5 feet tall. I don’t want to get rid of them. The 5 of them border the front walk to our front door. What is I trim then to the ground this fall, what will happen? We are in zone 5. Thanks. Michael

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 1:57pm

I would recommend pruning them, but not all the way to the ground, which will cause them to rocket up in response to the severe cutback. Instead, cut them back by just about half their total height each spring.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 08/25/2018 - 8:52pm

Hello, I am a gardener , I have worked with a lot of different varieties of hydrangeas. I am having a really tough time with a client's 10 limelights. We planted them last year. I did some pruning in the late winter but was told not to prune drastically that year. It's bloom time here in New England , after a month of excessive rain for our area in August. Now they are all laying down. The client is freaking out and blaming me. I fear that all the rain made the stems grow " down". I do not have cages on them and now it's too late. I have tied up all of the stems to get them to stand up but it looks horrible! Any suggestions? Please help.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 2:01pm

Sorry for the delay - if they look really awful, give them a light trim now to "unweight" the branches. In late autumn (once the plant has gone completely dormant) or early spring, cut the whole plant back by about one third its height. This should help a lot, but do be aware that if the plants are getting too little light (say, fewer than 6 hours of good sun each day), you may continue to struggle with stem strength.

If you'd like to send us photos fore more specific advice, contact us here: https://www.provenwinners.com/feedback.

 

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 08/24/2018 - 6:55am

Hi, I am having a problem with tall suckers on my Little Lime hydrangeas. I pruned the suckers in the spring, but they came back through the late spring and summer. They unfortunately give my Little Limes a odd shape. Any suggestions? I'm considering giving my Little Limes a hard prune in the late spring next year to try to prevent this. Otherwise, I love, love, love my Little Limes. Thank you, Erin

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 2:06pm

Trim the plants back by just about one-third their total height in spring - pruning more will only encourage those straight, sucker-like stems. Also, avoid excessive water and fertilizer, which can also encourage them.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 08/14/2018 - 10:02pm

Hello, I planted an incrediball blush this spring, the blooms have turned green now and I have noticed new growth mid way on the steams of the now green blooms. Am I to prune the old bloom or leave it be?

Sarah Geoghegan's picture
Sarah Geoghegan Wed, 08/15/2018 - 7:34am

Incrediball Blush is a rebloomer, so if you do trim the blooms, it will bloom more. That being said, you do not have to cut the blooms. some people like to let them dry right on the bush. Really, it is up to you!
Thank you
Sarah
Proven Winners

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 08/06/2018 - 9:10am

How far back should I prune my strawberry Vanilla Hydranga? This is its first season. It is very healthy.

Sarah Geoghegan's picture
Sarah Geoghegan Mon, 08/06/2018 - 12:30pm

you might want to take a look at this article: https://www.provenwinners.com/learn/care/pruning-shrubs-part-4-plant-plant-guide

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 08/04/2018 - 9:09pm

I have a row of Little Lime Hydrangeas that produce very few and very small flower clusters. The leaves on the plants are also small in size. The bushes are in their 4th year and approximately 3 - 4 feet tall. Every year In late July some of inside leaves start to turn yellow the drop. By early August the leaves are brown but not dry and crispy. Just brown. So I end up with a plant that has brownish leaves and a few small blooms. I have other hydrandreas in the same area (not Little Limes) and their leaves are large and green. Why are the leaves on my Little Lime so small and why only a few tiny blooms? I’m in Michigan, Zone 6a.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Thu, 08/09/2018 - 11:00am

It's hard to say without seeing the plants, so if you could send us a message here: https://www.provenwinners.com/feedback and select "Shrubs" as the category, we can give you the very best advice. Without seeing the plants and getting more detail, however, it sounds like these plants are experiencing some kind of water stress, either too much or too little.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 07/26/2018 - 5:34pm

Hello,

I have incrediball hydrangeas in their third summer in my yard. I have been pruning by about 1/3 the past 2 springs. One of my incrediballs, the one with the largest blooms, did flop quite a bit this year. Next spring, should I prune ALL of the branches to 1/3 or should I cut the branches that flopped all the way to the ground? Of course I want the plant to grow more upright.

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