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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 Hydrangea is the very first pink-flowered form of “Annabelle.” Invincibelle® Spirit 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 new variety of Hydrangea paniculata won’t require as much pruning to keep it smaller. The new 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 Hydrangea arborescens 'NCHA1' USPP20,765, CCOPF; Little Lime Hydrangea paniculata 'Jane' USPPAF, Can. 3914; 'Limelight' Hydrangea paniculata USPP12,874, Can. 2319;

186 Readers Rated This: 12345 (3)
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 06/04/2014 - 6:49pm

Hi, I'm hoping someone could help me here. We bought a home last year with some beautiful limelights. Last year the plants bloomed beautifully at an acceptable height/width which didn't suffocate the surrounding plants. However, this year the plants really have shot up and out dramatically. Although I did prune them back to 18" stems during the winter, I think it was the compost I put down in late winter that really kicked them into gear. Without knowing, I pruned the plants back about 6-8 inches again a week ago just to reduce the plant size. I made an assumption that this would also encourage the plant to create new shoots from each stem and potentially more and somewhat smaller flowers. I guess I should have read this article first, because now it sounds like I cut all the stems that would have produced flowers (none had formed yet) and now there will be no flowers this summer. Is this accurate? If so, I have just broken my wife's heart.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 05/08/2014 - 8:58pm

I agree with another comment, this is a very straight-forward article. Thank you!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 04/06/2014 - 3:57pm

You don't mention the type of fertilizer that should be applied and when.

Kelly Geoghegan's picture
Kelly Geoghegan Tue, 04/08/2014 - 5:29pm

The Proven Winners Premium Continuous Release Plant Food would work great for the Incrediballs. Use the plant food when the plant starts growing for the season. The best way to use the plant food is to sprinkle it from the base of plant and work your way in.

Hope this helps! Kelly Geoghegan PW

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 09/23/2011 - 8:05am

This article is comprehensive yet gets right to the point. For some reason a lot of articles on pruning hydrangeas seem to make it more complicated than it needs to be even while they are saying how simple it is. Finally I feel very clear on who needs pruned when!

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