Some of gardening’s most beautiful blossoms come courtesy of hydrangeas. If you’re like many gardeners, you can’t get enough of these luxuriant blooms. A key part of keeping your hydrangeas productive is pruning these beauties at the right time of year. As with all flowering shrubs, proper timing depends on when and how your hydrangeas flower.
Some late-blooming hydrangeas flower only on brand new stems from the current growing season, often referred to as "new wood." In contrast, early blooming hydrangeas produce their flowers on "old wood" from buds that formed on stems the previous summer. Still others, including some exciting McKay exclusives, carry buds through winter and keep beautiful blooms flowing on new stems, too.
Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens)
Known for their oversize, pom-pom blooms, smooth hydrangeas include the traditional summer favorite Annabelle, with its white 10- to 12-inch globes, and stunning new dark-pink varieties, like the irresistible Invincibelle Spirit II.
Smooth hydrangeas bloom on new wood each season. Leave their fading flowers in place for added winter interest, then prune stems back to a few inches tall in late winter or early spring. This removes the old, non-flowering wood and promotes sturdy new bloom-bearing stems.
Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata)
Panicle hydrangeas are known for large, cone-shaped summer blooms that often age to antique shades of pink and bronze. These long-lasting flowers range from the gorgeous lime-green blossoms of Limelight to Pinky Winky’s foot-long, pink-and-white panicles.
Like smooth hydrangeas, panicle hydrangeas bloom on new wood. Prune them in late winter or early spring. When cut back to the lowest set of healthy buds, these types often flower very heavily. You may want to leave old stems at about one-third their height instead. This provides extra support for the substantial blooms.
Bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla)
Bigleaf hydrangeas deliver impressive flowers, from bold mopheads to delicate lacecaps, with colors influenced by soil pH and other factors. Historically, bigleaf types only flowered on old wood. That was sad news for gardeners where cold winters damage stems and buds. But striking new varieties such as McKay’s exclusive Cherry Explosion lacecap and Grateful Red mophead bloom reliably on new stems, too.
For bigleaf hydrangeas, keep pruning to a minimum. Prune right after the first flush of flowers, then put away the pruners until next year. In spring, prune off any dead or damaged wood, but leave healthy old wood in place. Your earliest hydrangea blossoms will come from those stems.
Whatever types of hydrangeas grace your garden, always follow these tips...
- Use sharp, clean bypass pruners when you trim.
- Remove dead and damaged wood first, then follow the plant’s natural form for general shaping.
- Make crisp, clean cuts right above healthy buds.
- By timing pruning right and following plant cues, you can help your hydrangeas reach their potential for beauty and blooms.
Spring is a perfect time to add hydrangeas to your landscape and enjoy their flowers this year. Shop our plants online for home delivery anywhere in the continental United States. If you’re in the neighborhood, visit Winterland Nursery, our new retail garden center near Madison, Wisconsin, and experience spring's symphony firsthand.