LIke the lovely hydrangea, I’d like to think I’m a pretty low maintenance girl. You can ask my husband (most days) and he’d
better agree. And as therapeutic and rewarding as gardening is, I don’t necessarily have the time to nurture plants for hours on end each week. With three little gardeners to keep me pretty busy, tending plants comes somewhere in-between geography and making sure kids aren’t running full speed into the street.
While refreshing some of the beds around our house (i.e. removing 50+ year old holly bushes), I purposely chose our new plants for their beauty, functionality, and super low maintenance (like turf-grass low maintenance). You know, the plants that look like they’re well tended and pruned daily, when in reality they’re on their own in the bitter race for sun and rain, and did I mention we have two dogs?
So, one of my favorite low maintenance and high wow-factor plants is naturally the hydrangea. They’re fabulously simple to keep alive, and they love to grow in only partial sun, which is a big bonus in a yard with quite a few large trees. These beautiful plants will keep your yard colorful with blooms all summer long. And those gorgeous clusters of blossoms can be easily cut and brought inside for a seemingly fancy (but not really) arrangement. Need you any more persuading to add one of these lovelies to your yard? I didn’t think so.
Now, there is the little matter of maintenance, and when it comes to the hydrangea, it’s minimal. Some folks will let their hydrangeas lose foliage in the fall/winter and not cut back the dead stems. In the spring, new branches and leaves will grow, but you’ll have some of the dead branches from the previous year sticking out amongst your new growth, and the shape of your hydrangea will be more uneven and less full. Here’s an example:
You’ll still be able to cut lovely blooms to decorate your tables, but there won’t be as many, and your plant itself will be less full.
How to trim back a hydrangea
As with most plants, you want to trim them back after they’re done blossoming, and in the case of the hydrangea, I usually wait until just before spring. I live in the southeast, so mid-February is a good time for cutting back. Start with a good pair of pruning shears and cut all of the limbs back to about 10 inches from the ground. (I’ve heard of going shorter, but I’m a little hesitant.)
We may still have a chance of freezing temperatures after this point in February; if we do have an occasional frosty night after the new leaf buds have started forming, I simply cover the plant with a towel at night. This ensures any new growth doesn’t get bitten by the freezing temps. If you’ve just cut your plant back when a frost rolls through, you’re fine not to cover it up.
Come the spring, you’ll see your hydrangea coming “back to life” with full leaves and blooms just around the corner. By early May, our hydrangea was already blossoming and bigger than last year. You’ll notice the plant itself is much fuller and rounded compared to the unpruned bush I showed you earlier.
The dense leaf growth means that you can’t see “through” the plant, unlike the unpruned hydrangea bush. So, if you’ve never been sure about cutting back the hydrangeas in your yard, be sure to give it a try this upcoming winter. You’ll love the results, and your yard will look like a professional has taken over, but don’t worry… your secret is safe with me.
And if you have azaleas, here’s a great read on cutting old azaleas way back to make room for healthy new growth! Happy Gardening!