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Why and How to Prune Hydrangeas

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Not sure how to prune hydrangeas? Not to worry, you’re in good hands here!

how to prune hydrangeas

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 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.

Be sure to head down to the bottom of this post for a video demonstration on how I prune my hydrangea. 

Why grow Hydrangeas

While refreshing some of the beds around our house (i.e. removing 50+ year old holly and some azalea 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. And since learning how to prune hydrangeas is easy, you’ll be ready to plant some in your yard in a jiffy. affiliate link policy

How to Prune Hydrangeas

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:

how to prune hydrangeas

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. This doesn’t have to happen when you can take five minutes for pruning your hydrangea and get a fantastic season.

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.)how to prune hydrangeas

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. Complete Garden Planner

The results of pruning hydrangeas

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. (Our hydrangea is a Dear Dolores variety, and she’s a beaut!)

I even have a great tutorial for how to dry hydrangea blooms that will help them last for months!                                                                   how to prune hydrangeas

how to prune hydrangeas

The dense leaf growth means that you can’t see “through” the plant, unlike the unpruned hydrangea bush. So, if you’ve never been unsure about how to prune hydrangeas in your yard, you can now 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 or camellias, here are great read on cutting old azaleas way back to make room for healthy new growth and on pruning your camellia bushes! Happy Gardening!

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I'd love to hear from you

Debi Brown

Monday 14th of September 2020

Thank you for the info. We winter in Texas now so I’m gonna have to find someone to prune for me. However I’m thinking about pulling mine. It’s in semi shade and I only get maybe one bloom a season. I’ve tried every thing and that’s still all I get. Suggestions

Courtney

Monday 14th of September 2020

Hey Debi! I know that's so frustrating to get so few blooms. Have you tried pruning it before? It could be that this will help improve its blooming.

Rosanne L Antonellis

Tuesday 6th of August 2019

Hello,

My hydrangea is on a seasonal property, May 1 -October 31. I have never seen a lot of blooms on them, I don't know what the previous owner did for them. They grow on old wood. What and when should I do anything.

Courtney

Wednesday 7th of August 2019

Good question! If it grows on old wood, then I would leave it alone except for light pruning for shape. You could definitely give them some fresh compost in the spring. Hope this helps!

Dorothy Masters

Monday 5th of September 2016

I live in San Diego, CA when should I cut them?

Courtney

Monday 5th of September 2016

Hi Dorothy! If you have a summer blooming hydrangea, go ahead and prune just before spring arrives. Thanks for stopping by!

Douglas Kennedy

Monday 5th of September 2016

We have a two year old Hydrangea plant that was thrown out by the nursery - yes it looked that bad. This summer it flowered like mad. Each time my fiancee went to someones house she would cut 3-4 blooms to take along. Here it is Labor Day and all I have to show for it is a nice, round green bush. Flowers never came back. I didn't think you could kill these plants. Suggestions?

Courtney

Monday 5th of September 2016

Hi Douglas, I don't think you've killed it (and bravo for saving it from the dumpster!). I don't believe hydrangeas necessarily bloom non-stop, and it may be as fall is approaching that your plant has finished blossoming. Here's a good article on how to get more blooms depending on the type of hydrangea you have: http://www.bhg.com/gardening/trees-shrubs-vines/shrubs/get-more-hydrangea-flowers/#page=0

Carol

Monday 5th of September 2016

My hydrangea has not bloomed in at least 3 years. Has beautiful foliage and no blooms help! Thanks

Courtney

Monday 5th of September 2016

Hi Carol! Have you been pruning each year? And when it did bloom, was were they summer of fall blooms?

I'd love to hear from you

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