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Pruning Hydrangeas


By Paul James

Socrates was famous for answering a question with a question. And I feel like him every time someone asks me when they should prune their hydrangea, because my response is always the same: “What type of hydrangea is it?” And if they can’t answer my question, I can’t answer their question. Here’s why.

Hydrangeas, depending on the type, bloom either on new wood or old wood. (Some actually bloom on both – more on them later.) Consequently, if you prune at the wrong time of the year you may wind up removing dormant or developing flowers buds.

Hydrangeas that bloom on new wood in late summer should be pruned in late winter to early spring, before active growth begins. Within this group are several popular varieties including ‘Limelight,’ ‘Quickfire,’ ‘Burgundy Lace,’ and the classic “snowball” types such as ‘Annabelle.’ Also included is the ever popular ‘PeeGee.’ (More specifically, for you garden geeks out there, these are in one of two genera: Hydrangea arborescens and Hydrangea paniculata.)

Hydrangeas that bloom on old wood earlier in summer should be pruned after they flower, but no later than the end of July. Doing so will give the plant time to set flower buds for next year. This group includes my favorite – the Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) – as well as all the Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars that produce blue or pink flowers depending on the pH of the soil.

The so-called ever-blooming hydrangeas such as ‘Endless Summer’ bloom on new and old wood. They can actually be pruned in spring, but the truth is they rarely need much pruning at all.

Of course there’s a simpler approach. Don’t prune at all, unless you need to remove dead, diseased, or crossing branches, or if you simply want to deadhead faded flowers. That’s what I do.

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