I get a lot of questions about pruning hydrangeas. It can be a confusing topic because some hydrangeas are pruned differently from others. The process was baffling to me the first years I grew them but it turned out I did the right thing - I didn't prune them at all.
Ask yourself this - why do you want to prune your hydrangea? The only good reason for pruning is to control their size. If you have one that is getting too big for its britches or just getting in the way, then prune. However, there are certain rules to know.
First things first - do not prune at all until the hydrangea is at least 3 years old.
Hydrangea macrophylla - the mophead types - are the most popular and the most commonly grown hydrangeas. They bloom on old wood and new growth coming from old wood which means you should not be pruning them this time of year! If you cut them back now, you will be reducing your blooms. You can thin them out. To do this, take a look at the bare twigs and look for the oldest canes - they are easy to spot - they will be thick and have a gnarled appearance. Cut these canes completely down to the ground. The remaining canes should be left alone. If you are pruning a large macrophylla to reduce its size, then you can cut back the remaining canes to your desired height. Just keep in mind that you may not have as many blooms this year as you normally would.
An exception to this rule are the "Endless Summer" hydrangeas. They have the distinction of blooming on both old wood and new wood. They can be pruned without the danger of losing flowers.
|This is Hydrangea "Ayesha". It is about 4 feet tall and, as you can see, new leaves are forming at the tips of the canes. This hydrangea does not need any pruning at this time. I'm happy with the size of it so I won't be touching it with the pruning shears.|
|This hydrangea "Madame Emile Moliere" also doesn't need pruning although it is covered with dry flower heads. The flower heads can be removed - just cut them off at the base of the bloom.|
|The same hydrangea with the flower heads removed.|
|Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle" before pruning|
|Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle" after pruning|
If you'd like to hear more about growing, selecting, pruning and propagating hydrangeas, I will be doing a program at the Florence Lauderdale Public Library on Thursday, March 15th at 11:30.