Hydrangea Care: To Prune or Not to Prune Your Hydrangeas

Find out the best time to make the cut.

Classic Beauty

Classic Beauty

Hydrangeas display a beautiful antiquity. The 'Nikko Blue' is a mophead variety with rounded, blue blooms.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

One of the most common gardening questions is “When should I prune my hydrangeas?” As those billowy big blooms turn from cheery blues, purples, pinks, reds and whites to boring browns we all tend to want to run out with the clippers and hack away. So, is now the time to do that?

Yes and no. It depends on the type of hydrangea you have, and there are many. First, know hydrangeas do not have to be pruned — unless the shrub has grown too large for its space or unruly and needs a little shaping up. Otherwise, you can simply clean up the plant by removing dead branches and deadheading spent blooms.

50 Gorgeous Hydrangeas

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Let’s Dance 'Rave' Reblooming Hydrangea

If space is tight in your yard, you can still enjoy lush hydrangea blooms with this small shrub, which grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Flower color shifts from a deep violet-purple in acid soils to pink in basic soils. Use this reblooming hydrangea in containers, as a specimen plant, to edge planting beds or as an informal hedge. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

Photo By: Proven Winners

Let's Dance 'Starlight' Hydrangea

'Starlight' requires regular watering and partial shade to full sun. This repeat bloomer produces vivid coloration and glossy foliage - great for mass plantings, containers or cutting.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Buttons 'N Bows 'Monrey' Hydrangea

Beautiful 'Monrey' has deep pink, mophead-type flowers edged in white. Use it in containers, woodland gardens or in the foreground of borders. It needs filtered sun, constantly moist soil and is hardy in zones 7 to 9.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Monrovia

Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight'

Japanese hydrangea vine 'Moonlight' is related to the better-known climbing hydrangea. Its cream-colored, broad flowerheads are surrounded by silver-green leaves with dark green veins. Grow it on a fence, wall or other support. It's hardy in zones 6 to 9.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Julie Taylor Fitzgerald, American Hydrangea Society

Let's Dance 'Diva!' Hydrangea

Use this dwarf, reblooming beauty, Let's Dance 'Diva!', in part sun to sun. It tops out at 2 to 3 feet with big, pink or blue flowers in zones 5 to 9.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Let's Dance 'Big Easy' Hydrangea

A reliable reblooming hydrangea, this beauty has large, vivid mop-head flowers that change from pinkish-green to pink and sometimes back to green. If you love to cut hydrangeas, this one is for you.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Let's Dance 'Rhapsody Blue' Hydrangea

Despite its name, you may get pink or blue blooms, depending on your soil's pH. At 2 to 3 feet tall, Let's Dance 'Rhapsody Blue' reblooms in part sun to sun and is cold-tolerant in zones 5 to 9.

Photo By: Image courtesy Proven Winners

Let's Dance 'Moonlight' Hydrangea

This hydrangea delights all year long beginning with it's vibrant, mop-head blooms in the summer and continuing through fall when it offers great fall foliage colors.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Electric Rouge'

This vibrant mophead beauty from the HGTV Home Plant Collection is set off by dark green foliage and makes an excellent cut flower.

Photo By: Image courtesy of HGTV Home Plant Collection

'Sweet 'N Salsa'

Good for USDA zones 5-9, this pretty cultivar with unique bronze red foliage blooms from late spring into late summer.

Photo By: Image courtesy of HGTV Home Plant Collection

Cityline 'Mars' Hydrangea

This part sun to sun shrub yields long-lasting flowers. It grows well in both landscapes and containers, but if you grow it in a container, it should be planted in the ground in the fall. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Cityline 'Paris' Hydrangea

Maturing at just 1 to 3 feet tall, Cityline 'Paris' is a bigleaf, dwarf hydrangea developed in Germany. This shrub takes partial shade to full sun in zones 5 to 9. The intensely red-pink flowers become green with age.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Cityline 'Rio' Hydrangea

Stunning Cityline 'Rio' is another bigleaf hydrangea that's wonderful in containers. Growing 2 to 3 feet high, it's an early bloomer, bearing blue flowers with handsome green "eyes." It requires regular watering in partial shade to full sun.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Cityline 'Berlin' Hydrangea

You can't go wrong with Cityline 'Berlin' hydrangeas. They have thick, glossy, deeply quilted foliage and big, full flower heads. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Cityline 'Venice' Hydrangea

This bigleaf hydrangea hails from Germany. Extremely disease-resistant, it opens deep pink flowers that turn green as they mature. Give it partial shade to full sun in zones 5 to 9; at only 1 to 3 feet tall, it's ideal for containers.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Cityline 'Vienna' Hydrangea

The smallest of the Cityline series, Vienna also blooms blue or pink, depending on the acidity of the soil. Learn how to change the color of your blooms with these tips.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Tiny Tuff Stuff'

This beauty has delicate flowers, and that makes it hard to call this one tough, but they are! Abundant lacecap flowers in this Hydrangea serrata are comprised of doubled sepals. While this plant leans towards blue blooms, the flower color may range from blue to pink to white—all soft, delicate, shades perfect for refined gardens. The flowers age to an attractive pink, and tip down in an distinctive arching fashion. Will grow 1 ½ to 2 feet in height and width, and hardy to zone 5.  

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Gatsby Pink Oakleaf Hydrangea

Why we love it: Oakleaf hydrangea wins our hearts because of its multi-season interest. White flower clusters start opening in summer, quickly fade to pink hues, followed by brown sugar tones. Dried blooms linger into winter. Leaves turn stunning shades of purple, burgundy and red in fall.

Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

'Quick Fire' Hydrangea

Perk up perennial beds and borders in your landscape with hydrangeas that keep the blooms coming. 'Quick Fire' flowers up to a month before other hydrangeas; the white blooms gradually turn pink and become dark rose-pink by fall.

Photo By: Courtesy of Proven Winners

'Little Lamb' Hydrangea

'Little Lamb' has the smallest and most delicate flowers of any hydrangea. Hardy from zones 3 to 9, this hydrangea offers white flowers that turn pink in the fall. Growing 4 to 6 feet in height, this shrub serves as a perfect border plant. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Hydrangea paniculata 'Bombshell'

'Bombshell' is a beauty: a petite hydrangea that bears white flowers almost non-stop from summer to fall. Give it part sun and consistently moist soil; it grows quickly and is hardy in zones 3 to 9.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Monrovia

'Tokyo Delight' Hydrangea

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Tokyo Delight' prefers rich, well-drained soils and part shade.

'Preziosa' Hydrangea

Hydrangea 'Preziosa' produces dark purplish stems and rose pink sterile florets deepening to ruby red in autumn. Truly among the most popular hydrangeas in the garden.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

'Bluebird' Hydrangea

Hydrangea serrata 'Bluebird' has blue central fertile florets encircled with blue to purple sterile florets on a lovely lacecap cultivar with serrated leaves. The small, dark blue sepals fall to the ground like fluorescent blue confetti.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Paraplu'

'Paraplu' bears showstopping, doubled flowers that range from candy pink to hot pink. Give it moist, well-draining soil and part sun to sun in zones 5 to 9. Maturing at about 3 feet, it's excellent for containers.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Annabelle'

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' is a stunning hydrangea with huge white drumstick blooms.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Fire Light'

'Fire Light' is a showstopping dwarf hydrangea with flowers that open white in summer and blaze red by fall. Grow it in large containers, as it can reach 54 to 72 inches high. It prefers full to part sun and is hardy in zones 3 to 9.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Snowflake'

The large flowerheads of Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake' feature creamy double blooms.

'Grandiflora'

Grow Hydrangea arborescens 'Grandiflora' in average, well-drained soil in part-shade.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo'

Grow this 3-foot-tall hydrangea in full to part sun in zones 3 to 9. This dwarf shrub bears abundant white blooms that stay white in any soil.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Hadsbury'

The large lacecap Hydrangea macrophylla 'Hadsbury' features soft blue or pink flowers.

'Nikko Blue'

Hydrangeas display a beautiful antiquity. The 'Nikko Blue' is a mophead variety with rounded, blue blooms.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

L.A. Dreamin' Hydrangea

The lush blooms of 'L.A. Dreamin'' allow myriad shades of pink and blue to coexist on the same plant, whether you adjust the alkalinity of the soil or not.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Pistachio'

'Pistachio' is a reblooming hydrangea for gardens or large containers. The reddish blooms have a chartreuse tinge; the color is not affected by soil pH.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Julie Taylor Fitzgerald, American Hydrangea Society

'Peppermint Swirl'

This hydrangea variety features an upright, mounded habit and spectacular peppermint candy variegation with pink and red-purple flowers.

Photo By: Image courtesy of HGTV Home Plant Collection

Hydrangea 'Twist N Shout'

Lacecap hydrangea 'Twist N Shout' is a rebloomer developed for zones 4 to 9. The pink or periwinkle-colored flowers are held on sturdy, red stems.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Julie Taylor Fitzgerald, American Hydrangea Society

‘Limelight’ Hydrangea

A panicle type hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), ‘Limelight’ is a shrub that gives and gives. The flower clusters vary from 8 to 12 inches long and open chartreuse, then fade to pink shades. The color lingers well into fall. A tough plant, ‘Limelight’ is hardy in Zones 3 to 8. Panicle hydrangea trains well into a tree form.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

'Little Lime' Hydrangea

Growing only 3 to 5 feet tall, this hydrangea is smaller than its popular sibling 'Limelight' but still offers beautiful lime-colored blooms that turn pink in the fall. Hardy from zones 3 to 9, 'Little Lime' grows well in containers and landscapes.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

First Editions 'Vanilla Strawberry' Hydrangea

'Vanilla Strawberry' is a panicle hydrangea that shows off candy-colored blooms from midsummer to fall. Blooms form in early spring, so prune or shape plants in late winter. 'Vanilla Strawberry' can reach heights of 6 feet and can be trained as a standard.

Photo By: First Editions

'Diamond Rogue' Hydrangea

First Editions 'Diamond Rogue' Hydrangea boasts big cones of white flowers that turn wine red as the blooms age.

Photo By: First Editions

'Tiny Tuff Stuff'

This Hydrangea serrata has delicate flowers, and that makes it hard to call this one tough, but they are! Abundant lacecap flowers are comprised of doubled sepals. While this plant leans towards blue blooms, the flower color may range from blue to pink to white—all soft, delicate, shades perfect for refined gardens. The flowers age to an attractive pink, and tip down in an distinctive arching fashion. Will grow 1 ½ to 2 feet in height and width, and hardy to zone 5.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Gatsby's Star'

This hydrangea has star power! Double blooms are pointed instead of round, creating a star effect. The result is a beautiful, lacy panicle, and a very showy, native variety. This hydrangea will grow 5-6 feet in height and is hardy to zone 5.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Gatsby's Moon'

These doubled, pure white florets are tightly packed and create very full panicles with a unique quilted effect. As the bloom ages, it turns a nice shade of green that lasts through most of the season. It is a native plant, will grow to 6-10 feet in height and is hardy to zone 5.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Hydrangea 'Jetstream'

An oakleaf hydrangea, 'Jetstream' produces tall, sturdy cones of white flowers that fade to pink as they age. Prune after it flowers in midsummer.

Photo By: First Editions

'Gatsby's Gal'

Smaller than other similar hydrangeas, 'Gatsby’s Gal' has impressively large flowers and lots of them. Full panicles of white blooms are held upright above the foliage. Flowers are quite large relative to the plants compact size. A native plant. Will reach a height of 5-6 feet and is hardy to zone 5.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Mini Penny'

Hardy in zones 5 to 9, 'Mini Penny' tops out at 2 to 3 feet high. The big mophead blooms may be pink or blue, depending on your soil. It's wonderful for growing in containers or borders; give it full sun to partial shade.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Monrovia

Hydrangea 'Twist-n-Shout'

Lacecap hydrangea 'Twist-n-Shout' is a rebloomer developed for zones 4 to 9. The pink or periwinkle flowers are held on sturdy, red stems.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Julie Taylor Fitzgerald, American Hydrangea Society

'Bloomstruck' Hydrangea

'Bloomstruck' a reblooming hydrangea variety. It's said to be more tolerant winter cold and summer heat than previous reblooming types.

Photo By: Endless Summer Hydrangeas

'Abracadabra Star'

Abracadabra hydrangeas have silky, jet-black stems which contrast beautifully with the pink blooms in the summer.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

'Abracadabra Orb'

Plant this hydrangea variety for bright blooms. Its mop-head flowers bloom green and peach and mature to hot pink. Hardy from zones 5 to 9.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

But if you do choose to prune one, remember this: Time it based on whether the type of hydrangea you have blooms on old wood or on new wood.

If it blooms on old wood (stems from the summer before the current one), its buds are being formed, and if you wait too late you may cut them off, meaning no flowers next spring. So these shrubs should be pruned immediately after their flowers fade.

Conversely, if the shrub flowers on new wood (stems developed during the current season), its buds are set within the season, so the shrub should be pruned in early spring before that new growth emerges.

Here are the common types of hydrangeas and when they should be pruned:

  • Big-leaf hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophyla: These are the most common species and include the popular mopheads and lacecaps in wide-ranging colors of blue, violet, pink, purple, red and white. They bloom in early summer on old wood, so prune them after flowering.
  • Oakleaf hydrangeas, Hydrangea quercifolia: This native hydrangea features cone-shaped white blooms that turn a beautiful shade of russet in late summer. It, too, blooms on old wood so should not be pruned until after flowering.
  • Panicle hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata: Often pruned as tree forms, these shrubs (Tardivas, PeeGees) explode with panicle-shaped white flowers in mid- to late summer. Because they bloom on new wood, prune these in early spring before they sprout new foliage.
  • Hydrangea arborescens, ‘Annabelle’: Featuring globe-shaped blooms in spring that start out chartreuse and later turn white, this variety blooms on new wood as well so prune in early spring.

Remontant, or “reblooming,” hydrangeas: These are a new generation of hydrangeas bred to flower more than once throughout the growing season. They offer wide-ranging colors, and one of the most popular cultivars is ‘Endless Summer’. So because they bloom both on old and new wood, these hydrangeas can be cut back at any time.

When pruning a hydrangea that blooms on old wood, first remove any dead limbs, then crossing branches, thinning out the interior of the plant to open it to more sunlight. Ones that bloom on new wood, such as the Tardiva and PeeGee varieties, can be selectively pruned, choosing branches that don’t conform to the desired shape of the plant or control size. And ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas can be given the most severe haircuts, with the entire shrub cut back to six to 12 inches above ground.

Now do you see why the question of “When do I prune my hydrangeas” can be one the biggest head-scratchers in gardening land?!

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