With their gorgeous heads of flowers, hydrangeas make a bold statement in any garden. And, as a plus, they are a perennial so you can keep them around for future seasons. With any perennial, you need to cut it back, but just when should you do so with hydrangeas? Read on for more information.
Hydrangeas are a type of shrub and as such need to be pruned each year. While they technically can be left alone, they will grow quite wild, which is probably not what you want in your garden.
When to cut back hydrangeas? There are two categories for hydrangeas, those that grow in early summer and those that grow in late summer. Early growth hydrangeas can be pruned in late summer. This gives the plant enough time to re-grow as the blossoms will only grow on old-growth stems. As for late summer hydrangeas, you can leave them until late winter or early spring for pruning. Their blossoms bloom on new growth stems, so the later pruning works well.
If you happen to forget all about your hydrangeas, you will still have flowers; the plant will just be a bit wilder than you may like.
When should hydrangeas be cut or pruned?
Unfortunately, we don’t have a simple answer to this question. There are many different varieties of hydrangeas and each will have different needs.
For those that are just planting your hydrangeas now, make it easier for yourself by keeping the plant tag with the varietal name on it. If you have forgotten the name, don’t panic as you just need to observe your hydrangea’s habits.
Generally, there are two types of hydrangeas, those that bloom in mid-summer and those that bloom in late summer. These types will determine when you need to prune your plant.
Blooms in early summer
There are certain types of hydrangeas that bloom in early summer, around June. These include Oaklead and Nikko Blue.
One easy way to tell if your hydrangeas fall into this category is if they are blue. One of the more common varieties, blue-colored hydrangeas will always be a part of this category.
Another category we’ll include in this section is ever-blooming hydrangeas.
All of the hydrangeas mentioned will grow their blooms on old wood, or the parts of the shrub from the previous year. As such, you will need to prune these at the end of the summer.
If you leave pruning too late, such as in the spring, with these varieties the branches won’t be considered old growth and you run the risk of not having any blossoms.
Blooms in late summer
Some hydrangeas bloom in August and to do so, they grow on new growth of the plant. Essentially, when a new branch grows, this is where the flowers will eventually bloom.
Common varieties that bloom in late summer are Quickfire, Limelight, and Annabelle. If you’re a purist gardener, their botanical names are H. paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens.
When you have hydrangeas that bloom in late summer, you should prune them in late winter or early spring. Just don’t leave it too late as the old-growth needs to be pruned early enough so that new growth can grow and develop blossoms later in the summer.
What happens if you don’t cut back hydrangeas?
Remember how we just discussed the different types of hydrangeas? Well, this affects what happens if you don’t prune them.
Hydrangeas that bloom in early summer grow on old growth. Therefore, if you leave your hydrangeas alone, the entire shrub will be old-growth and therefore you will still get plenty of flowers.
As for hydrangeas that bloom in late summer, they grow on new growth. While your hydrangea bush will continue to grow new stems as it matures, if you don’t cut it back, there won’t be as much new growth as you would like.
Therefore, these types of hydrangeas won’t look as nice as there will be a lot of old-growth taking up valuable space.
Hydrangeas will continue to grow, whether you cut them back or not. The thing to consider is how neat you want your garden to look.
How to prune Hydrangeas
There are different ways to prune your hydrangeas, and it depends on what you’re more interested in, bigger flowers or a stronger framework.
Those that want big, bold hydrangea flowers, either to look at or to fill a bouquet, will want to cut back their shrub in a particular manner.
Locate the stems and cut them just above the ground. You don’t need to cut right at the soil level but you shouldn’t leave more than a few inches of stems.
Just remember that while you will get larger blooms, the stems might not be as sturdy. Therefore, you may need to add a lattice structure for better support.
Some gardeners prefer a neat and tidy look and therefore this option is more common. You’ll still bask in the wonder of your flowers; they will just be a bit smaller.
Take your pruning shears and cut the branches about 10 inches up from the soil. This doesn’t have to be even and some branches can be a bit longer.
If you have a particularly large bush, you can even leave the stems to be up to 18 inches tall from the soil.
Other Tips for Pruning Hydrangeas
If you want to keep your garden looking tidy, you can always snip off old blooms. Just clip them below the flowers.
As hydrangeas become older, they will have larger, woody areas. You can always remove some of these older canes to allow more room for younger canes to grow.
Removing older canes is a good idea as they will usually produce smaller flowers.
Hydrangeas are really special flowers. They are bold and gorgeous and make a lovely bouquet. If you have hydrangeas that bloom in early summer, you will want to prune them at the end of summer. For those that bloom in late summer, cut them back in late winter or early spring.