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Are You Supposed to Cut Back Hydrangeas?

Most Hydrangeas are deciduous. Meaning they lose their leaves and in winter. Cutting back or pruning plants is a gardening practice that increases the vitality of a plant. When it comes to hydrangeas, many gardeners do not know what to do, so let’s find out what options are available.

You don’t have to cut back hydrangeas. However, I recommend maintaining the health of the plant. It also helps the flowers to grow large and full. There are different times of the year when hydrangeas should be cut back, depending on what type of growth you are cutting.

If we’re talking about dead wood, you have to cut it for sure. It can be done at any time of the year.

Now, the decision on when to cut back hydrangeas is based on where on the plant the flower. So, below I’ll explain how to cut back hydrangeas, as well as some varieties that don’t lose their leaves.

Cut old wood after flowering

Most varieties of hydrangeas lose their leaves in the late fall and look dead throughout winter. There are called deciduous varieties. Others keep their leaves year-round.

There are many different varieties of hydrangeas. Some will flower on both old and new wood, whereas others will only bloom on new or old wood. Most varieties of hydrangeas should be pruned because it increases their growth and health.

Age Recognized by When to cut back
Old Hard, sturdy stems with thick, layered bark Immediately after flowering, if at all, before new buds grow.
New Soft, weak stems, with only small amounts of bark if any Any time of year.

Flowers that grow on old wood

Old wood can be recognized by rigid and strong stems. They have old looking bark on them that is often layered. They will be browner in color. This is compared with new wood, which is green, has very little bark, and the stems are soft and weak.

All varieties of hydrangea can be cut back all the way to ground level, and still grow back again.

Flowers for a hydrangea grow from buds. The buds remain on the plant all throughout the winter. Buds grow very shortly after the current year’s flowers shrivel and fall off.

So if you want to cut off the old wood, you should do so immediately after flowering before the new buds form. This will ensure you don’t cut off the next year’s flowers. That way you will have flowers the following year.

Flowers that grow on new wood

New wood is the current season’s growth. Therefore, you can cut back these stems at any time of the year. Don’t cut back all of it, or you will have nowhere for the flowers to grow from.

Why would you cut it a hydrangea all the way back and not just prune it?

Now, deciduous hydrangeas can be cut all the way to ground level without any detrimental effects on the plant. This is a fast method if you have many plants, or you don’t want to spend much time on it.

If you cut it all the way back, the next season’s growth won’t be as large. This is why many people decide to prune their hydrangeas to preserve the size of the plant.

Old-growth should be cut back after flowering when the flowers begin to brown and wilt. You can recognize this by flowers that come out from an old stem. Any very old stems should be cut off to ground level. This will increase the growth and health of the plant.

Use your judgment in regard to which branches are very old. They can be easily recognized by where you can see where you have pruned them back many seasons prior. They will also have many layers of old looking dry bark.

Newer growth should be cut back in the early spring. If you want to decide to cut back any of this growth, you should do as the plant begins to flower. This will increase the volume and look of flowers that bloom from the older growth.

when to prune

Hydrangeas will grow well without pruning

If you don’t prune hydrangeas, they will flower just fine. But, the volume and appearance of the flowers won’t be as good as if you prune it back. Pruning reduces the number of resources the plant needs.

This causes more energy and nutrients to be available to the plant. This increased energy gets put into the remaining growth. This causes the flowers to appear fuller, larger, and as a result, more beautiful.

After pruning, the plants grow more vigorously

Hydrangeas will grow back if cut down. You can cut back hydrangeas all the back to ground level, and they will grow again. The only way to get a hydrangea to not grow back is if you pull the entire plant out of the ground and put it somewhere where the roots can’t get access to nutrients and water in the soil.

If soil is poured on top of them, they will likely grow back but at a much slower rate. As long as the plant remains buried in the soil and has adequate water and the soil has enough nutrients, it will continue to grow.

When you cut them back, the stems are newer and not as strong as old hardened growth. So they will be more susceptible to wind damage. They won’t withstand being trampled underfoot.

Most people will cut back completely hydrangeas, which they want to hide from their flower landscape for a time. Or if they want to get rid of really old and stems which have been cut back many times already.

how to prune

What types of hydrangeas don’t lose their flowers and leaves?

Some varieties of hydrangeas are evergreen. This means they don’t drop their leaves and flowers as the temperature gets colder. Below are some of those varieties.

Climbing evergreen hydrangeas (Hydrangea integrifolia)

This is a climbing type of hydrangea. It is a native of the country of the Philippines, which is a tropical country in the Pacific ocean. It has glossy leaves that are shaped like a lance or arrowhead.

It can make plain-looking walls look attractive, and can cover up retaining walls to give a naturally terraced look. It can also grow up and grow on trees.

Seemann’s hydrangea (Hydrangea seemanii)

This is another variety of hydrangea that climbs like a vine. It was first discovered in Mexico. It is sometimes called a Mexican climbing hydrangea. An advantage of this variety is that it has sweet-smelling flowers. It has dark leaves that remain on the plant all year round. It flowers towards the end of spring and during the beginning of summer.

When this variety climbs up another tree, it doesn’t hurt the tree in any way.

Chinese quinine (Dichroa febrifuga)

This variety of botanically is not a hydrangea. But, it is very close in appearance and characteristics. It is a cousin of the hydrangea family. It looks exactly like a hydrangea. However, it does not drop its leaves come wintertime.

It has a range of flower colors from light blue to purple when the soil is more on the acidic end. In more alkaline soils, the flowers are light purple in color. It was first discovered growing naturally in the Himalayas south of China. It is sometimes also called blue evergreen.

Conclusion

In conclusion, you don’t have to cut back hydrangeas. If you do, it is dependent upon what type of growth you are cutting. Old-growth has bark that is layered and dry-looking. Its stems are also stiff and rigid. This type of growth should be cut before it grows its buds for the following year.

You should cut it immediately after they flower. New growth has only a small amount of bark on it if any. It has green stems that are soft and easily bent. This type of growth should be pruned back before spring. There are some varieties of hydrangeas that keep their leaves all year.

Christine

Tuesday 20th of February 2024

I have a Hugh beautiful hydrangea that was there when I bought my house 7 years ago. That being said, it has never bloomed. Do you know why?

Igor Viznyy

Thursday 22nd of February 2024

Hi Christine! It sounds like you've got a lovely hydrangea that's just a bit shy about blooming! There could be several reasons why your hydrangea hasn't flowered in all these years. Let's go through some of the common ones:

Pruning at the Wrong Time: Hydrangeas need a specific pruning schedule depending on their type. Some bloom on old wood (last year's growth), and some on new wood (current year's growth). If you prune at the wrong time, you might be cutting off the buds before they have a chance to bloom.

Not Enough Light: While hydrangeas don't need direct, all-day sunlight, they do need some to bloom well. If your hydrangea is in too much shade, it might not produce flowers.

Too Much Nitrogen: If you're feeding your garden a lot, or if the hydrangea is close to a lawn that gets fertilized regularly, it might be getting too much nitrogen. This can lead to lush green growth at the expense of blooms.

Winter Kill: In colder climates, the buds of hydrangeas that bloom on old wood can be damaged by frost. If the plant isn't protected in winter, or if a late frost hits after the plant has started to bud, it could kill the flower buds.

Age or Variety: Some hydrangeas take a few years to start blooming, especially if they're grown from seed. Additionally, there are varieties that are less prolific bloomers than others.

Stress: Environmental stress, such as drought, excessive heat, or poor soil conditions, can also affect blooming. Ensuring your hydrangea is well-watered (but not waterlogged) and in healthy soil can make a big difference.

Here are a few steps you might consider to encourage your hydrangea to bloom:

Identify the Type: Knowing whether your hydrangea blooms on old or new wood can guide you on when and how to prune it. Adjust Sunlight Exposure: If possible, ensure it gets morning sun and afternoon shade, or dappled sunlight throughout the day. Balance Fertilization: Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer designed for flowering shrubs, and avoid high-nitrogen lawn fertilizers nearby. Protect in Winter: If you live in a region with cold winters, consider protecting your hydrangea with burlap wraps or mulch to shield the buds from frost. Patience and Care: Continue to care for your plant with proper watering and soil management. Sometimes, a bit of patience is all it takes.

Sharon

Sunday 12th of November 2023

Hi, I’m going to cut my Hydrangeas today, close to the ground, first time doing it, last year I had flowers all over, this year just one, it just kept growing. Getting to cover the front area. I hope they come back flowers.

Donald Harrison

Saturday 4th of November 2023

I HAVE ENDLESS SUMMER HYDRANGEAS, How and when to prune ?

Igor Viznyy

Monday 6th of November 2023

Hi Donald. Here are my recommendations:

When to Prune

The best time to prune 'Endless Summer' hydrangeas is after they have finished blooming in late summer or fall, but before they go dormant. However, because they bloom on both old and new wood, you can do light pruning almost any time, except when they are forming bloom heads in the spring.

Avoid pruning in late fall, winter, or early spring, as you may inadvertently remove flower buds.

How to Prune

Deadheading: Regularly remove spent flowers (deadheading) to encourage more blooms. This can be done throughout the blooming season.

Removing Dead Stems: Prune any dead stems in early spring just as the new growth is starting to emerge. Dead stems can be identified as they will be brittle and will not have any new growth or buds.

Shaping the Plant: If you need to shape the plant or control its size, it’s best to do so immediately after flowering has finished for the season.

Rejuvenation Pruning: For an older plant that is not performing well, consider rejuvenation pruning. Cut the plant back to about 12 inches from the ground in late winter or early spring. This type of pruning will often sacrifice the blooms for a season, as you may be cutting off the old wood flower buds, but the plant will emerge stronger and rejuvenated. Thinning: If the plant is very dense in the center, thin out some of the older canes to allow light and air to penetrate the plant, which can help with overall plant health and vigor.

Pruning Technique

Use clean, sharp pruning shears. Make cuts at a 45-degree angle, about 1/4 inch above a bud. Remove only about one-third of the total growth or less to avoid shocking the plant.

Linda

Wednesday 25th of October 2023

Its November and my hydrangeas are blooming. We live in southern Indiana,zone 5. Is this normal?

Igor Viznyy

Friday 27th of October 2023

Hi, Linda. It is not normal for hydrangeas to bloom in November, but it does happen sometimes. The plant still has the strength to produce flowers again and you don't have to worry about it.

Shirley

Friday 18th of August 2023

I bought a supposed blue hydrangea it is now 4 years old and has never had a blossom.It is planted by a white hydrangea that has many beautiful big blossoms each year. Any advice would be welcomed.

Igor Viznyy

Sunday 20th of August 2023

Hi Shirley. The issue might be transplant shock or issues with the roots. Apply slow-release fertilizer pellets in the spring. Additionally, water it with liquid fertilizer multiple times throughout the year.