What Season to Trim, Prune or Deadhead Hydrangeas

In the Garden Sue May 26, 2024
746 People Read

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When and How to Cut Back Hydrangea Varieties for Optimal Growth and Blooming

Hydrangeas are beloved ornamental shrubs known for their stunning and diverse blooms. The various hydrangea varieties exhibit different growth habits and bloom on new wood or old wood, making it essential to understand the unique requirements of each type.

If you don't know the exact variety you have, just remember that early bloomers(before July in Maryland),usually grow on old wood, while later blooming hydrangea (after July) bloom on new wood.

In general, if your hydrangea blooms on old wood, prune immediately after flowers die. If your hydrangea blooms on new wood, prune in late winter/early spring before new growth begins.

If you are still confused, just deadhead them so you won't get it wrong. Just remember that if there is any dead wood, you can cut that off at anytime. Scrap the wood with a knife to see if there is any green; if there is no green, it's dead. You can prune that off at anytime.

What is the difference between deadheading and pruning?

Pruning involved cutting back the plant itself and deadheading refers to removing the dead flowers.

If you want to read about ergonomic hand pruners and which one to choose click here.

Let's explore when and how to prune and deadhead different hydrangea varieties:

1. Bigleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla):

Bigleaf hydrangeas are renowned for their large, globe-like flower clusters that can range from pink to blue based on soil pH. These varieties are categorized into two types: mopheads and lacecaps.

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Hydrangea, Everlasting Revolution, 1 Plant

Pruning and Deadheading:

Bigleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood, meaning that they set their flower buds during the previous growing season. Therefore, deadhead these varieties immediately after flowering, typically in late summer or early fall. Pruning these hard may result in reducing or eliminating flowering the next year. If you need to remove dead or weakened parts of the hydrangea, it's best to wait till spring to see the new growth, to make sure you are removing only the dead parts.


- * 'Endless Summer', 'All Summer Beauty', 'Altona', 'Dooley', 'Europa', 'Twist-N-Shout'

2. Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata):

Panicle hydrangeas are characterized by their cone-shaped flower clusters that start white and often turn pink as they age. They are known for their hardiness and ability to thrive in a variety of conditions, including full sun.


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Pruning and Deadheading:

Panicle hydrangeas are unique in that they bloom on new wood, meaning they produce flowers on the current season's growth. The best time to prune panicle hydrangeas is in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. These can get up to 25 feet, so pruning is essential if you want a shorter hydrangea. Some branches may break with heavy winds or under snow, so remove broken branches as needed.

Deadheading panicle hydrangeas is recommended, as it can promote a more polished appearance and potentially encourage the plant to allocate more energy to producing new flowers. This can be done throughout the growing season as spent blooms appear.


- 'Barbara,’ ‘Bridal Veil,’ ‘Brussels Lace,’ ‘Chantilly Lace,’ ‘Grandiflora,’ and ‘Limelight.’

3. Smooth Hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens):

Smooth hydrangeas are known for their round, white or greenish flower heads and their ability to thrive in partial shade.


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Hydrangea Incrediball, Green/White, 1 Plant

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Hydrangea​, Invinsibelle Sublime​, 1 Plant


Similar to panicle hydrangeas, smooth hydrangeas also bloom on new wood. Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring before new growth emerges. Removing old stems will help the plant channel its energy into producing strong new shoots and abundant blooms. These can be cut back hard to about 12 inches from ground if desired.


Deadheading smooth hydrangeas is recommended, particularly if the faded blooms detract from the plant's appearance. Regular deadheading throughout the season can encourage a neater look.


- 'Annabelle' Smooth Hydrangea, 'Incrediball' Smooth Hydrangea, 'Grandiflora" Smooth Hydreangea

4. Oakleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia):

Oakleaf hydrangeas are prized for their unique foliage resembling oak leaves and their cone-shaped flower clusters.

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Oakleaf hydrangeas require minimal pruning and are best left to grow naturally. If pruning is necessary, do so after flowering, as they also set buds on old wood. Pruning in late summer or early fall will allow next year's buds to develop.


Deadheading oakleaf hydrangeas is not essential, as their spent blooms can provide winter interest and protection to the new buds. However, if the appearance of the faded blooms bothers you, they can be removed.


- **'Snow Queen' Oakleaf Hydrangea:** Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snow Queen'

- **'Alice' Oakleaf Hydrangea:** Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice'

5. Climbing Hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris):

Climbing hydrangeas are known for their ability to cling to surfaces and their lacy white flower clusters.

Climbing Hydrangea Vine Overview

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These hydrangeas require minimal pruning once established. Pruning should be limited to removing dead or damaged growth. They flower on old wood, so avoid extensive pruning that could remove potential flowering sites.


Climbing hydrangeas don't require deadheading for blooming purposes. However, removing spent blooms can improve the plant's appearance.


- **Climbing Hydrangea:** Hydrangea anomala petiolaris

In conclusion, the proper pruning and deadheading techniques for hydrangeas depend on the specific variety. Understanding the blooming patterns and growth habits of different hydrangea types is essential for ensuring a profusion of beautiful flowers year after year.

By following the guidelines provided in this article, gardeners can confidently care for their hydrangeas and create stunning displays that enhance their outdoor spaces. Always remember that local climate and growing conditions can also influence the timing and extent of pruning and deadheading, so it's recommended to consult with local gardening resources or experts for region-specific advice.

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Disclosure:  Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to me at no cost to you if you decide to purchase.