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Pruning hydrangeas does not have to be done on an annal basis. Deadheading is typically the only maintenance needed during the blooming season to encourage new growth. However, pruning is necessary to remove dead limbs and shape the hydrangea. The main consideration one must keep in mind is the type of Hydrangea and if the buds set on old or new wood. After all, we certainly don’t want to cut off the flower buds and have a plant that doesn’t produce blooms.
There are two pruning Groups:
Group I – Buds set (and bloom) on Old Wood – These hydrangea produce flower buds on stems from August through October for the next year’s blooms. If these stems are pruned in the fall, winter, or sping the bloom buds will be removed, and thus little or no bloom the following summer. Types in this groups include:
H. macrophyalla (mophead and lacecap)
H. quercifolia (oakleaf)
Group II – Buds set (and bloom) on New Wood – These hydrangea produce flower buds about a month before they bloom. Therefore, they can be pruned anytime after they bloom and up until they begin producing flower buds. Types in this group include:
**Note: the reblooming hydrangeas (such as the variety H. macrophyalla ‘Endless Summer’) set buds and blooms on old and new wood. Therefore, double check the variety you purchase to determine if it is this type of hydrangea.
Pruning Tips by Species
H. macrophylla – In general, these hydrangeas do not need pruning. However they can get quite large, so it is important to choose a site where they will have space to reach their natural size. Mature plants may be rejuvenated by removing about one quarter to one third of the oldest stems down to the root line in the spring. This will promote new growth from the root for the following year’s bloom while still leaving enough mature stalks to bloom in the current season. This technique can also be used to prevent a bush from becoming too large.
H. quercifolia – Depending on the variety, this plant can become quite large. Ideally, this hydrangea should be left unpruned, except to remove dead or injured stems. If pruning does become necessary to limit size or for shaping, it is best done in late summer or early autumn, after it has bloomed. Some varieties such as ‘Pee Wee’ recommend shearing annually after flowering to achieve a formal appearance. The variety ‘Vaughn’s Lillie’ advises pruning annually in late winter to promote vigorous new growth.
H. arborescens – The species can be pruned at any time except within a month or two before flowering. Different varieties are grown in different ways to produce different effects. Often they are cut almost to the ground each fall to avoid drooping, dead-looking stalks during the winter. This type of pruning can also be done in late winter. Plants pruned in this way can still achieve a height of up to six feet and bear huge flower heads that may need staking to prevent drooping. Planted closely together to help hold each other up these Hydrangeas can create an attractive hedge. Pruning less drastically to 18-24 inches from the ground will allow stems to thicken a little each year. In this way they will become stronger and better able to support the large blooms. Unpruned shrubs can reach ten feet or more. Once established in this way their flower heads will be more plentiful but smaller, and less likely to droop. Initially, however, the shrub may be top-heavy and flop to the ground by midseason.
H. paniculata – This species can be pruned in the fall, winter, or spring. Corrective pruning of dead, over-vigorous, or crossing branches that do not contribute to an attractive form is advised as this shrub can rapidly become overgrown. The fewer the number of branches on the shrub, the larger the panicles will be. It may be pruned to 18-24 inches of the ground to promote new growth and a controlled size and shape. This hydrangea can also be developed into a single or multi-stemmed tree form.
Pruning That Pertains to All Types
~Deadheading, can be done continuously and, in some types, will encourage a prolonged bloom season. Removing old blooms, however, is not absolutely necessary. Many people let the blooms mature on the bush and use them for dried flower arrangements in the fall. Spent blooms that remain on the plant over the winter may protect the tender growth buds below them from winter damage. Instead, remove the dead flowerheads in early spring when the shrub begins to leaf out by cutting back to the first strong, healthy pair of buds lower down the stem.
~Removing dead stems should be done each year. Any obviously dead stalks can be cut at anytime. Care should be taken, however, to wait until the plant begins to leaf-out in the spring so it will be clear which stalks are really dead.
~Cutting blooms for display can be done as needed. When harvesting flowers in June and July from Group I types you can cut them with as long a stem as you like because bloom buds have not begun to form for the following year. Beginning around August first it is best to harvest these blooms on short stems, above the first set of large leaves, so as not to disturb next year’s buds developing further down the stalk.
~Shaping a plant by removing a few stalks can be done occasionally at any time of year.
This concludes my info on Hydrangeas – I hope I have been able to give you some useful information and you’re looking forward to browsing your nearest greenhouse to find the perfect Hydrangea.
The month of March is just days away and there is still snow on the ground, but spring will be here soon. It won’t be long before garden centers will be full of plants……….and I know I’ll be searching for the perfect Hydrangea(s) that needs a new home.