How to Prune Your Hydrangea [Our Step by Step Guide]

how to prune your hydrangea

Pruning is a key part of any shrub maintenance, and hydrangeas are no exception. We know, however, that tackling a bush of this size can be daunting, so what is the best way to prune a hydrangea?

How to prune your hydrangea? Well, hydrangeas are divided into two groups; those that bloom from old wood and those that grow from new wood. These groups need to be pruned during certain seasons and using specific pruning techniques that we are going to outline for you.

After you master the details of each type of hydrangeas, pruning your own plants should be a quick and easy process that gives you the reward of their gorgeous blooms after your hard work.

This article is going to provide you with a complete step-by-step guide on how to prune your hydrangeas for the perfect shape and abundant flowers.

Grow Your Yard Fact
Hydrangeas are also known as hortensias or Christmas flowers.

What is the Purpose of Pruning?

Before we get into how to prune your hydrangea, you might be asking: why do we prune our plants?

There are a number of reasons that you want to prune your plant:

  1. Improves plant health- Getting rid of old stems and excessive growth will redirect nutrients in the plant, promoting blooming and fresh growth during the growing season.
  2. Pest management- Cutting away excess plant matter increases airflow within the plant, which will discourage insects from nesting there and damaging your plant. It will also prevent fungus from growing due to trapped moisture.
  3. Improves the appearance- Pruning neatens the general appearance of the plant and helps keep borders tidy. It will also make dormant plants that are coming back to life look less sparse.
  4. Stimulates growth- Pruning off old growth promotes new growth in plants, especially flowers. Any plant, especially hydrangeas, will struggle to bloom if they are congested, so give them some room, and you will be gifted with plentiful flowers.

Pruning can consist of simple heading cuts, which remove only the old flowers or escalate to cutting back entire stems. It all depends on what plant species you are working on. Luckily, you need not prune your hydrangeas all year round. Plants need to be pruned in particular seasons in order for them to benefit the most from this process.

Grow Your Yard Tip
Always plant your hydrangeas in an area that gets dappled sunlight or semi-shade. They grow best when they get morning sun and afternoon shade. They will wilt if left in the harsh summer sunshine.

When is the Best Time to Prune a Hydrangea?

Different plants prefer to be pruned at certain times, and the plethora of hydrangea species is no different.

One important factor to note is that different varieties of hydrangeas need to be pruned slightly differently and in different seasons because their flowers either grow from new or old growth.

Species that bloom from new wood can be pruned back considerably to promote new growth and blooming. Others must only be pruned minimally as the flowers will grow from old wood.

Species that bloom from old wood:

  • Bigleaf
  • Oakleaf
  • Mountain
  • Climbing

Species that bloom from new wood:

  • Panicle
  • Smooth
  • Mopheads

The ideal time for pruning essentially comes down to what species of hydrangeas you have. When you prune in summer, you need to do it after they have flowered. However, when you prune in late winter, you are aiming to do it before the new spring growth.

Here is a breakdown of a few different varieties when you should prune them.

Species Season for Pruning
Bigleaf Summer
Oakleaf Summer
Mountain Summer
Climbing Summer
Panicle Late winter
Smooth Late winter
Mopheads Late winter

Before planting new hydrangeas, take note of the species because, as you can see, this fact makes all the difference in your plant care. There are many other species of hydrangeas that we have not mentioned today, but these are the most common varieties.

How to Prune Your Hydrangea

As with most plants, there is a right way to prune a hydrangea that will most benefit the plants, and that is what we are here to guide you through today.

As we have illustrated, the first step is identifying which hydrangea you are working with. Once you have that established, you can get your equipment together. To prune your hydrangea, you will need a sharp set of pruning shears and some gardening gloves if you want to protect your hands.

Pruning isn’t merely hacking away at a plant until it looks better. You need to take the time to make your cuts in the right place to promote further growth in your plant. Regardless of which species you are dealing with, the best way to prune is to cut ¼ inch above the new bud at an angle.

In between prunings, you should remove any dead flowers or brown leaves to help maintain a healthy-looking plant with a good shape.

As we have explored, certain species need to be pruned at different times, so we have provided a step-by-step guide for each.

For hydrangeas that bloom on old wood (summer):

  1. Dead head all the old blooms to ¼ inch above the new blooms.
  2. Leave any stems that have a bud at the very end.
  3. If the plant has become crowded, remove any older stems further down the plant. These will grow back in future seasons.
  4. If the plant is getting too tall, cut back some of the taller stems to a bud that is further down the stem.

For hydrangeas that bloom on new wood (late winter):

  1. Remove all old blooms and leaves.
  2. Trim back the stems to ¼ inch above new buds right at the top of the plant.
  3. Don’t be afraid to remove up to a quarter of the oldest stems; they will grow back and reward you in future seasons.
  4. Snip away any tangled or crossing branches.
Grow Your Yard Tip
After winter, your hydrangeas may look completely dead, but they are most likely lying dormant. Scrape back a small area of bark from the stem; if it is green underneath, it is still alive. These plants can be revived using our easy guide.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Should you deadhead your hydrangea?

Yes, deadheading is a good idea when you have hydrangeas unless you are growing mophead hydrangeas. These flowers can be left alone.

Firstly, the dead flowers don’t look very nice so getting rid of them will improve the look of your garden. Secondly, trimming them away will promote further blooming by redirecting the nutrients towards new growth.

You can either do this gently by hand or using pruning shears.

What should hydrangeas look like in winter?

In the winter, hydrangeas tend to lie dormant until their favorite warm weather returns.

By late fall, your hydrangea will start to dry out and look very brown and brittle. Their stems will remain, but they will lose their flowers and most of their leaves. Essentially they will appear to be dead, but, in fact, they are just waiting for spring to come.


Hydrangeas are wildly blooming shrubs that occasionally need you to step in to give them a little shaping.

When you are dealing with hydrangeas, it is important to know what species you are dealing with before you start pruning. After that, all you need to do is follow this step-by-step guide to prune your hydrangea into the perfect shape and benefit from all the stunning blooms this produces.

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