Time to Prune Hydrangeas?

January 27, 2010 | By | Comments (23)

If there is one thing about trees and shrubs that scares people more than paying for them, it’s when and how to prune them. One wrong move can ruin them forever (not really, but added anxiety makes for more attentive readers). But abandon all fear, young Skywalker. The Grump is here with easy guidelines for pruning hydrangeas that will make you so glad you turned on your computer

When to prune hydrangeas basically depends on whether it blooms on growth made last year or new growth made during the current year. So let’s run down some of the most popular hydrangeas, so I can tell you what to do.

‘Annabelle’ hydrangea — This is the showiest and most popular selection of the native smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). It produces immense clusters (up to a foot across) of pure white flowers in summer on a shrub that grows about 4 feet tall and wide. It blooms on current season’s growth, so prune it in late winter. Cutting it back to a foot tall produces fewer clusters, but they’re huge (a trick I learned from Margaret Mosely in Decatur, Georgia). Cutting it back more modestly produces many more, but smaller clusters. 


‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea

Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) — This summer-flowering species likes the sun and is often trained into a tree 15 to 25-feet high. The most widely planted selection, ‘Grandiflora’ (often called “peegee”), bears large, rounded clusters of white blooms that age to to rose. I see it frequently planted in northern gardens as their version of crepe myrtle, which isn’t winter-hardy there. Other worthy selections include ‘Limelight’ (lime green flowers that age to pink), ‘Pink Diamond’ (creamy flowers that age to rosy-red), and ‘Tardiva’ (late-opening, arrow-shaped clusters of white flowers that age to rose). Panicle hydrangea blooms on new growth, so prune it in late winter.


‘Peegee’ panicle hydrangea

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) — This outstanding native native grows 6 to 8 feet tall and wide and develops striking burgundy-red fall foliage. Among the Grump’s favorite selections are ‘Snowflake’ (inner florets stay white, outer florets turn rose in summer), ‘Harmony’ (huge clusters of double white flowers), and ‘Pee Wee’ (dwarf plant to 3 feet tall, blooms at a young age). Oakleaf hydrangea blooms on the previous year’s growth, so cut it back (although it rarely needs it) in early summer.


‘Snowflake’ oakleaf hydrangea 

French or bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) — By far, the most popular of all hydrangeas for its showy, blue or pink, snowball-shaped summer blooms. Most selections, such as the standard blue, ‘Nikko Blue,’ bloom on last year’s growth. So if you prune them now, you won’t get any blooms. What you want to do is wait until they start leafing out in spring. You’ll probably notice some stems are light brown with no signs of life. Prune them back to just above where you see fat, green buds starting to open. Most of these buds should produce flowers. Immediately after the flowers fade in summer, cut these stems back if you wish. 

There are exceptions to these guidelines, however. Newer, repeat-blooming selections of French hydrangea, such ‘Endless Summer,’ ‘Pennymac,’ ‘Mini Penny,’ and ‘Forever and Ever,’ bloom on both last season’s growth and current season’s growth. You can cut them back in winter, spring, or summer and still get blooms.


‘Mini Penny’ French hydrangea

Mail-order source — If you can’t find these hydrangeas locally, one of the best mail-order sources is Wilkerson Mill Gardens, which specializes in these shrubs. I hope they don’t mind that I ripped off the picture of peegee hydrangea from their website, but maybe if you order some of their stuff, they’ll call off the corporate attorney.


  1. mrianne brinson

    Where are the answers to the questions above?

    April 20, 2017 at 2:28 pm
  2. Monica Partington

    I’ve recently read that putting coffee grounds on the soil around Hydrangeas will make them bloom, I’m trying that this year since mine stopped blooming years ago and pruning/not pruning and using other fertilizers made for this plant haven’t worked.

    March 12, 2016 at 5:09 pm
  3. sheila stanley

    I planted my Limelight last Fall.Is northern WV still considered to be in the winter months?it’s March 9th as I write this.

    March 9, 2016 at 9:56 am
  4. Linda

    I too have an endless summer hydrangea that has never bloomed,,, in 8 years! I have moved it 3 times thinking it didn’t like the soil, too sunny, to shady etc but still nothing. The leaves are a nice shrub but no matter what I do it will not bloom. Any ideas?

    February 25, 2016 at 8:24 am
  5. Queen Bee

    I have a question. I have had two endless summer hydrangeas for five years and the shrubs are very healthy but they never bloom. I have tried different fertilizers and ones that are supposed to help with blooms but nothing works. i am ready to rip them out even though the shrub is very healthy. Any suggestions before i do?

    January 10, 2016 at 8:14 pm
  6. Dan

    It still leaves in doubt about when to prune hydrangea since I am not sure of what species I have since they were here at the house before we bought it. Last year I did no pruning and had very few blooms. It gets about 4 hours sun daily; maybe this is a problem as well?

    January 10, 2016 at 6:03 am
  7. Sharon

    Is there a certain fertilizer to use with the hydranga. Mine is not tall and 2 years ago it was transplanted and cut serverely but is had flowers last year but no color, they looked like coffee color paper.

    January 8, 2016 at 9:23 am
  8. Grace

    Please tell me when I should cut off all the hydranga flowers that are left, come winter? Thank you.

    January 8, 2016 at 5:23 am
  9. Susan Solum

    How about pruning for Endless Summer and Nantucket hydrangeas?

    January 6, 2016 at 9:43 am
  10. Flip

    Grumpy Gardener,
    Sometimes a white oak leaf hydrangea will turn pink or purple if its a new ruby red oak leaf that has been planted in the last few years.. It starts out white but then turns to a reddish color dependent on the lime, in about five years after being planted.

    You can sometimes blame the spots on your hydrangeas on the lawn care company… If for example they sprayed the hydrangeas with “deer off” or “deer away”, that will cause spots on the leaves. Did you notice the spots in about two days after the lawn company came.. If so, that’s your issue. The plant will be fine, but just need pruning.


    June 21, 2015 at 11:26 am
  11. Are You Ready For Spring? – The Daily South | Your Hub for Southern Culture

    […] in the spring on growth made the previous year (azalea, lilac, forsythia, spirea, loropetalum, ‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangea, Lady banks rose, etc.) and you prune now, you’ll cut off all the blooms. However, plants […]

    January 31, 2013 at 9:01 am
  12. Robin

    Mme Emile Mouliere (sp?) turns pink/purplish in my yard after the white blooms age. My 3 flush out beautifully in June , lovely white and by July the first blooms have turned mottled pink purple. Still getting some new white blooms now. I read somewhere that the more sun they get the more they will color up. Don’t know if this is true. Mine get a.m. Sun until noonish.

    August 4, 2012 at 12:45 am
  13. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    I don’t think you can blame the spots on the lawn service. The spots are either due to a fungus or the weather. If you need to cut them back, do it right away or else you won’t get any flowers next spring.

    June 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm
  14. Dottie

    My Oakleaf hydrangeas are experiencing their 2nd summer (it is now June 27 here in B’ham), and are somewhat ‘everywhere’. The flowers were beautiful, but I really need to cut them back, and the leaves have black spots on them. I am using a lawn service’s shrub care. Is it their fault?

    June 27, 2012 at 11:11 am
  15. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    I have never heard of a white hydrangea turning purple or any other color. Has anyone else?

    June 18, 2012 at 10:42 am
  16. Ray Firmani

    My Hydrangea was white. Now it is Purple. How can I get it to be white again?

    June 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm
  17. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    The only thing I can think of is that perhaps a cold snap in spring or late winter killed the flower buds, which aren’t as hardy as the leaf buds. Barring a recurrence of that, your plants should bloom next year, as you seem to be doing everything right.

    September 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm
  18. joyce register

    my hydranggeas have not bloomed at all this year. they have had plenty of water and sunshine. no pruning. what could keep them from blooming.

    September 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm
  19. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    ‘Kaleidoscope’ is the name of a new hydrangea developed in Holland. It flowers open pink, change to green, and then finish red. Here’s more info about from Spring Hill Nursery.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:33 am
  20. Nancy

    Need info on Kaleidoscope Series “Homigo” In San Francisco and Russian River
    Can you help?

    June 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm
  21. Cameron (Defining Your Home)

    ‘Annabelle’ is my favorite! I had so many hydrangeas at previous homes where these flowering shrubs were my specialty (along with hostas).
    Here at this house – I have ONE Endless Summer- I leave the pruning to the deer.

    January 29, 2010 at 3:42 pm
  22. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    I’ve seen them a lot bigger, Henry. And I’m talking about hydrangeas here.

    January 29, 2010 at 1:31 pm
  23. Henry H.

    Holy Friggin PeeGee!!!!!
    Who claims that beast!!!!!
    What is that, a standard!!!!

    January 29, 2010 at 12:29 pm

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