Hydrangea Pruning: A Mystery Solved

There is often a lot of confusion around pruning this Southern classic. When do I prune? Do I prune the stems to the ground? Isn’t pruning going to prevent my hydrangea from blooming? The answers to these questions are often solved by focusing on what type of hydrangea you are aiming to prune. The most common types are panicle, mophead, lacecap, and oakleaf hydrangeas.

Here’s A Brief Summary of Each Type of Hydrangea:

  1. Panicle Hydrangeas

These hydrangeas have large, white panicles of flowers that are unaffected by soil pH. While Limelight is the variety traditionally seen, its large size can be overwhelming in many landscapes. I like to opt for the dwarf variety Little Lime for its compact size, topping out at around five feet. Pinky Winky is another variety I love, because of the pink tinge its flowers develop and its moderate size of six to eight feet tall. All of these varieties can take full sun, meaning you can have hydrangeas on the south side of the house too!

  1. Mophead Hydrangeas

This is the most popular type of hydrangea whose flowers change color with soil pH. There are many varieties, but a key feature to think about when selecting from this group is to choose one that blooms on old and new growth. This protects your bloom from late frosts and especially harsh winters that can kill the growth back to the ground. Some varieties are Endless Summer, Bloomstruck (pictured above), and Nantucket Blue. Keep in mind that some varietals have a tendency to be one flower color or another, but soil pH can still override this. Hydrangeas planted in acidic soils will have a prominence of purple to blue flowers, while more alkaline soils will cause the hydrangea to turn pink.

  1. Lacecap Hydrangeas

Lacecap hydrangeas come from more than one species and are also affected by soil pH. If you want to try and alter the soil pH to change the color, you can make it more alkaline by adding lime to get pink blooms or to make it more acidic by adding peat, sulfur, or compost for blue flowers. A couple of our favorite varieties are Tuff Stuff and Twist n Shout for their hardiness and delicate blooms.

  1. Oakleaf Hydrangeas

Oakleaf hydrangeas are most at home in woodland and naturalistic landscapes, but be cautious if you have frequent deer visits! I like using the regular species Hydrangea quercifolia when space allows, but I opt for the dwarf varieties Ruby Slippers and Pee Wee when space is limited. Ruby Slippers’ flowers are especially red-tinged while Pee Wee’s blooms remain a truer white. A bonus of oakleaf varieties, they all sport good fall color, giving you another season.

Another group worth mentioning is the smooth hydrangea. Though not quite as common or diverse as other categories, this does include the popular white-flowering Annabelle hydrangea.

Pruning hydrangeas is a topic questioned time and time again. I’ll keep it simple, as pruning a hydrangea isn’t as overwhelming of a task as you may thing. I often prune hydrangeas minimally to remove dead growth, but spent flowers can remain for winter, as personal taste allows. The key to pruning hydrangeas is that you don’t do so at a time that will cause you to lose the next year’s blooms. Again, this is where re-blooming hydrangeas are a great choice since they will bloom no matter when you prune them.

As a quick summary, panicle hydrangeas should be pruned in the winter (Annabelle hydrangeas should also be pruned in winter), Mophead hydrangeas, Lacecap hydrangeas, and Oakleaf hydrangeas should all be pruned in the summer after they bloom. If you have a twice-blooming hydrangea, they can also be pruned in the winter.

I hope that this article will help you enjoy your hydrangeas to their fullest!

If you have further questions about hydrangea care, feel free to leave a comment below.

– Jennifer

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