Pruning Hydrangeas | Which ones to Prune and How

Pruning Hydrangeas | Which ones to Prune and How

Thinking of pruning your Hydrangeas? Let’s face it. There is a ton of misinformation on the internet when it comes to gardening. That is why I am not at all surprised when people tell me that they are scared to prune their hydrangeas.  Often owners of hydrangeas are confused about what pruning can and will do for their plants. Many hydrangeas don’t even require pruning.

Your hydrangea bush may look like a frilly lil’ thing but it is actually a woody plant that will live happily without ever being pruned. In fact, pruning at the wrong time can leave you heart-broken over a year without blooms! You may just want to keep your hydrangea shaped up a bit or keep its size in check. Maybe the shrub in your backyard is just too tall or the blooms on it are beginning to brown.  No matter your reasoning we are going to get you moving in the right direction and eliminate your FEAR of pruning hydrangeas!

To Prune or Not to Prune


If you have planted mophead hydrangeas, pruning them back is not required unless they are very old. If you simply want your shrubs to stay healthy, just trim off the dead stems and spent blooms. This type of pruning can be done at any time. If you want to reduce the size of your hydrangea bush there is a bit to learn before your get started. We will show you the method that is best for lacecap, mophead, and oakleaf hydrangeas as well as the proper technique for pruning Annabelles and paniculata hydrangeas.

Types of Hydrangea

The first step to properly pruning your hydrangea is identifying the type of hydrangea you have.  Here are some simple tips for determining what group your hydrangea belongs to.

BIG LEAF HYDRANGEAS - Hydrangea macrophylla (Mophead, Lacecap)

If the hydrangea in your backyard has heart-shaped, thick, shiny foliage with serrated edges, then you have H. macrophylla.  The leaves are significantly more textured than a smooth hydrangea.

OAKLEAF HYDRANGEA - Hydrangea quercifolia

The oakleaf is easy to distinguish.  The stems are very woody, and the leaves are actually shaped like an oak leaf.  Cone shaped flower heads is another feature of this group.

SMOOTH HYDRANGEAS - Hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle”

While the leaves are heart-shaped like big leaf hydrangeas, the leaves of smooth hydrangeas are thinner, matte-looking, and not as crisp as those of the big leaf. The blooms are large and round and made up of tiny individual flowers. Annabelle Hydrangeas are unique in that their flowers are green when they first open. They turn white and remain that way for 2 to 3 weeks before fading back to green.

PANICLE HYDRANGEAS - Hydrangea paniculata

This type of hydrangea has cone shaped flowers with long stems. The foliage is similar to smooth hydrangeas.

Now you are ready to read up on pruning your hydrangeas!


Deadheading is different from pruning. It is the removal of spent flowers from a bush. Luckily, no matter what type of hydrangea you have, you can remove the old blooms whenever you want because doing so does not harm next year’s blooms. Simply snip off the flowers right under the flower head.

Pruning Smooth (Annabelle) and Panicle Hydrangeas

The Annabelle and other varieties in this group unlike their mophead and lacecap counterparts, bloom on new wood. “New wood” is the growth that has developed during the current season. If you are growing this types, prune them anytime of the year except during spring when new growth has begun. Winter and early spring are great times to prune these hydrangeas. Since they are bare you can easily spot any problem branches.

Time and time again I have seen people cut their Annabelle hydrangeas to such an extent that all that is left behind is a sad, little plant with only a few inches remaining. Even though the bush will survive this sort of pruning and, yes, even continue to flower, you should avoid such drastic measures. The stems of the bush may not increase in length as a result of this type of pruning. You will also end up with thin, weaker stems that are less able to support the weight of these large flowers.

Now you are ready to tackle pruning your hydrangeas without fear! So, get to pruning…or don’t. You know what to do!

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