Wish your hydrangeas bloomed more? It may be the way you are pruning them! Learn how and when to prune hydrangeas for the maximum number of blooms each summer!
We’ve been having a few pretty nice days this spring! One was so warm, I could have sworn it was an early summer day.
So I wandered outdoors with my AM coffee, fully knowing what was ahead.
Everything in sight needed pressure washing. Badly.
The lawn even needed mowing! Goodness… I was hoping the mower would even start.
However before feeling completely overwhelmed, I decided to start slow… and head over to the most prominent focus at hand.
The hydrangea bush needed some pruning as all the flowers were long spent.
It was time to clean this up and prune it right!
But it’s already spring. And there’s a bud showing! Is it too late to prune hydrangeas in the spring? Should they have been pruned in the fall instead?
When to prune hydrangeas to achieve the most blooms may come with the types of hydrangea, so it’s best to check a local source with a clipping of your own if you want to be sure.
However, from my own findings, I have found early spring is the perfect time to prune spent hydrangea flower buds to achieve the most blooms from the previous year. Here’s how and why.
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When to prune hydrangeas
to achieve the most blooms
Supplies you will need:
- garden clippers
- and possibly warm clothes because it’s still early spring!
When is the best time of year to prune hydrangeas?
Hydrangeas can be pruned right after they finish blooming. In fact, many do prune them at that time, when they cut the blooms off to display them inside or to shape the bush before the next growing season.
Theory states, next year’s blooms will be on new wood, so one should cut out the old branches, but leave the new shoots.
Since I like leaving hydrangea flowers on the bush well into fall due to their best flower drying harvest time, I suppose you could say I do some pruning in the fall in that way. However, I leave the majority of the pruning until spring. Until the new buds start to form.
I don’t prune to resize the bush. In fact, I’d like the hydrangeas to grow as large as they want!
I prune just to deadhead. The less you prune, the more blooms you will ultimately get.
- Wait until spring.
- Cut out any hollow sounding wood, as it’s dead.
- Dead head each spent flower to the closest bud, on an angle.
- Thin out or shape the stems and bush shape as desired. However, the less you cut, the better.
So let’s walk through the four seasons and I’ll share how and why waiting to prune until spring makes a difference.
Late Summer Blooms
Here is a shot of my hydrangea shrub during summer. This gorgeous bush with very abundant clusters is taller than me. I never feed it nor water it. I feel the success of this hydrangea is the way it is pruned.
The new growth and flower heads are always so abundant, you can barely even see leaves.
And by all means, if you wish to bring a few fresh cut hydrangea flowers indoors to decorate your home, please do!
However, it’s important to NEVER cut a full blooming hydrangea bush back hard. Allow it to do its thing proudly all summer long.
Summer (and winter) hydrangea mantel
Early Fall blooms
Here are the same hydrangea flower heads in fall around September.
The petals are starting to get crispy, which is the best time to dry hydrangeas for long lasting blooms year around!
So I cut the flowers I wish to dry, then leave the rest on the bush.
Learn how to dry hydrangeas HERE so they don’t wilt!
Fall hydrangea projects
Fall hydrangea blooms often wear multicoloured shades while they age and make spectacular showings in vignettes indoors. And of course, this is their best time of year to be cut to dry too!
Wicker basket fall hydrangea mantel
Scrap wood hydrangea flower box mantel
Can you believe the lime and burgundy hydrangeas came from a blue bush? It’s hard to believe isn’t it?
Late Winter Blooms
This is how my hydrangea looks in winter. All the flowerheads are completely brown, being LONG past their prime. Plenty of frost and winter has hit these blooms.
It’s important to remember that this old wood will provide next year’s flowers. So that’s why it’s important to wait the following year until spring before you prune.
Winter hydrangea projects
And yes, I cut some old blooms during winter as well to decorate with, because the flower buds are spectacularly neutral and add a very special texture to your displays.
Galvanized bucket winter hydrangea mantel
These are hydrangea petals glued onto branches from another plant!
Early spring blooms
However, the bonus on waiting to prune until spring? You can spot exactly where to cut due to the new buds.
The new buds forming are from last year’s growth you didn’t cut off, which will give you this year’s flowers.
The fresh buds will become the current season’s growth, and provide a gauge where not to cut. I always cut up to a bud. But never cut the bud off.
How to prune hydrangeas
Generally speaking, I’ve found hydrangeas to bloom much better if I don’t cut the oldest canes back hard.
Some hydrangeas bloom from old wood. I’ve also read that cutting them to the ground will produce larger blooms.
However, my findings are from my own trial and error. I flat out do not prune hydrangeas until I see buds form in the spring. And my bush has never failed me yet.
- Leave the old flowers on the bush all winter.
- Using hand clippers, cut the dead flower heads off when the buds start to form in spring.
- Cut the old bloom and wood back on an angle to the closest fresh bud. But never cut the bud off.
Should all the dead branches be cut back?
Some experts may suggest to do some drastic pruning by cutting out all the dead growth inside the hydrangea bush.
But I vote to leave plenty of crossing branches behind.
When I really cleaned up all the dead wood one year, I found the heavy abundant blooms really struggle to not hang super low to the ground. The dead wood inside the bush provided a built-in garden trellis of sorts, which supported the flower heads. Once they were removed, the heavy flowers lost their support and looked like they needed tying up.
So I now leave plenty of dead branches intact inside, so there’s loads of support when the flowers are in full bloom once again.
Here’s the new cleaned up bush! Some dead wood is left intact, while all the old flowers have been cut down to the first bud.
The hydrangea bush is now fresh and clean for the new growing season! And I haven’t cut one bud off I shouldn’t!
The pruned hydrangea bush
The bush is pretty much the same size, however I do slightly shape the bush so it looks visually pleasing too.
A few buds may be sacrificed for this, however I don’t overdo it. I’d rather have more flowers than a perfectly shaped hydrangea bush.
Pruning hydrangeas in late spring may not be the official proper way, however you certainly can’t argue with a bush that loves to bloom! So this is what works for me on the West Coast of British Columbia.
When do you prune your flowering bushes? What yields the most blooms for you?
Hydrangea arranging ideas
Dried hydrangea dresser outdoors
Make this 5-minute hydrangea wreath!
Hydrangeas in buckets on a ladder stand
Purple and lime hydrangeas in a reclaimed wood window box on mantel
Hydrangea mantel all in galvanized buckets
44 thoughts on “When to prune hydrangeas to achieve the most blooms (with project ideas!)”
I love your inspiring posts. I’m ready for spring and to see everything come to life again. Your pictures are beautiful.
Thanks Patty! I find new growth outdoors SO inspiring! Like we did something right even if we didn’t do anything at all… 😀
hi donna, i too leave my hydrangeas until spring. i live in northern new york so it will be at least a month before i am out trimming. my hydrangeas are all white (with a greenish tint). i so love your blue ones as blue is my favorite color. don’t see them much here. they are not as hardy as some others but i may have to invest in one. thanks for your tips. i loved your garden before but understand your need for simplicity.
Hey Mary, you’ll be pleased to know, all my flowerbeds in the front yard have remained. In fact, I’m getting them enhanced a little, cut larger and adding new soil this year. More to come!
I will also add some flowering bushes to the back yard at some point. However, whatever will be added will be lower maintenance. I just needed to start fresh in order to see the new possibilities again. But boy it’s clean right now… haha
P.S. I’d LOVE to add a white hydrangea bush to my own yard! Adore them.
Thanks for this post Donna. I have several hydrangea bushes like yours, only they bloom pink. I do need to get out and deadhead my limelight hydrangeas, they’ve been looking kind of sparse for the last couple years. I forget to deadhead the limelights in the fall every.single.year! They seem to have less blooms because of my laziness (uh oh :))
Ohhh I’d love a couple of limelights!
I’d suggest to take a clipping to your local nursery and see what they advise. Then plan to test their theory out… do one half of the bush their way, and the other half a different way. You will then know!
I have some weaker varieties in my front yard that need a little more attention too. I speculate the soil could be a big factor so will be adding some this spring.
Glad to hear you are recovered enough to be bike riding again!
Your hydrangeas have always inspired us all! But just some clarification from this gardening girl…..Not ALL hydrangeas can be pruned this way. Some actually form blooms on old wood from last year. Pruning them your way will result in no blooms at all. These fall into the macroohylla familyrics do must be cleaned up just after blooming. So be sure to check the botanical name on the plant label.
Thanks for your invaluable advice, Heather!
I got my advice (that I don’t really follow) from a gardening book I had on hand, but the advice on the net is all over the map! ie: Cut to the ground for larger blooms… etc.
I think it’s safe to say, if something isn’t growing to its full potential, dig a little deeper to see what could help. Taking clippings to a local gardening centre and asking for advice may be all that’s required.
p.s. And yes, thrilled to be on the bike taking pretty pictures again!
there are 3 kinds ….one grows on old wood only (these are the ones that if they get buds early and then it frosts…well…they don’t bloom that year cause the frost kills the buds…they still grow and get leaves tho), one grows from old and new growth…so you have half a chance anyway of getting buds and flowers….and one grows completely from new growth….these are the ones you can cut all the way down cause they regrow every year anyway….:)
That is absolutely gorgeous Donna! I was just looking around my yard over the weekend and once again, thinking about pruning my hydrangea! I’m going to do it you way this year–it’s so much easier! I hope I get the same results! Of course, today we are expecting nearly a foot of snow so, on this first day of spring, I’m going to have to put pruning on hold!
Oh dear. Are we done with winter yet?!
Well, at the very least, hopefully this post will inspire you to find your gardening gloves and start up again… as soon as the last snowman melts! 😀
Thanks for these tips. I have several hydrangea bushes and am always hit or miss on what I am doing, just mostly dead heading. I will take your advice and be a bit more deliberate in my care.
I do agree, the less is best. Mine, too, are showstoppers and I am asked what I do. Basically I ignore them, except to make sure they get water. I find flowering bushes more my style, as I hate weeding.
Spring is such a wonderful time of year. Love to you, Donna.
I’d say if your hydrangeas are showstoppers, you’re already doing it, even if you don’t do anything! haha
I do the same with my grapes. The yield is incredible each year. And I NEVER prune them. Only to shape them enough to keep them off the ground.
I love the ‘ignore’ plant species. They do well by me!
I think I have hydrangea envy…your hydrangea bush is absolutely beautiful. Your tips are really helpful. I live in southern Ontario so will have to wait until early May to start pruning my gardens. Your post has me anxious for spring to arrive.
I have 3 bushes and they don’t do well. I’m wondering if they are getting enough sun? They only get a bit of morning sun. Is that the problem?
Hey Sue, I’ve found my hydrangeas do best with some sun and some shade. The petals burn if the sun is too intense for too long. However too much shade has the blooms smaller and slow going.
Yours may require more than just AM sun. Perhaps plant a new one in a sunnier location to see if it helps?
Not all hydrangeas bloom on new wood. It is important for people to know what kind of hydrangea they have, and the proper pruning care.
Thank-you Erica, I’ll reword my post to reflect this advice.
Ahhh…the joys of being a homeowner.
Pressure washing is a must every Spring here in the Pacific Northwest. I have to make sure DH gets if completed before the window washers come in May.
The Hydrangea is one of my favorite plants. Their flowers whether fresh or dried are so versatile for decorating around the house.
I’m with you on this, less is more, I have four huge hydrangeas and I have pruned all the way down to about six inches from the ground and they did ok, but if I just dead head in the spring, wow they are gorgeous.
I’m like you I walk outside and just get overwhelmed and I have a hard time keeping my concentration on one thing (man I need help,haha).
I call my help ‘bike rides’. LOL I’m obviously no help here!
Great to know my method has been working for you too!
I’m in Northern NJ and we’re having another nor’easter tomorrow so it’s nice to see something green. Thanks for this post. Your hydrangeas look great. The only reason I do not cut back my hydrangeas is because the old wood helps hold up the new growth. Especially when there’s big flowers, my hydrangeas tend to sag all over the place. Having the rigid branches in there helps keep everything upright.
YES! Excellent reason to just dead head and walk away! I guess we’ll see how my hydrangea bush does this summer without all the dead supports… ha!
I’m so jealous right now 😀 How I wish I could get Hydrangeas to grow never mind bloom. I’m pretty good with growing almost anything but have never had any luck what so ever with these beauties. Help, I need some tips please Donna
Hey Michelle! It’s my experience that they like fertile soil, in a partly sunny / shady location. The petals sunburn easily so I don’t recommend them in full sun in super hot locations. Where do you live?
We’re in South Africa, so maybe it’s the heat that gets them. I should probably try planting them on the Southern side of the house where it’s a little cooler and they’ll only get early morning sun and dappled shade for the rest of the day. They’re just so beautiful
I love your posts. Hydrangeas are about my favorite flowers. I have only two bushes and I just remarked to my husband this morning that we should add some to my gardens. Beautiful blooms!
Good plan! My grandma use to have an entire row of them against the full length of her house. So low upkeep for so much return! Now you have me dreaming of getting more… 🙂
Ha ha, Donna … I understand the feeling, but I was hoping my lawnmower *wouldn’t* start because there is so much other stuff to do!
I’m heading out to look at my hydrangeas with your advice in mind! Thanks.
I love hydrangeas but have never had any luck with them.Maybe it was the way I cut them back or maybe didn’t cover them enough during the winter. I did not realize they would grow so tall. Your post was interesting and I will try again to grow them. My mom always had nice hydrangea plants and when she passed away I took some slips from her plants. Guess my green thumb isn’t so green
Please keep up the good work, you are very inspiring
We moved into our new house the first of December last year. We have a lot of hydrangeas. Some still have their flower heads on them and some are what look like dead sticks coming out of the ground. I have no idea what kind they are. Any tips for pruning?
Hi Mary, I’d suggest to try what I did in my post, just prune back to the next bud. Perhaps a picture taken in to a local greenhouse can help guide as well?
i have a hydranga in my yard was here when we moved her 3 years ago. its very big and green but has never bloomed. i plan to move it to anothers spot when is the best time to move it?
Hi Rosalinda! My best guess to move it would be in either fall or spring. Perhaps check with a local greenhouse and see what they suggest!
I keep reading about when to prune and realize you need to know the type.
I have one bush, type unknown bc I did not plant it and it did not do well for three seasons, then last year, I left the wood until spring and started to see new growth at which time I pruned, and I got the most flowers this year (still only 6-7 flowers), but then I got 9-10 fall flowers that were not all fully bloomed when the bush was hit by winter. So I did not get a fully blooming bush to enjoy. I thought that was strange. What do you think?
I also have two hydrangeas that I planted in another location. They are Queen of Pearls with the “mophead” white blooms. I have had those for two seasons with very little flowering. I am wondering if the third year will be any better. Based on what I have read, I plan to cut those all the way down in early spring. Is that correct? Is more feeding needed for those?
Hi Cheryl! I have a rule of thumb when it comes to hydrangeas… if they aren’t blooming, I leave them alone for a few years to see if they start. They usually do!
I’d suggest to check with a local nursery with a clipping if you’d like to know for sure.
You are so lucky to have one bloom like that. Especially blue. I can’t get them to grow!
That’s a beautiful hydrangea bush – you’re definitely doing something right 🙂
Thanks for the tips