When to Prune Hydrangeas for Big, Showy Blooms

When it comes to hydrangea pruning, timing is everything. Learn when to prune hydrangeas for spectacular flowers next summer.

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When Should You Prune Hydrangeas?

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Let’s Dance Big Band bigleaf hydrangea

Hydrangeas are beloved summer-blooming shrubs. However, getting them to flower can be a challenge for gardeners, partially due to pruning mistakes. “Pruning hydrangeas can be confusing because each species should be pruned at a different time of the year,” says Ken Johnson, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. “The five common hydrangea types can be divided into two groups for pruning purposes: those that bloom on old wood and those that bloom on new wood.” Once you know what type you want to grow, you can learn when to prune your hydrangeas.

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Hydrangeas That Bloom on Old Wood

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Cityline Vienna bigleaf hydrangea

The first step is identifying what type of hydrangea you have. Then you can determine when you should prune it. Timing is everything!

Hydrangeas that bloom on old wood start to develop their flower buds for the next year in August and September. Therefore, just like lilacs, if you are going prune them, try to finish as soon as possible after they are done blooming—by August 1 at the latest. Wait any longer, and you risk removing the developing flower buds. That means no blooms next summer. Psst—here’s how to change the color of your hydrangeas.

The three commonly cultivated hydrangea species that flower on old wood are:

  • Bigleaf, mophead, and lacecap hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla
  • Oakleaf hydrangeas, Hydrangea quercifolia
  • Climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea anomala

There are some varieties of H. macrophylla that are reblooming, or remontant, meaning these cultivars will produce flower buds on both old and new wood. If the buds are nipped by frost or killed off during a harsh winter, all hope is not lost. The plant can still bloom on new wood. Examples of these types of hydrangeas are the Endless Summer, Let’s Dance series, and Tuff Stuff hydrangeas.

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Hydrangeas That Bloom on New Wood

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Incrediball smooth hydrangea

Hydrangeas that bloom on new wood produce their flower buds on the current season’s fresh growth. These plants should be pruned from late winter to early spring. They also can be cut back in the fall. This may weaken the plant, however. So consider limiting major pruning every other year or every three years to ensure your hydrangea’s health and vigor. Here’s more helpful tips for hydrangea care.

The two commonly cultivated hydrangea species that bloom on new wood are:

  • Hydrangea paniculata, which are commonly called panicle or PG hydrangeas, such as Pinky Winky.
  • Hydrangea arborescens, commonly called smooth hydrangeas, such as Incrediball.

Keep in mind that maintenance pruning, which includes removing diseased and dead wood as well as deadheading old flower blossoms, can be done at any time. Pay attention to timing so your hydrangeas will produce beautiful blooms for years to come!

Next, learn how to grow Limelight and Little Lime hydrangeas.

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.