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How to Prune Hydrangeas for Winter

Learn the art of winter pruning for hydrangeas in our guide! Discover expert tips and techniques on how to prune hydrangeas for winter.

How to Prune Hydrangeas for Winter

Pruning hydrangeas for winter is a crucial task to ensure healthy growth and vibrant blooms come springtime.

While it may seem daunting at first, with the right knowledge and techniques, you can master this essential gardening skill.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about pruning hydrangeas for winter.

From understanding the different types of hydrangeas to step-by-step pruning methods, we’ve got you covered!

Related Reading: Hydrangea Fall Care: 10 Expert Tips

Understanding Hydrangea Types

Before you start pruning, it’s essential to understand the type of hydrangea you’re dealing with, as different varieties require different pruning approaches.

We have written a comprehensive post on the main types of hydrangeas, but here’s a quick rundown just in case.

(If you have mountain or climbing hydrangeas, be sure to read this guide.)

The most common types of hydrangeas include:

1. Bigleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla)

mophead hydrangea - bigleaf variety
Mophead Hydrangea

Known for their large, mophead or lacecap flowers, bigleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood. This means they set their flower buds in late summer or early fall for the following year’s bloom. Pruning them at the wrong time can result in fewer blooms.

2. Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata)

Panicle hydrangeas produce cone-shaped flower clusters and bloom on new wood. They are more forgiving when it comes to pruning and can be pruned in late winter or early spring without sacrificing blooms.

3. Smooth Hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens)

smooth hydrangea - annabelle
Annabelle Hydrangea

Smooth hydrangeas produce large, rounded flower clusters and also bloom on new wood. They can be pruned in late winter or early spring to promote new growth and abundant blooms.

4. Oakleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia)

oakleaf hydrangea sun

Oakleaf hydrangeas feature large, oak-shaped leaves and cone-shaped flower clusters. They bloom on old wood and should be pruned after flowering to avoid cutting off next year’s buds.

Old Wood vs. New Wood

Understanding the difference between old wood and new wood is essential, especially when it comes to pruning certain types of plants like hydrangeas.

These terms refer to the age of the branches or stems on a plant and play a crucial role in determining the timing and method of pruning.

Pruning Hydrangeas for Winter

Old Wood

Old wood refers to the previous year’s growth or older branches/stems on a plant. On deciduous plants, old wood is often thicker, more rigid, and may appear woody or brown in color.

Old wood typically contains dormant buds that formed during the previous growing season.

This means that they set their flower buds during the previous growing season, and these buds remain dormant through the winter until they bloom in the following spring or summer.

Pruning these types of plants at the wrong time, particularly in late summer or fall, can result in the removal of next year’s flower buds, leading to reduced or no blooms.

New Wood

New wood refers to the current season’s growth or younger branches/stems on a plant. On deciduous plants, new wood is often thinner, more flexible, and may appear green or lighter in color.

New wood typically develops throughout the current growing season.

This means that they produce flower buds on the current season’s growth, and these buds develop in the spring and summer, ready to bloom in the late summer or fall.

Pruning these types of plants in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins, encourages vigorous growth and promotes abundant blooms in the current season.

(Hopefully, that helps!)

Now, let’s get to our topic of the day – how to prune your hydrangeas for winter.

Learn the art of winter pruning for hydrangeas in our guide! Discover expert tips and techniques on how to prune hydrangeas for winter.

How to Prune Hydrangeas for Winter

Now that you’ve identified your hydrangea type, it’s time to learn the proper pruning techniques.

Pruning Bigleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla):

Bigleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood, meaning they set their flower buds in late summer or early fall for the following year’s blooms.

Here’s how to prune bigleaf hydrangeas effectively for winter:

  • Timing: Wait until after they bloom to prune, typically in late summer or early fall.
  • Identify Dead or Damaged Branches: Remove any dead or damaged branches to encourage new growth.
  • Deadheading: Cut back spent flower heads to just above a set of healthy buds, promoting fresh growth and future blooms.
  • Avoid Late Pruning: Pruning in late summer or fall can remove next year’s flower buds, so refrain from cutting them during this time.

Pruning Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata):

Panicle hydrangeas bloom on new wood, making them more forgiving when it comes to pruning.

Follow these steps to prune panicle hydrangeas for winter:

  • Timing: Prune in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.
  • Remove Dead or Weak Branches: Trim away any dead or weak branches to encourage vigorous growth.
  • Shape the Plant: Cut back stems to just above a set of healthy buds or to shape the plant as desired, maintaining an open and balanced structure.
  • Thinning: Thin out crowded branches to improve air circulation and light penetration, reducing the risk of disease and promoting healthy growth.

Pruning Smooth Hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens):

Smooth hydrangeas also bloom on new wood and can be pruned in late winter or early spring.

Follow these guidelines to prune them effectively:

  • Timing: Prune in late winter or early spring before new growth emerges.
  • Remove Dead or Diseased Branches: Trim away any dead or diseased branches to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Shape the Plant: Cut back stems to just above a set of healthy buds, maintaining a tidy and well-proportioned appearance.
  • Rejuvenation Pruning: For older plants, consider rejuvenation pruning by cutting back older stems to the ground, promoting fresh growth and improving overall plant vigor.

Pruning Oakleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia):

Oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood and should be pruned after flowering to avoid cutting off next year’s buds.

Here’s how to prune oakleaf hydrangeas for winter:

  • Timing: Prune after flowering, typically in late spring or early summer.
  • Remove Dead or Weak Branches: Trim away any dead or weak branches to encourage new growth.
  • Shape the Plant: Cut back older stems to the ground to rejuvenate the plant and maintain a balanced shape.
  • Selective Pruning: Shape the plant as desired by selectively pruning branches, promoting a natural and attractive form.

There – now you know how to prune hydrangeas for winter!

By following the appropriate pruning techniques for each type of hydrangea, you can ensure healthy growth, abundant blooms, and a stunning garden display year after year.

Take the time to understand the specific needs of your hydrangeas and prune them accordingly, reaping the rewards of your efforts when spring arrives.

Happy pruning!

Your Fellow Hydrangea Lover

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