Where to prune hydrangeas?

Pruning Hydrangeas

Q: I prune my mophead hydrangeas religiously every spring, and I never get any flowers! What am I doing wrong?

A: Mophead or French hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla var. macrophylla) are some of the easiest, most reliable shrubs gardeners can grow. They flourish without fertilizer, chemicals or even pruning for that matter. Their showy white, pink and blue blossoms put on a stunning display each year. But ill-timed pruning is often to blame for a lack of blooms.

Mophead hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla var. macrophylla).
Amy Dabbs, Horticulture Extension Agent, Charleston County, Clemson Extension

Macrophylla translated from Latin means “big leaf”, which is evident in the fat leaf buds that emerge on bare canes in early spring. Warm weather forces them to reveal their lush foliage and shortly thereafter, big happy flowers emerge in colors reflecting soil pH. Acidic soils produce blue flowers, alkaline soils produce pink flowers, and a neutral soil pH yields a purple or mauve color somewhere in between. While we turn our attention to summer vacation, these garden work horses immediately start gearing up for next year’s flowers by developing their buds for next season. While pruning is not necessary for big leaf hydrangeas to perform, the best time to remove dead canes or rejuvenate an older plant is immediately after flowering.

Ideally, avoid pruning big leaf hydrangeas after August 1st to avoid inadvertently removing flower buds for the next season. I say “ideally” because sometimes late season pruning is unavoidable. These vigorous growers can easily overtake their intended place in the garden. In this case, forewarned is forearmed. If you must prune in winter or spring after buds have formed, take care to remove no more than ⅓ of the canes to ensure at least a few flowers for next season. If your hydrangea has overstepped its bounds, you might consider pruning it back now and moving it to a more appropriate location. While it’s generally not recommended to move woody ornamental shrubs in the summer, I have found that hydrangeas are quite forgiving as long as they receive plenty of water and are shaded from harsh summer sun.

Mopheads aren’t the only hydrangeas that should be pruned immediately after flowering. Closely related, lacecap hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla var. normalis) should be treated just like their botanical kissing cousins. Personally, I think these refined beauties are underutilized in home landscapes. Their flat, lacy flower heads make them easier to incorporate into the landscape than their blowsy counterparts. Both appreciate a bit of shade from the afternoon sun and look great in mixed borders or massed together along a woodland edge.

Gardeners who yearn for hydrangeas but have too much sun for the big leaf types should consider the creamy white flowers and distinctively shaped foliage of the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Native to the southeastern United States, oakleaf hydrangeas can withstand more sun and require less water than their Asian relatives mentioned above. Soils should drain well as “wet feet” will result in root rot. Otherwise, they require almost no attention once established. These hardy deciduous shrubs should also be pruned soon after blooming so they can develop flower buds for the following year. Their flower color is not affected by soil pH. Along with gorgeous flowers, oakleaf hydrangeas also provide spectacular fall color and attractive exfoliating bark in winter. There are a several cultivars available, including ‘Snowflake’, ‘Snow Queen’ and ‘Harmony’.

If you feel like you will never get the hang of pruning hydrangeas, never fear, renowned plant breeder Dr. Michael Dirr has developed a group of “everblooming” hydrangeas that break all the old rules. ‘Endless Summer’ is a widely available mophead hydrangea that will bloom on both old and new growth, so gardeners can prune anytime without fear of losing flowers. If you have ever purchased a hydrangea only to have the color of the flower change without warning, ‘Blushing Bride’ is here to help. It starts out white and matures to a lovely pink regardless of soil chemistry. Lacecap lovers will enjoy the cool blues of ‘Twist-n-Shout’ that can also be relied upon to flower on old or new wood.

Other reasons hydrangeas do not flower include late season cold snaps that freeze flower buds and too much sun, which zaps the plants energy away from bud production. It makes me sad to see these pretty southern belles drooping in the heat of the day, so I have moved mine into deeper shade to avoid the need to water daily. Keep in mind they need a minimum of 3 hours of morning sun to flower. As for late season cold snaps, all we can do is watch the weather and provide protection by covering the canes with frost blankets when needed.

Planting Hydrangea Macrophylla

Endless Summer® Hydrangeas is a collection of Hydrangea macrophylla perennial shrubs that have the unique ability to re-bloom throughout the spring and summer months, giving more color and visual appeal to your garden for a longer period of time. Endless Summer hydrangea are known to bloom 10 to 12 weeks longer than average Hydrangea macrophylla plants and show well in colder climates since they are able to bloom on the current season’s new growth. Here are some basic guidelines to follow that will teach you how to grow hydrangeas:

Site Selection

When determining where to plant your Endless Summer hydrangea macrophylla, take a walk through your yard and make note of existing garden plants, spacing availability, areas that need splashes of color and amount of sun. Especially in northern climates, the location where you plant these hydrangeas is hugely important for bloom production. The farther north you are – Zones 4-5a – the more sun your hydrangeas can handle. We recommend planting your hydrangea macrophylla in a location that allows for full morning sun with dappled shade in the afternoon. The further south you live, the less tolerant the hydrangea macrophylla is to the intense sun. Allow for 2-3 hours of morning sun with afternoon dappled or part shade.

Soil Preparation

Other than climate, soil is the most important aspect of growing the plants that is naturally occurring. Making sure that your soil is properly prepared will hugely affect your overall plant health and bloom production. To begin, you have to determine what type of soil you have. Ask your local nursery for a soil test kit. Another home test is called the “Jar Test”. Dig down 4” and remove ¼ cup of your soil. Place that soil, along with 2 cups of water and a couple drops of dishwashing detergent, in a clear jar or plastic bottle. Shake the jar for approximately one minute and then let the contents settle for approximately 24 hours. The bottom layer to settle out is sand, with the next layer silt and the top layer (which may look like yellow-brown, red or tan water) being clay.

  • Sand: Sandy soil is determined if your jar is over half sand.
  • Silt: If you have very little clay and over half silt, you have heavy silt.
  • Clay: If you have ¼ clay and a good amount of silt, you have clay soil.
  • Loam: Loam soil will be 2/5 sand, 2/5 silt and a narrow layer of clay.

Once you’ve determined what type of soil you have, you can more effectively prepare the soil for your hydrangea macrophylla. The ideal soil type for these plants is loam. If you have a heavy clay soil, add gypsum to the soil to break up the clay and allow for drainage. A good rule of thumb is to apply 5 – 15 pounds of gypsum per 100 square feet. In sandy soil, peat moss can help absorb moisture. Additionally, good soil should have at least 5 percent organic matter, compost material also known as humus. This should be spread 2 – 6 inches deep across the entire bed. Hydrangeas typically grow best with a higher level of organic material. Especially in clay soil, organic matter creates air pockets that greatly help with water drainage.

Planting Hydrangeas:

Once you have prepared your soil, lay out the plants in your intended design. Be sure to keep in mind full mature size of the plants, ensuring that they will barely touch at full size. This will make your garden look full and allow for air to still circulate through the garden. Dig your planting hole slightly larger than the pot size, and place any fertilizer (see below), organic material or nutrients needed to improve your soil mix in the hole before putting your hydrangea macrophylla in place. If the roots are tightly packed, loosen them gently with your fingers before planting the hydrangea macrophylla to encourage root growth and spread once in the ground. Make sure that the crown of the plant – where the base of the stems meets the soil – is even with the ground level. If the hydrangea is placed too high, it can easily dry out. If the crown is placed too low when planting, it can cause hydrangeas not to bloom and potentially rot. Refill the hole with soil and pack it firmly around the crown to create a water dam around the newly planted hydrangea. Fill the dam with water, let it drain and then refill it.


Hydrangeas do especially well when fertilizers are effectively used in spring or early summer. We recommend using a granular, slow-release fertilizer with a high percentage of phosphorus (the middle number in the NPK ratio). Phosphorus is the element that encourages bloom production. Follow the package instructions when applying fertilizer and be sure not to use too much. Over-fertilizing can cause hydrangeas to grow big green leaves, but stunt bloom production.


Hydrangeas prefer well-drained, moist soil, but not wet; overwatering can cause hydrangea macrophylla to produce less flowers. Depending on your soil type, you will need to adjust how frequently and how much you water. Clay soil holds more water than sandy or loam soil types, and produces more runoff because it doesn’t allow as much water to soak in as a looser sandy soil. We recommend using a drip irrigation system, a soaker hose or hand watering the shrubs when the ground feels dry. If your hydrangeas are planted in an area that sees high temperatures, they may wilt a bit in the afternoon, but will revive when the temperatures cool down. You can assist with this by watering in the morning or evening when the wind is more still and the sun less hot. Using mulch is another great way of conserving water and keeping the ground cool. Mulched plants typically can go longer periods of time between watering than non-mulched plants.

Blue or Pink Blooms:

One of the most beautiful traits of an Endless Summer hydrangea is the ability to change the color of the blooms. A simple soil test from your local nursery can help determine your pH level, which will determine your hydrangea macrophylla colors. Other than Blushing Bride, which is a white hydrangea, soil with a pH below 6.0 (acidic soil) will produce blue hydrangea blooms and a pH above 6.0 will produce pink hydrangea flowers. Depending on your preference, you are able to change the color of your hydrangea colors to fit your desired color! Endless Summer has a formulated product that changes the color of your blooms. Color Me Pink™ adds garden lime to the soil to raise the pH level and produce pink hydrangea flowers. Color Me Blue™ adds soil sulfur to encourage blue hydrangea bloom development. These products are safe, organic and all-natural. There are also other natural remedies to changing hydrangea colors. To encourage blue blooms in alkaline soils, add aluminum sulfate, composted oak leaves, pine needles or coffee grounds. To encourage pink blooms in acidic soil, add wood ashes, lime or fertilizers with high levels of phosphorus (a ratio of 25-10-10 is best) to prevent aluminum from entering the plant’s system.

How to Prune Hydrangeas:

Endless Summer hydrangea macrophylla require very little pruning day-to-day, so you are able to simply enjoy the beautiful plants. These perennial hydrangeas bloom on growth from the current year as well as previous years, which allows for the re-blooming throughout the summer. If you prune too much, you will be removing potential blooms. If you prune to shape the plant or cut blooms for fresh hydrangea arrangements, be sure not to over-prune, or you will have less blooms next year.


If you live in an area with freezing temperatures, it is a good idea to protect your plants from freezing winter temperatures. Since Endless Summer® Hydrangeas bloom on last year’s growth (“old wood”) as well as the current season’s growth (“new wood”), you will get the most flowers by protecting the flower buds on the old wood. To do this, do NOT prune or cut back your shrubs after August 1st. Leaving the fall blooms on your plants over the winter provides winter interest, and ensures you aren’t removing buds that will become flowers in the spring and summer. Leaves, wood mulch and/or straw are good options to insulate your plants. Mound the mulch or leaves around your plants at least 12” high to protect the flower buds that will bloom early next year.

In the spring, do not remove the mulch too fast; wait until all danger of frost has passed before uncovering to ensure beautiful blooms from old and new wood. The “old wood” buds will provide early season color and the blooms forming on current season growth will typically occur roughly six weeks later and last through the end of the season. If your hydrangeas are planted in a container, bring the entire container into your garage or a cool basement for the winter months, and follow the same steps as garden-planted hydrangeas. Container plants will not require as much mulch, but should be lightly watered throughout the winter months since they will not receive moisture from snow and rain.


Dying hydrangea plants can ruin the look of your beautiful flower gardens. Find out how to revive hydrangeas with this simple trick!

If you’ve ever struggled with sad-looking hydrangea plants, then you definitely need to hear about this! It may just be the thing you need to revive your hydrangeas and make them look like those big, beautiful, summertime flowers that you’ve been dreaming about! My gardens look amazing now after I figured out how to revive hydrangeas.

a little while ago, I shared a few ideas for different ways that you can use baking in the garden. One of the suggestions was to try using a weak solution of baking soda in water on certain flowering plants. I’ve been testing this little trick out and it was looking pretty promising, but now I’m absolutely certain that it’s made a huge difference with my hydrangeas, so I have to share it with you!

Why are my Hydrangeas Dying?

I know how many of my fellow hydrangea lovers are out there and how many, like me, have suffered the brutal disappointment of less-than-stunning hydrangea plants. If this sounds like you, you’ve got to try this one!

I planted a couple of fairly large hydrangea plants about 4 years ago. According to the label, they were supposed to grow quite large, so I was really looking forward to having them be a major focal point of both my front yard and my backyard. Well. You know how this goes. The first year, they didn’t do much. They maybe even suffered a little damage and went down in size a little. The second year, same thing. The third year, same thing! What in the world? I kept waiting for them to get established and take off, but they just seemed to stay the same size, or maybe even get a little smaller every year.

What was worse was that one of the plants started to get brown, crispy leaves here and there and there were just a ton of flies and bugs always all around it. I tried all kinds of different things, but after reading up on it a bit, I found out that the bugs probably weren’t the problem. A lot of people had buggy hydrangeas and that mostly didn’t affect the plant’s health at all.

How to Revive Hydrangeas

Last year I tried the baking soda trick and it made such a huge immediate difference! For the first couple of months of the growing season, I watered my hydrangeas every 2 weeks or so with a mixture of 1 tablespoon of baking soda for every 2 quarts of water. I usually just split the one big watering can between all five of my hydrangeas, so not too much for each one.

Quick, Positive Results

Within a week I noticed a big difference! The worst-looking plant suddenly shot out in all directions, growing in size by at least 50% in those first couple of weeks. The buds now are so much bigger, healthier, and more abundant than in years past and I can’t wait to see how the blooms look in a few weeks! Even our really sad, tiny little hydrangea that was pretty much toast last year is coming back strong and it’s even trying to flower! These plants all started the season out looking like things were going to be the same as previous years, with those brown leaves and general small size.

Don’t mind my shadow in this picture! The mosquitos were terrible so I had to make a mad dash out to the back yard and back again to get this picture! So we get what we get with this one I guess! 🙂

We’re always a few weeks behind out here, so our flowers aren’t in full bloom yet but they look about a million times healthier than in past years!

Of course, it all comes down to soil. Adding the baking soda to the soil makes it just a little bit more alkaline, which is what these plants are supposed to love. It’s amazing that something so simple could make such a difference!

If your hydrangeas have always been a little sad-looking and you haven’t been able to figure out why, definitely give this one a go!

Do you have a trick you swear by for beautiful hydrangeas? Did you successfully revive hydrangeas in your garden?


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Hydrangeas look dead to me

You have described very well the way some hydrangeas look like during winter. But do not worry. Being deciduous plants, you have a good chance of seeing them come back in Spring. Below are some pointers on taking care of them. I have given you some general guidelines since you are not sure what kind of hydrangea you have (probably a hydrangea macrophylla, sometimes called a mophead hydrangea too).
* as best as you can, try to provide constant soil moisture. To determine when to water, test the soil daily for about two weeks by inserting a finger to a depth of 4″. When the soil feels almost dry or feels dry, water. Each time you water, make a note in a wall calendar. After two weeks, observe how often you watered. If you watered every 3/4/5 days for example, set your sprinkler to water on that same frequency. If the temperatures change by 10-15 degrees and stay there, use the finger method again for 2 weeks to determine how often to water.
While the shrubs are dormant in winter, feel free to reduce the amount water further. One watering every two weeks should be enough. A small, newly purchased shrub can do with 1 gallon of water per watering. Larger shrubs will need more. If you soil is sandy, add 50% more water than normally called for.
* hydrangeas prefer soil that is acidic but will tolerate some alkalinity. Nearby plant nurseries can tell you if your soil is acidic or alkaline. If not, I suggest you get a soil pH Kit sold at most local nurseries. It should give you a general idea of your soil’s acidity or alkalinity. If your soil tends to be alkaline, apply iron chelated liquid products, aluminum phosphate, garden sulphur… or green sand if you prefer organics. This will prevent the leaves from turning light green or yellow (with the leaves’ veins remaining dark green). This is a temporary condition called iron chlorosis, common on hydrangeas that are planted in alkaline soils.
* hydrangeas should not need any pruning unless they are planted in areas where their size at maturity becomes an annual pruning chore. In cases like this, consider transplanting elsewhere. Times when pruning would be recommended: when the blooms become small and sparse or when there is a safety hazard.
* hydrangeas need little fertilizer. In the southern half of the country, you can fertilize them twice a year using manure, cottonseed meal or some general purpose flow-release chemical fertilizer in May and July only. If you forget to fertilize for a whole year, do not panic. I could not notice the difference myself when it happened to me.
* about 3-4″ of any type of mulch will help conserve the soil cooler and maintain the soil humid longer. The mulch can be acidic or not; buy based on price. Apply mulch up to the drip line. If the area where the plants are is windy or gets hot during the summer, apply mulch about 1 foot past the drip line.
* flower colors: colored blooms will turn blue in acidic soil; colored blooms will turn a shade of pink in alkaline soil; white blooms will stay white. As the blooms grow old, the blooms will change colors (green, off white, different shades of pink/blue; brown, etc) based on the variety of hydrangea. Purple blooms occur when the soil is barely acidic; you can also see blues and pinks on the same shrub sometimes. Aluminum Phosphate helps turn colored blooms blue but be aware that a/s is toxic to azaleas, rhododendrons and other plants. Phosphaste helps turn colored blooms a shade of pink.
The sad looking leaves will disintegrate in a while. I ignore them. Other times, when they feel dry, they will almost fall apart if you exert light pressure on them.
Flower buds: with some exceptions, most buds in hydrangeas grow at the end of the stems so it is important to keep this in mind when pruning. Buds begin to develop at different times depending on the type of hydrangea that you have. Some hydrangea Macrophyllas develop buds starting July only. Other Macs develop more in mid-to-late Spring and thru the Summer. Since you are not sure what type of hydrangea you have, it may be best to not prune starting in July-ish. Safest time when you do not know the type of hydrangea: after blooming but before July. Buds are usually not visible until Spring arrives.
* do not expose the leaves to too much sun during summer. Sunscorch can make the leaves turn yellow (including the leaf veins). I provide shade to my hydrangeas starting around 11am during the Summer.
* Leaves will probably turn a litle unsightly when Fall arrives but some hydrangea leaves can turn nice Fall colors too.
* you should not need to winter protect in your zone. But while young, it may be a good idea to water on nights before days with wind advisories. Windy days can cause the leaves to wilt although older plants will get used to these problems and will not wilt as much as they grow older.
Hope this helps you SunDiego!

Deadheading A Hydrangea: Removing Spent Blooms On Hydrangea

Deadheading is a popular practice with flowering shrubs. The process of removing fading or spent blooms diverts the plant’s energy from seed production to new growth and saves the plant from having a wilted, dying look. Hydrangeas especially benefit from deadheading, as long as a few simple rules are followed. Keep reading to learn more about deadheading hydrangea blooms.

Removing Spent Blooms on Hydrangea

Since hydrangea blossoms are so big, deadheading a hydrangea makes a real difference in diverting energy to more important parts of the plant’s growth. You should carry out this practice all through the blooming season to encourage new blossoms and

keep your plant looking fresh. The method for deadheading hydrangea blooms depends upon the time of year.

If it’s before August, you should cut the spent blooms with a long stem attached. Examine the stem where it meets the larger branch – there should be small buds there. Cut the stem back as short as you like, making sure to leave those buds intact.

If it’s August or later, the plant is likely growing new buds along the stems in preparation for the following spring. Starting at the faded bloom, check around each set of leaves going down the stem. At the first or second set of leaves, you should see buds. Snip the spent bloom off well above those buds.

As you work, carry a cloth soaked in denatured alcohol. Wipe your pruners clean with the rag between snips to prevent the spread of disease through the bush.

Should You Deadhead Hydrangeas in Winter?

There is one time of year when deadheading a hydrangea may not be a good idea, and that’s right before winter. Buds for next spring’s blooms grow just below the old dead blossoms, and leaving them in place can provide the buds with good protection from the elements.

Jane Edmanson

JANE EDMANSON: Winter is a great time to put on some warm clothes and get out and start to prune. There’s heaps of plants that need pruning over winter and hydrangeas are one of them. Hydrangeas (Mophead Hydrangea -Hydrangea macrophylla)look at their best – and they’re good performers – in summer….beautiful flowers.

Have a look at this hydrangea over here. It’s gone into winter mode. Its leaves are yellowing – you might even see some mildew grey on the foliage. Don’t worry. Hydrangeas are deciduous – that’ll fall off and you’ll have no problem at all. Also, look…spent flowers from last season – they need to come off. It’s a good indication that you need to prune and I’m going to show you just how easy it is.

You look for those spent flowers and you go down that cane – the stem – till you see really nice healthy, powerful buds. What you do is, just prune them back, so like that. There’s the spent flower. That can make quite a good cutting as a matter of fact. You could stick that in and there’s a hardwood cutting….choung!….but the next little process is to find a stem that had no flowers. That doesn’t need to be pruned quite as hard. Here’s one here. No flowers from last season, so this one’s going to have flowers next year by just going down to two lovely healthy buds just a little way down the stem…prune that off like so and there we go.

All I’m going to do now is work my way all over the bush, always looking for a strong pair of buds. Prune about a third of the stems a little harder down the stem to get good foliage and prune the rest for big flowers in summer.

That might look like a very severe prune, but in actual fact, I’ve only taken off about two-thirds of the plant. I’ve left another third to grow on. That’ll be fine and even if you get really tough with your secateurs, right down at the base and you prune everything off, what will happen is, the ‘hydie’ will bounce back again…it may not have flowers this season, but it’ll have flowers the next season – so no panic. Good old hydies!

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