Hydrangea Pruning Made Easy

Last updated : 21 November 2014

Hydrangea pruning!  When is the best time?  When is the correct time?

I promise to make this easy once and for all.

Hydrangea Nikko Blue

Hydrangea Nikko Blue

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Hydrangeas are confusing to say the least, but in this article I am going to set the record straight and simplify your gardening life.  For the most part Hydrangeas fall into two categories.  Those that flower on new wood, and those that flower on old wood.  Simple enough right?  Not really.  Then to make matters worse there are those that bloom on old wood and new wood.

21 Plants That Are Easy to Grow and Sell Like Crazy

Hydrangea Endless Summer is one that blooms on both old wood and new wood.  It blooms all summer long.

Hydrangea Nikko Blue

Hydrangea Nikko Blue

The Nikko Blue Hydrangea is in the Macrophylla family of hydrangeas and for the most part, but not always, Macrophylla Hydrangeas bloom on old wood.  So what does that mean?  What is old wood and what is new wood?  And should I care.  No, I really don’t think you should care.  It’s just to confusing to keep it all straight.  But for the record, I’ll show you some old wood and some new wood and explain why the gardening community makes such a big deal out this.

Hydrangea Old Wood and New Wood

Hydrangea Old Wood and New Wood

Look to the bottom left of the above photo.  See where I made the cut to remove this branch from the plant?  I made my cut into old wood.   Then if you follow along from where I made that cut over to the bottom right of the photo you’ll see where the new growth starts.  That’s the beginning of the new wood.  Notice how it’s light green in color?  It’s also softer and more pliable because it’s new growth from the current growing season.  As the season progresses and we get closer to winter this new growth begins to harden off so it’s durable enough to withstand the winter weather.

I should note, just for the record, that I took this photo on July 2nd.  The old wood that you see in the photo was from last years growing season.  The new wood of course is from this years growing season.  Why does it matter?  I’m glad you asked.

Some hydrangeas, many in the macrophylla family, start producing flower buds this summer for the following year.  So if you prune your hydrangea too severely late in the season you are likely to cut off many if not all of the flower buds for next year.  Same thing with Rhododendrons, Azlaeas and some other plants.  So ideally you should prune them right after they bloom then leave them alone.  However, with Hydrangeas that’s not easy to do because the new varieties like Endless Summer can bloom well into the fall.   Hmmmmm.  That’s a problem.

Now lets talk about those other Hydrangeas.  The ones that don’t bloom on old wood.






Members of the Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens families are Hydrangeas that bloom on new wood only.  So what does that mean?  When these hydrangeas start growing in the spring they grow like crazy, putting on all kinds of new growth until early or mid summer.  Then the plant stops growing and immediately starts making flower buds right on the end of the new branches that it just produced.



 In the above photo you can see the new growth, then right at the end of that new growth the flower bud is formed.  Is that a good thing?  It is indeed because that means that no matter what kind of crazy pruning your spouse did to the plant last fall, this type of hydrangea is very forgiving and will bloom in spite of any excessive pruning it may have received.

No winter damage.  This is a huge benefit because this type of hydrangea does not carry any flower buds into the winter that need to survive all the way through winter into summer of the following year.  That also means that a late frost that completely wipes out the plant in the mid to late spring will not hamper it’s ability to flower.  As soon as the plant bounces back from that late frost damage it’s off to the races with new growth, then flowers.

The macrophylla hydrangeas are not that forgiving.  If they receive heavy freeze or frost damage you might not see any blooms at all the following season.  Or if you do, it will be near the end of the summer before you see them.

So all of these different scenarios make the “when do I prune my hydrangea” question really hard to answer.  Those that flower on new wood can be trimmed really hard in the fall or early spring and they’ll still bloom.  Those that bloom on old wood really shouldn’t be pruned hard in the fall and not at all in the spring.

Still confused?  Yeah, me too.

When I set out to write this article I thought this was going to be easy to explain.  It’s not.  It’s really, really confusing because now all of sudden we have new varieties of hydrangea that like to bloom on new wood and old wood.

So here it is.  This is the answer in a nut shell.

If your hydrangeas need pruning, prune them right after they finish blooming.  Doesn’t really matter what flavor they are.  Prune them right after they bloom.  I noticed when trying to get these photos that even those that bloom on old wood send those blooms from deep within the plant.  So unless you are cutting your plants back really hard, you should still leave plenty of flower buds for next year.

It’s really the only window of time that you have.  If you wait any longer you are sure to cut off flower buds for next year.

Now, with that said.  If you know for sure that your Hydrangea is from the paniculata or arborescens families of Hydrangeas you can prune really hard late in the fall or early in the spring and you’ll be fine.  But if you’re not sure, just get in the habit of pruning them right after they are done blooming.

Boy, I hope this helps.

-Mike McGroarty

You can grow and sell plants just like this and people will go
crazy over them.  Getting started is easy.  Start right now!



  1. Mary says

    I have a niko blue, which has bloomed 2 times in about 6 years. I was told not to cut back the branches in fall as that is where the bloom buds are, but they never even leaf out in spring and so really detract from the bush. The bush grows out from the bottom and looks nice otherwise. I covered the bush this past winter but still nothing on the old wood. any suggestions what to do to get some blooms?

    • says

      Mary, Nikko blue blooms on old wood which means that the flower buds can easily get damaged over the winter. Prune as you see fit, right after they would normally just be done blooming.

    • says

      I have a Blue Lace Cap and the new growth comes from the center of the plant. I have seen buds on the old wood but they have never got any leaves on that part of the plant and usually, the winter kills them off and then in spring, I cut them off because the look so bad. I have waited but nothing ever grows on the stems from the year before, the new leaves always comes up in the center of the plant. So……………………………

      • says


        All you can do is wait and up for a milder winter. Add a couple of Endless Summer hydrangeas to your yard, they’ll bloom for you nicely no matter what the winter.

  2. Percy says

    Thanks for that advice. I transplanted 2 of our hydrangea about a month ago. They are blooming from new growth. Now I know the variety and when to prune. I planted one close to the house under the shade and the other away from the house in the sun. We will see next year how they compare. Right now the one in the shade is doing much better. I took notes from your article and put the notes in my “plant” file for future reference.
    Just an unrelated note. Our Monkey Grass is spreading like wild fire. I pulled some of it up and put into cutoff milk cartons with holes stabbed in the bottom. I sold 8 containers of them in my yard sales for .50 cents each. So, I made $4.00 from something I was going to throw out. Next is my Wondering Jew. :)

  3. Pat Hight says

    ok, but what is oak leaf hydrangea and does this pruning info apply to it. i would like to make starts.

  4. Lynne says

    To Barbara,
    Yes, the PeeGee Hydrangea likes a lot of sun to bloom but the Annabelle is the only Hydrangea that will tolerate shade. I have some growing in full shade AND in full sun here in Pittsburgh. The ones in full sun get larger and bloom more but they will do fine in shade. The Mopheads need at least part sun and the Panicles like Limelight or Tardiva like full sun. If you can’t get your Mophead to bloom you can check the PH or take a shovel into the dirt around your Hydrangea and “pretend” to dig it up. This will sometimes stimulate blooming. Also in the spring, check for buds, they may have been eaten by deer or groundhogs and of course then they will not bloom.

  5. Susan says

    Thanks for the article, Mike. I have Endless Summer and they were beautiful up until the fall. I just cut the blooms and dried them for the winter. This spring – I had lots of dried wood stalks. After our hard frost this early Srping, I finally cut off those dried and dead stalks. Now, I have beautiful full leaves and o blooms. Is it because of the frost do you think? Any chance I’ll get a bloom by the end of summer on my endless summer?

  6. Arlene says

    I have a question about my honeysuckle vine.
    When it blooms in the spring it is beautiful. Imediately after blooming it starts to die. A dusty look to the leaves until they all drop off. It looks awful and this has happened for the last five years. I sprayed it & even treated it w/an systemic insecticide. Nothing helped. I have decided to cut it down. I don’t think there is any hope for it anymore. Any thoughts?

    • says

      Arlene, sounds like powdery mildew to me. A good hard pruning in the fall will thin it out. You can treat for powdery mildew, but normally I don’t. Powdery mildew is humidty driven, some years are worse than others. The is a fungal issue not an insect issue.

  7. Richard Holt says

    Mike, I’m losing trees, bushes this summer because of heat stress, lack of water here in s.e. Illinois. Would trimming the branches back on my bradford pears or hard maples help these trees or bushes survive the drought?

  8. Trevor McPherson says

    Hi to all of u dirt diggers.
    I live in Melbourne Australia for 74 years i was interested in the replies from many gardeners regarding looking after hydrangers.
    My experience in pruning these cretters is do’nt be over cautious,for the last 20 Years
    at my bowls club i usually prune about 2 thirds of them in late July much to shock and awe by some of member,come Sept growth come November blooms and the members off my back.

  9. Winn says


    Could you explain to your reading audience how to change the color of Hydrangeas from blue to pink or pink to blue, what to use,
    how much to use or the appropriate amount etc. Does over treating get a result of a deeper pink or blue? Can you make a Nikko Blue Hydrangea a deeper blue?
    Also what type of Hydrangeas is best suited for this color change.
    And last but not least, does planting location(which side of the house)north,south,east or west have an effect on color change?
    Do Hydrangeas come in “Purple”?
    Any advice you could share would be very appreciated.
    Thank you in advance for you time and consideration.
    We look forward to reading your response.


  10. Hellen says

    I love the article on pruning hydrangeas. Is there any way to print out the article so that I could save it? Thank you!

    • Percy says

      Try highlighting his article (hold down left mouse clicker and drag to end). Go to FILE and click on print. In your print screen, tell it to print selected. This may print every thing. But, if your lucky, it will print your highlighted print only. Good Luck.

  11. Cathy says

    Wow! I’ve gotten your planting emails for two years. And this one was the first one I opened. Newly retired I feel like this can now be a hobby. I have a hydrangea pushed between an above ground swimming pool and shed in a patch of dirt not more than 3′ x 6′ and honestly just plopped it in the ground – growing like a champ! Keep sending your emails. It sure has caught my eye!!

  12. Jeff says

    Thanks Mike for all the wonderful insight in all of your articles and videos
    I’ve got 2 hydrangea mophead varieties I started from cuttings 3 seasons ago from a neighbors gorgeous Plant (about 6 feet tall and full of blooms) During dry spells my plants wilt horribly but come back with watering. Sometimes too late and some of the leaves curl up and dry out. Although it comes back every spring the blooms are sporadic and rather anemic looking.They get good morning sun and dappled sun throughout the day How can I improve their growth? Thanks for any advice

  13. carolyn says

    mike,this is not abounthydranges,but about my rohdodendrems. I planted them last fall, they have not grown, and have not bloomed. what is wrong

    • says

      Carolyn, Rhododendrons do like wet heavy soil. They like the soil almost dry, but they do need water. But when you water the excess water must drain away. They also need oxygen to their roots so make sure they are not planted too deep and the top of the root ball is covered with mulch and very little soil. Do not fertlize them. The like to be planted in soil that is high in decomposed organic matter.

  14. Sherry Gale says

    Thanks Mike! A couple of years ago, I took cuttings in the early spring around the bottom of the plant, and left the pots around the mother plant and watered like crazy. Mother plants bloomed like crazy but the cuttings didn’t bloom until the second year, but they were beautiful!

  15. jyoti says

    Hi I have 2 hydrangeas growing close together however one of them has kind of anaemic leaves.meaning veins are dark green but rest of it is lighter.Is it ok or I should give some special feed to it?

  16. Joe (UK) says


    Bought a new hydrangea this year for the first time and is in full flower. However the flowers seem to flop over in the rain and the stems holding the flowers look quite thin. Do they need to be staked each year or perhaps have I bought a plant that may have been forced in a greenhouse?

    • says

      Joe, it’s not unusual for rain to pull down hydrangea blooms. It is possible that the plant was forced as well. I don’t think I’d do anything for now unless you want to stake up the blooms, then just see what next year brings.

  17. Karen Kuckreja says

    RE: the article on pruning Hydrangeas, What a fine explanation! I really appreciate your clarity. Thank you so much.

  18. Carolyn says

    I purchased an “all summer beauty” hydrangea from a reputable nursery May 1. Shortly after planting the leaves started turning rust color on the edges and now they have died. There are small new leaves emerging on the wood. Is there a chance that I will have bloomms next summer?

    • says

      Carolyn, as long as you have new growth that’s a good sign and I’m pretty sure All Summer Beauty will make flowers next year on the new wood.

  19. Tim Landers says

    We have hydrangeas of all type and they are blooming like crazy in the sun ,shade,acid soid,alkalye soil it doesn’t seem to matter.

  20. Lynda says

    Thanks to you, Mike, I finally (after 4 years)have flowers on my hydrangeas. In previous years, I have cut them to the ground because I didn’t like to look at the stalks throughout the winter. Last year, I decided to take your advice and leave them alone. Wow – they are gorgeous today !! Thanks so much and keep the articles coming.

  21. Elizabeth Smith says

    Thank you Mike, I went out to look and i have a Hydrangea Paniculata-Arborescens. The Blooms are on the end of the wood only. It is full of White Blooms. It doesn’t turn a color..
    This is a old plant too.
    I enjoy all your video’s and i just wish i was young enough to do your program.. Thank you so much.

  22. Karen Renne says

    Hi Mike…After looking at the pictures above I realize my hydrangea blooms on old wood. Apparently the early frost destroyed the buds as there were just dried out sticks poking out of the rest of the green leaves. They also had dried out buds on the sticks. I cut these way down to the ground because they looked so bad, therefore, no flowers as of yet. Will they grow back and give me flowers next year?

    • says

      Karen, yes you should have flowers next year as long as the flower buds make it through the winter okay. I know that doesn’t sound overly optimistic but I think you should be fine. Each and every year it’s us and the plants with or against Mother Nature. Some years are incredible, others frustrating. But we just keep on doing what we do because we should.

  23. Bill Lawler says

    If you live in Mobile, Alabama your hydrangeas need some shade. Annabella not as much as the mop head. Mop head will not grow in full sun here.

  24. CJ says

    Thanks so much for this info! I had hydrangeas about 25 years ago, pruned them severely after they bloomed and they died the next year. Haven’t been brave enough to try again. Now I will!

  25. Vickie says

    I have the Annabelle and it get the flower heads but does not fully flower. What do you think? It is planted on the north but gets full sun until 2-3 in the PM. I have used Muracid; do you think it is not enough sun?

  26. SherryM says

    Interesting article, but I’ve always liked to leave old blooms for winter interest, and then I prune in early spring. It’s worked for me..You can see where to prune because there’s new growth. My hydrangea is a lacecap, that’s all I know.

  27. Joan Albertson says

    I have 2 Hydrangea bushes that we inherited when we moved into our home.
    We live in central Florida and in the 2 years we have lived here, I can’t figure out when the seasons change!
    I’m used to living up in Maryland so this is a whole new experience.
    What month would I prune?

  28. Jo says

    Mike my hydrangea was planted this year..in June its called Pinky Winky hardy Hydrangea. I googled it and it is nothing like any in your article. Its my first try at hydrangeas . I love them can you tell me if the care of it is so much different than the ones in todays article.
    Thank you for all you do


    • says

      Jo, Pinky Winky is one of the newer varieties and should flower all summer which means you can prune it at the end of summer.

  29. lilly says

    Thank you so much for this article! I have been trying to find a decent article on this for ages! Because I one time pruned one of mine and didn’t get flowers the entire next year so obviously I cut the wrong wood. I now have 2. They are both in beautiful bloom right now. One of them was just a “throwaway” desk plant that someone was given and gave to me. I stuck it in a larger pot with good soil and feed a little and it’s now about 3 feet tall and the biggest flower is the size of a medium (round) watermelon). I am going to need to repot when it’s the right time into a larger pot.

  30. cheryl lynch says

    Thanks, Mike. That sounds easy enough. But what about climbing hydrangeas? Mine look great climbing a fence, but not a bloom in over 7 years. Not alot of sun, is that the problem?

  31. Jan says

    Dear Mike,
    I enjoy all you tips and information. I read every time you send out a mailing. I did however not get what I needed to know about the Endless Summer Hydrangea plant. I read what you wrote about the Hydrangea but still did not understand what to do with my Endless Summer ones. Please be more specific.

    • says

      Jan, Endless Summer blooms on both new wood and old wood. So if yours needs pruned I’d prune it at the end of summer. Just don’t cut it back really hard unless you have to.

  32. says

    …Or DON’T prune your hydrangeas at all. Maybe take off the dead flowers if you don’t like them, or if the wind doesn’t take them first, but otherwise it’s not really necessary. Trim out the dead wood when you notice it but otherwise forget this obsession with cutting – LEAVE THEM ALONE and they’ll most likely be beautiful year after year!

  33. Robert Berger says

    Mike, My Hydrangea’s bloom like crazy every year. However when it rains, they bend over to the ground and don’t recover when dried out. The stems seem weak compared to others in my neighborhood. I’ve tried several methods of supporting them, but no success. They’re just weak stemed.

  34. cindi says

    I have black spots on my leaves again this year. I sprayed an anti-fungal (blue liquid) last year. What do you suggest and how often do I need to apply? I live in Savannah high humidity and we have had a good bit of rain too.

    I am going to try to prune my the right way this year too!

    • says

      Cindi, if there’s anyway you can improve air circulation within the plant that will help and don’t water them at night. You don’t want them going to bed with wet hair.

  35. Jerry says

    Mike.. My Hydrangea’s bloom on New Wood and are cut back ‘to the ground’ every fall..and just get larger and more beautiful every summer! I have seen the ‘Nikko Blues’ in my local supermarket sold as indoor potted plants..is it possible to grow them outdoors, or being greenhouse raised, they are not able to withstand the climates outdoors ? Are they a different variety ?

  36. lisa says

    I planed my hydrangea 4 years ago. First I didn’t know that I pruned it so badly.
    It is still alive until now, it looks so heatlhy with a lot of new branches every year. It produces one or two flowers every year. The size of the flowers is okay, but the height of the bush never passed 30 cm.
    Originally I think it’s a normal size 70-80 cm. I planted it in a full sun location.

    • says

      Lisa, all plants are pretty simple. Give them good soil and enough water but not too much water and ample sunlight and they will grow exactly as they are supposed to grow. If that’s as tall as yours gets, that’s what it’s supposed to do. Plants are also individuals and not every one will act like the others. That’s how we get new introductions into the plant world.

  37. mary ann says

    Hi Mike!! i am looking for spikenard,lilic, and some basil-cinnomon. sorry this is not about hydrangeas. I’ll take seeds, or plants. I enjoy your news help !!!!!!!

  38. Teresa Mealer says

    I know nothing about flowers! Before I move here, my Hydrangea was very beautiful and full of blooms each year.
    After I moved here, I’m lucky if one or two blooms come on it.
    Now I’m legally blind, so I cannot see your pictures properly to tell where to prune them.
    Can I bring it back to a beautiful state?

    • says

      Teresa, if your hydrangea is planted in good soil and kept watered when dry it will find it’s own way back. That’s what plants do. If they are growing under the right conditions they grow vigorously.

  39. Roslyn Parsons says

    last year i bought three hydrangea plant one is blooming beautifully, one is big and green
    no buds, one is very small, but blooming.
    can you tell me what the problem could be?

    • says

      Roslyn, just give them time. Keep them watered as needed. The flower buds may have been damaged over the winter and only time can fix that. My endless summer are just starting to make new buds right now.

      • brenda says

        I have a beautiful hydrangea that I have had about 6 yrs, it gets little sun also and took about 3 yrs to bloom. I started using holly tone product and love it. I use that on all acid loving plants. Very good product.just sharing

  40. Gerry says

    Good Morning Mike, Thank You for the nice summary on pruning. MANY years ago when I worked at a wholesale nursery I decided to prune ALL of my flowering shrubs less than a month AFTER flowering, IF I did not get to it then I would wait for following year to prune OR know that most or all of next years blooms were going to be gone after late pruning. Your description of different hydrangeas really helped. Keep up the GREAT postings

  41. Jeff N says

    Have not gotten any flowers yet this season. What kind of fertilizer should I be using? I don’t even see a hint of buds so afraid will not be seeing any flowers.
    One question, my area has a large population of rabbits. Is it possible they are eating the flower buds? Do they eat rose buds? Thanks for such a great site and sharing so much excellent information…

    • says

      Jeff, if you fertilize at all use something that is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous. Nitrogen causes lots of growth which slows flower production. Good soil, plenty of water as needed and patience.

  42. Fran Smith says

    Boy that was a mouthful! I’ll have to be more careful at pruning mine. This really got me to thinking about them.

  43. Val Prest says

    This article is a cut above the ordinary. I have been wondering about my several kinds of Hydrangeas, especially “Endless Summer”. Now I know. Thanks.

  44. Barbara Lowrie says

    I have three hydrangeas and none of them has bloomed since I planted them. They look healthy but no flowers. Two get some sun but not much and the other one gets half sun. Any suggestions?

    • says

      Barbara, the PG hydrangea and Annabelle really need sun. Those are the ones with white blooms. The others need sun, but will tolerate some shade. Just let them grow. They’ll find they’re way eventually. Flower production is a sequence of events that happens naturally when the growing conditions are right.

    • says

      We had a Hydrangea that we had given up on and it seemed that the place where it was planted was not suitable. So, we dug it up and moved it…and again….and again. Finally over the last two years it loves its home and is shade most of the day. It has grown and blooms realy good. Since then I planted two more that receive full sun and they have bloomed good this first year. They finally have put on new growth. I think sometimes it just takes patience and good soil.

    • Libby says

      I’ve found that when I transplant hydrangeas, it takes a season or two for it to bloom again. I’ve also noticed that this year, every hydrangea I’ve seen is bursting with beauty…maybe the mild winter?

      • says

        Libby, if you do transplant them make sure you only do so when dormant. A mild winter is always good news to a hydrangea.

        • Debbie says

          I have a Blue Bunny hydrangea that did practically nothing for 2 years. I finally replanted it this year to a shaded area in July & it took off almost immediately! (too much sun I believe) I’m just now getting the first flowers on it since I planted it 2 years ago & it is actually growing. I guess this would be the exception to the rule of only planting when dormant??

    • Mark Fredrick Cleveland, MEDINA,Ohio says

      liquid fertilizer weekly in growing season:April to sept1. Miracle grow?bloom booster 15-30-15.or thereabouts. AND ALUMINUM sulphate IF you want BLUE! dont disturb the roots when weeding, etc.

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