Home and Garden

How to Prune Bigleaf Hydrangeas


Almost everyone is enchanted by the large flowers of the bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla and cvs., Zones 4–9). And it seems that almost everyone who grows these flowering shrubs has questions about pruning. The thought is often that they need to be pruned because they are shrubs. Some gardeners also think that pruning their hydrangea could get them to bloom. None of these thoughts are right. Bigleaf hydrangeas grow well without pruning, and if you make your pruning at the wrong time, you can actually remove the flower buds you are hoping for.

Bigleaf hydrangeas usually bloom on old wood, which means the flower buds are based on the previous season’s growth. If you prune them before they bloom, you’ll remove the flower buds. Many newer strains actually produce buds on both old and new wood, so pruning too early doesn’t stop the whole show, it just stops a good portion of it. But if your hydrangea isn’t blooming, a poorly timed pruning is often the culprit. The best time to prune a bigleaf hydrangea is shortly after it has bloomed. The shrub will then have enough time to grow and harden before winter.

If you do decide to prune your bigleaf hydrangea this video will give you the information you need to properly plan your prunings and determine where to make them on the shrub. The only tools you’ll need are hand cutters and possibly a pair of pruning shears to get into the hydrangea. Also wear protective glasses. You may not think they’re cool, but it’s very easy to keep an eye on a stem when you’re trying to look down into the shrub. And a prick in the eye is never cool.

So stay safe, do it right, and enjoy your shrub.

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Robert Dunfee