How to Prune Hydrangeas

Written by Daniel Woodley. Reviewed by horticulturist Elizabeth Smith. Published to Hydrangeas on the 22nd August 2021. Updated 1st March 2023.

We independently research, combine and grow plants in our gardens. If you buy something via links, we may earn a commission. Explore our editorial process.

Danny Woodley

Daniel Woodley

If you’re new to growing hydrangeas or you’re an old hand that’s come across an issue with pruning, let me help you master this process with our easy-follow guide.

I’ve met several gardeners over the years who have struggled with pruning hydrangeas and the problem was the lack of flowers that appeared after pruning.

However, the good news is that if you follow the steps in this guide, your hydrangea will grow strong, healthy and full of colourful blooms each and every year.

I’ve already covered why hydrangeas don’t flower, but as pruning mishaps are the number one reason, I felt it was time to create an entire guide to pruning.

Find Out Which Hydrangea You Have

I know from my own experience that some hydrangeas perform best when pruned lightly and they won’t tolerate pruning mishaps; they may even refuse to produce any blooms until the following year. Others prefer aggressive pruning and I’ve seen them look leggy and sparse unless pruned they’re pruned hard.

Don’t worry if this all sounds confusing; my guide is easy to follow and guarantees success. I’ve been growing hydrangeas for years and they always look stunning, even after I’ve pruned them.

Hydrangeas can be split into five categories, and they are all pruned differently:

Hydrangea Macrophylla – also known as the “big leaf” variety. There are three types of macrophylla; lacecaps, mopheads and mountains.

Oakleaf – the only hydrangea that produces leaves similar in shape to oak leaves, just bigger.

Paniculata – long panicles containing clusters of flowers make this hydrangea distinct and easy to identify.

Aborescens – large leaves and large globe-like flowers make this hydrangea stand out from the crowd.

Climbing – the only hydrangea to climb, and I’ve seen it reach over 12 metres. It produces small clusters of lacecap flowers, usually white.

Here are some photos to help you identify your hydrangea:

Free hydrangea photos

Hydrangea macrophylla mophead

Hydrangea lacecap

Hydrangea macrophylla lacecap

Mountain hydrangea

Mountain hydrangea

White hydrangea paniculata flowering

Hydrangea paniculata

Large globe containing small overlapping petals

Hydrangea aborescens

Aborescens from a wider angle

Aborescens from a wider angle

Oakleaf hydrangea

Oakleaf hydrangea

oak leaf hydrangea leaves

Oak leaf hydrangea leaves closeup

Climbing hydrangea flower

Climbing hydrangea

How to Prune Hydrangeas

Before you read my guide to pruning hydrangeas, it’s important to understand that some species will produce blooms via buds that formed the previous year.

This type of hydrangea blooms on “old wood”, and the buds are set in autumn; if they survive the winter frost and aren’t inadvertently chopped off, they will form flowers the following summer.

From my experience of growing hydrangeas and from working with gardeners, I know that frost and pruning mishaps are the most common reasons hydrangeas won’t flower, so the gardener should be careful not to prune the “old wood” hydrangeas aggressively.

Macrophylla (Mopheads & Lacecaps)
Oakleaf hydrangea
Paniculata hydrangea
Arborescens hydrangea
Climbing hydrangea
When to Prune:
Two methods: In spring after frosts (best for colder climates) or immediately after blooms fade in summer, before next years buds have been set (best for areas less prone to frost).
Two possible methods: In spring after frosts (best for colder climates) or immediately after blooms fade in summer, before next years buds have been set (okay for warmer areas with little risk of frost).
Early spring.
Early spring.
Late summer after blooms fade.
Flowers on:
Old wood
Old wood
New wood
New wood
Old wood
Method:
Doesn't require yearly pruning but you can prune off up to 20% of stems just above the crown in spring as this encourages new stems from the base, these will flower in the second year. Leave old blooms on over winter for frost protection and cut them off at the nearest set of buds after the last spring frosts but be aware that the deeper you prune a stem, the more buds you'll remove and the fewer flowers that will appear. Alternatively, prune in summer after the blooms fade and before the plant sets buds for next year.
Often requires less pruning. Cut off old blooms to nearest set of healthy buds. Remove up to 20% of old stems just above ground level to encourage new growth if required.
Either cut back leaving 2-3 sets of buds on the previous year's growth or prune entire shrub back close to the framework (the thickest stems), leaving some buds on the stems. Ideally, remove about 30-50% of the plant and all skinny or weak stems, leaving a framework of thicker stems.
Prune hard, 25cm from the ground to promote fewer but larger blooms or prune lightly to a framework 50cm from the ground to encourage more but smaller blooms.
Prune in summer after blooms have faded and before new buds form. Cut out overly long and wayward stems to desired length or to nearest large stem/branch.
Warnings:
If you prune a stem by more than half, it's unlikely to produce blooms for the season but will in the second year. Or it may produce small blooms which are smoothered by leaves on longer, newer stems. Alternatively, prune after the blooms fade in summer and before the plant has set buds for next year. Be aware that in some climates, the old faded blooms offer winter protection from frost, hence why some gardeners leave them on over winter. If you cut off buds, or they are damaged by frost, then it won't bloom in the coming season.
As above.
Can cope with more aggressive pruning. If pruned lightly, panicles will be more numerous but noticably smaller.
Can cope with more aggressive pruning and is more forgiving.
To control a large wayward climber, consider twice yearly pruning to gradually bring it under control, leaving at least some buds for blooms.

When to Prune Hydrangea Macrophylla

Based on my experience, Hydrangea macrophylla is the shrub that gardeners have the most issues with, as it blooms on old wood and isn’t frost resistant.

There are several schools of thought as to how best to prune macrophyllas but one should remember that they don’t always need pruning, it’s optional.

Option 1) I have pruned macrophyllas immediately after the blooms fade in the summer and well before the plant sets buds for next year’s flowers. This method removed the frost protection that the old blooms would offer and is only a reliable option if you live in an area with very light winter frosts.

Option 2) Leave the faded flowers on over winter as they offer frost protection. Prune the macrophylla in the spring after the last hard frost. Nip off the flower head and take the stems down to a set of healthy buds. Most stems will have several sets of buds, so to prune very lightly, take the flowerhead off down to the first bud. To prune very hard, take the stem off all the way down to the lowest bud.

Option 3) As above but remove 10-30% of the stems from the crown of the macrophylla. I’ve found that this method is a great way of reducing the size of a large, wayward hydrangea, as it will still flower on the remaining stems whilst producing new stems from the base that will flower the following year and improve density. This method should be repeated for a few years until the hydrangea is at the desired size.

Option 4) Cut all of the stems on the macrophylla down to just above ground level – I’ve done this before, and while the hydrangea recovered, it didn’t bloom until the second year. This is a very aggressive prune for a macrophylla, and most gardeners I know would only do this if they had no other choice.

Note: Climbing hydrangeas should be pruned in summer after the blooms have faded.

My Advice on When to Prune Hydrangea Macrophylla

If you want to prune your hydrangea macrophylla very lightly, i.e. deadheading and removing thin, weak stems etc., then leave the old blooms on for frost protection over winter and prune lightly in spring after the last frosts.

Want to prune your macrophylla a little more aggressively? Based on my experience, you’ll get better results if you do so after the blooms fade in the summer before the new buds are set. But you run the risk of it not blooming next year if there’s a hard frost.

Want to reduce the size of an overgrown, wayward macrophylla while guaranteeing some blooms? Prune off 10-30% of the stems near the base to encourage new growth. Blooms will still appear on the old stems. Repeat the process over a few years.

Recommended Products

My Secateurs:

Gruntek secateurs for pruning hydrangeas

Key Points:

  • Bypass secateurs.
  • Cuts stems up to 20mm.
  • Super sharp and easy to sharpen 40mm blade.
  • Teflon coated.
  • One of the highest-rated secateurs on Amazon.
  • Ergonomic handle for comfort.

The Best Sharpening Tool:

Sharpal pen

Uses:

  • Small and compact, it easily fits into tool belts and storage slots.
  • Use on secateurs, lawnmower blades, knives and other bladed items.
  • Double-sided – one side for sharpening blunt blades, the other for fine-tuning.
  • Long-lasting – lasts up to 10,000 strokes.

Hydrangea Feed I’m Using:

Hydrangea feed

Why You Should Use Vitax:

  • Made from slow-release pellets.
  • Tested by us (see our review here)
  • Hydrangeas only require 2-3 applications per year.
  • Perfect NPK ratio of 8-4-12.
  • Added magnesium to produce larger blooms.
  • 1kg bags with discounts for bulk buying.
  • It won’t change the colour of the flowers.
  • Won’t burn the plants as some liquid feeds do when spilt.

Author: Daniel Woodley

Daniel has over 18 years of experience in the construction, home improvement, and landscape garden industries.

He previously worked as a project manager and has experience in managing teams of tradespeople and landscape gardeners on both small and medium sized projects.

Daniel is also a keen gardener and enjoys growing unusual plants and tending to his lawn.

More About Daniel Woodley.

Daniel Woodley

Why Trust Us? Our Experience

At DIY Gardening, we follow a detailed, rigorous process to create content that is helpful, factually correct and meets the highest standard of integrity.

Our 5-step process is:

1) We select a topic that we feel will help our readers.

2) The author creates the content based on their knowledge and experience of the subject.

3) We ask an expert with qualifications in the relevant area to fact-check and review the content, which we update accordingly, if applicable.

4) The content is checked by the site owners and published.

5) We review the content yearly to ensure it’s still correct and relevant.

Daniel has been growing hydrangeas for over 15 years and has propagated dozens of plants.

We also asked horticulturist Elizabeth Smith to review and fact-check this guide before publication.

Explore: Elizabeth Smith’s profile and qualifications.

Thanks for reading our guide to pruning hydrangeas. Find out more about the team behind DIY Gardening

About Us

Hannah Miller
Danny Woodley