How you prune hydrangeas depends on whether the flower buds are formed on new or old wood. (Getty Images)

How to prune a hydrangea without jeapordizing its blooms

Before you prune your hydrangeas, figure out what kinds you have and where the flower buds are formed.

Of all the classes that we offer here at the nursery, pruning is always the most popular. And, of all the different types of plants that need to be pruned, hydrangeas are probably the most confusing. Hopefully, I can help clear the air on how to properly prune these extremely popular shrubs.

Hydrangeas don’t have to be pruned if they are planted in the right location where they can be allowed to grow to a mature size, which can vary depending on the cultivar. For a mature hydrangea, all that is required to keep it looking tidy is to remove the spent flowers sometime before spring.

Most hydrangeas fall into two categories. The most popular flavor is the shade-loving bigleaf or mophead variety that sports large ball-shaped flowers, or the flat and delicate ones called lacecaps. These come in shades of pink to dark purple, plus a few that are pure white.

Traditional varieties of this type of hydrangea should not be pruned, except to remove spent flowers or an occasional errant branch. The reason is that the flower buds are formed on the previous season’s growth — we call that old wood. If you prune those stems back more than a node or two — a node is where a set of leaves was attached — you will remove next year’s flowers.

This is probably the primary reason why hydrangeas don’t bloom. If you have to prune your hydrangea to make it fit into where it is planted, then you will constantly be faced with this dilemma. The solution is to remove your plant and replace it with one of the many new forms that are dwarf and only grow to 3 to 4 feet tall. There is actually a fully dwarf model call “Pia” or “Pink Elf” that only reaches 18 to 24 inches tall.

The second most popular form of hydrangea is the sun-loving panicle type, which has large and fluffy cone-shaped flowers that start out white or lime-green and mature to wonderful shades of pink to rusty red. These hydrangeas bloom on current season growth — we call this new wood — so just like a rose, we can whack the heck out of them if we want to, and they will always reward us with lots of blooms later in the summer.

Again, you don’t have to prune them, but if you do, you will get larger flowers, albeit fewer, than if you just let them go.

Just to confuse the issue, new developments in breeding have brought us repeat-blooming forms (called remontant) of the bigleaf varieties that bloom both on last year’s wood in late spring and again on current season’s wood in late summer.

“Endless Summer” is probably the most recognized brand with its blue plastic pots. The beauty of these new hydrangeas is that if you screw up — or Mother Nature is naughty and freezes off all the buds — you will still get flowers later in the year. That being said, it is still best to keep your pruning to a minimum and focus on only removing spent flowers and a little shaping. Almost all of the new bigleaf varieties now on the market are repeat-blooming and compact growers — which is great news for all of us.

Bottom line, the secret to successful pruning of hydrangeas is to recognize what kind you have and where the flower buds are formed — last year’s wood or current season’s wood. For more info on growing hydrangeas, I highly recommend the Proven Winners website. They have done a very thorough job of demystifying the art of growing hydrangeas. Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at

Organic gardening

Sunnyside Nursery’s free gardening classes are online for now. A class on organic gardening is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 10 via Zoom. With registration, you’ll receive a Zoom link to attend the online class. For more information or to sign up, visit

Talk to us

More in Life

Kid 'n Play members Christopher "Kid" Reid, left, and Christopher "Play" Martin perform on NBC's "Today" show during the "I Love The 90's" morning concert at Rockefeller Plaza on Friday, April 29, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Relive the music of the 1990s with Kid N Play and other stars of the era at the Tulalip Casino Amphitheater.

Contestant chef Brian Madayag (left) of Edmonds and West Coast team captain Brooke Williamson on “Beachside Brawl.” (Food Network) 20220616
Edmonds chef reps Pacific Northwest on new Food Network show

Barkada owner Brian Madayaga will compete on a new Food Network series that premiers Sunday.

After two years of wellness, Covid finally hit this family, but thanks to vaccinations, the symptoms were mild. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Jennifer Bardsley’s fighting COVID-19 with vaccines and TLC

But even with vaccinations, the disease is scary for people like her with less than robust immune systems.

Turkey vultures’ pervious nostrils are among the features that help them feed on carrion. (The Columbian files)
In praise of turkey vultures, nature’s cleaning service

These raptors should be revered, not reviled, for their disposal of stinky, disease-laden animal matter.

close-up of gardener's hands planting a tomato seedling in the vegetable garden
This summer, it’s smart to go big or go home at the nursery

When buying annuals, vegetables or perennials, go for the 1-gallon pots. And don’t skimp on the soil amendments and plant food.

Writing on Belfast's Peace Wall.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Europe tears down walls — and builds bridges

The walls of antiquity — and of the Cold War — were symbols not of strength, but of mistrust and insecurity.

Coming home for the summer: Your college student and you

It can be tough going and conflicts will arise, but don’t worry, parents — they’ll be back in school soon.

He booked his JetBlue tickets on Orbitz. Now they’re gone

When Benjamin Eckstein shows up at the airport for his flight from Boston to San Jose, his airline says he doesn’t have a ticket. Whose fault is this mess, and how does he clean it up?

Musicians Rod Argent, left, Hugh Grundy, Chris White, and Colin Blunstone of The Zombies attends the 2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Barclays Center on Friday, March 29, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Get your tickets now to see rock Hall of Famers The Zombies in Everett. Plus there’s a month of music planned in Langley.

Celebrate national pollination week

This year, the week of June 20-26 is National Pollination Week and… Continue reading

The GPP for this Friday is Clematis 'Rooguchi' and the image credit goes to Richie Steffen.
Great Plant Pick: Clematis ‘Rooguchi’

This charming, non-twining vine is ideal for tight situations, and does well in a container.

What causes gut infections, and how to avoid them

Gut infections are the top cause of acute diarrhea, and can be life-threatening if severe.