When Can You Cut the Sticks Out of Your Hydrangeas?

Hydrangeas are beautiful, bushy plants, but they can have one too many sticks, affecting the overall aesthetics of the plant. Although unnecessary, you may want to remove the sticks or dead branches from your hydrangeas.

You can cut the sticks or dead branches out of your hydrangeas anytime during the year. However, it is best to do it in spring when it is easy to tell them apart from healthy branches. Cutting the sticks will improve the quality of your blooms and the overall appearance of your plant.

As long-living perennials, hydrangeas will appreciate occasional pruning to help keep them looking their best. This article will discuss when and how to cut the sticks out of your hydrangeas. We will also discuss the benefits of doing so.

When Is the Best Time to Cut the Sticks Out?

In summer, people cut blooms from their plants shortly before the end of the blooming season to create an indoor display. Besides that, they don’t do much pruning on their hydrangeas.

Long-time hydrangea owners are generally in tune with their plant’s pruning needs. For lucky ones with old wood bloomers, they may even skip the pruning routine for a year or two, and their hydrangeas won’t mind.

However, it is best to cut the sticks out of your hydrangeas now and then, as they can become a tangled mess when left unattended for too long.

Spring is the best time to cut the sticks out of your hydrangeas. The dead branches are easier to find because they are unlikely to have leaves or buds growing out of them. Also, you can remove winter-injured branches at the same time.

Hydrangeas are predominantly deciduous plants that shed their leaves in the fall and may look lifeless in winter. So if you cut sticks out in the fall or winter, you risk cutting even the healthy branches and stems.

In late winter or early spring, varieties that bloom on old wood like Hydrangea serrata typically start showing signs of life through leaf and flower buds. That is why the correct timing of pruning is crucial to ensure that your hydrangeas can grow to their fullest potential. 

Also, you should cut your hydrangeas only when necessary.

In general, people prune hydrangeas for a few reasons:


After the blooming season, you can prune the spent flowers. Doing so will help your plant avoid seeding and save energy for growing new shoots and leaves next spring. Deadheading can also encourage your plant to produce new blooms next blooming season.

To Remove the Dead Branches

Dry sticks or dead branches are unsightly and can make your plant more challenging to manage as they accumulate. Removing them can also significantly reduce the weight and volume of the bush.

To Revitalize Old Plants

Hydrangea varieties that bloom on old wood need little pruning. However, if old stems and branches have spent several blooming seasons, they may produce fewer blooms as they age. Cutting them can help your plant produce younger stems capable of producing more viable buds.

To Control the Size and Shape

Some hydrangea varieties can grow too tall, while others make excellent hedges. Whatever variety you have, your hydrangea will undoubtedly need a bit of management to keep it under control.

Pruning Tips for Hydrangeas: Removing Sticks and Dead Branches

Sticks or dead branches are hardly noticeable when your hydrangeas have only had a few blooming seasons. They are most likely well hidden underneath a mass of leaves and blooms. That’s why some gardeners do not feel the need to prune their hydrangeas.

However, if you feel it’s time to cut the sticks out of your plant, you must remember some things.

Here are some of them:

Your Hydrangea Variety

It is essential to know what variety of hydrangeas you have. Mainly, you’d want to determine whether you have a variety that blooms on old wood or new wood.

Old wood varieties bloom from buds that form in the previous year’s fall. In contrast, you should prune the new wood bloomers in spring to bloom on new growth.

Only Prune Once Fully Established

Only cut the sticks out of your fully established hydrangeas. It takes at least 3 years before hydrangeas fully establish themselves.

Limit your pruning to removing buds in the first 2 years of planting to allow your plant to focus on growing sturdier stems and branches that can hold the weight of the blooms as they mature.

Watch for Signs of Winter Damage

Some branches with buds in the fall may fail to grow in spring due to winter injury. These damaged branches are unlikely to recover, and it would be best to remove them.

Use Sterile Tools

Always use sterile tools when cutting your hydrangeas. It can help avoid the spread of disease or infection, if there are any. All it takes is soaking your knife or garden shears in hot water (212 °F or 100 °C) and air drying them.

You can also use a clean, lint-free piece of cloth to wipe them dry.

Pruning Living vs. Dead Sticks

Cut living sticks at a 45° angle, approximately ¼ inch (0.6 cm) above a bud. This measurement is similar to when you are deadheading your hydrangeas to encourage new growth.

Cut dead sticks down to the ground. You don’t need to worry about cutting dead sticks to the ground. Fresh shoots will eventually grow and replace the dead branches.

Steps for Cutting and Pruning

After considering the abovementioned factors, you may start cutting the sticks out of your hydrangeas. The process is pretty straightforward, and it would be hard to make a mistake. And even if you do make a mistake, it would only cost you one season’s beautiful blooms. 

Hydrangeas can grow back quickly after being cut down. So if you accidentally cut one too many sticks, you can learn from experience and do better next spring.

Nonetheless, it helps to know some essential steps.

Check them out below:

  1. When leaf and flower buds begin to show in spring, locate the branches that do not show any sign of life.
  2. Using sterile garden shears, cut these lifeless branches to the ground.
  3. If there are healthy branches crisscrossing and you feel like they will cause some problems with the appearance of your plant in summer, you can also cut down the unruly ones. 
  4. Check the cut branches for any signs of disease or infection so that you may address them accordingly.
  5. If there aren’t any signs of diseases, you can add the dead sticks to your compost pile or dry new branches under the sun before adding them to your pile.

Advantages of Cutting Your Hydrangeas

It can indeed be troublesome to cut the sticks out of your hydrangeas. Moreover, some experienced gardeners may tell you they get by without pruning their hydrangeas. So it’s understandable why you may feel discouraged about pruning your plants.

Besides, many popular varieties in the US bloom on old wood and can thrive for years with little to no pruning.

Such varieties include:

  • Hydrangea macrophylla
  • Hydrangea serrata
  • Hydrangea quercifolia.

However, different hydrangea varieties have various pruning needs. Types that bloom on new wood, such as Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens, need yearly pruning in spring to allow new buds to form on fresh wood.

It is also best to understand the benefits of removing the dead sticks before deciding whether or not you should give it a try and make it a part of your gardening routine:

Removing Otherwise Useless Branches

When the dead sticks crisscross with healthy branches, the latter will have to bear their weight in addition to the typically heavy blooms. That is why cutting the sticks out reduces the weight the healthy stems have to support.

Promoting Healthy Growth

Removing dead sticks can also promote the growth of fresh, healthier shoots and blooms. Removing the dead sticks can give the bush enough space and energy to grow new shoots, producing plenty of beautiful flowers.

Making the Plant More Manageable

Pruning can make your mature hydrangeas more manageable as well. As hydrangeas mature, the number of dead sticks builds up, making it difficult to find and cut them properly.

Cutting them every 1 to 2 years will require less work than if you wait several years to do so. By then, your plant may be too tall and unruly and require hard pruning.

Simplifying Shape Maintenance

By removing dead sticks, it will be easier to maintain the shape of your plant. Many hydrangea varieties form rounded bushes or can make a hedge.

Removing the dead sticks can help you prune the remaining healthy branches into your desired shape, and you will see excellent results during blooming time. 

Final Thoughts

Hydrangeas are pretty low-maintenance plants that produce fascinating blooms in summer. They are so easy to maintain that they have become popular among many experienced and new gardeners. However, it also makes them prone to neglect.

Hydrangeas can grow for many decades and will continue producing high-quality, attractive blooms if cared for properly. They don’t require much pruning, and cutting dead sticks out of your hydrangea every one to two years can benefit you and your plant.

You can read my other article on when it’s too late to cut back hydrangeas here: When Is It Too Late To Cut Back Hydrangeas?

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com and its lead content writer. He created the website in 2022 as a resource for horticulture lovers and beginners alike, compiling all the gardening tips he discovered over the years. Alex has a passion for caring for plants, turning backyards into feel-good places, and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the world.

Recent Posts