Many new gardeners may find it troublesome to prune their plants or find it hard to figure out how to do it. Several hydrangea varieties don’t require much pruning, making them ideal for people who don’t have much time. But for gardeners who want to try cutting down your hydrangeas, you may be worried about whether your plants will grow back.
Hydrangeas grow back quickly if cut down, especially varieties that bloom on new wood, such as Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens. Hydrangeas can live for several decades. They can tolerate and even benefit from annual pruning.
This article will discuss the things you need to consider before cutting down your hydrangeas and how quickly they can grow back. Read on for some tips on how to be an excellent plant parent!
Factors To Consider Before Cutting Down Hydrangeas
It is generally safe to cut down your hydrangeas, especially when they have fully matured – roughly three years after planting. However, it is essential to consider some factors before doing so. Here are some of them:
- The hydrangea variety.
- The Proper timing.
- Distinguishing between living and dead branches.
- The purpose of cutting.
- The proper way of cutting.
The Hydrangea Variety
There are over forty known species of hydrangeas with an unknown number of hybrids. These plants are from Asia, predominantly from China, but other species originated from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and several other Asian countries.
Over the years, some made their way to the US through trade, and some hybrids arose. Most known hydrangea species and hybrids are deciduous shrubs, and only a few are climbing. One climbing variety commonly found in the US is Hydrangea anomala.
Regardless of the species, hydrangeas fall into two main categories based on the manner they bloom: on old wood or new wood.
- New wood varieties form buds on fresh branches grown in spring. These buds will then bloom in the summer of the same year.
- Old wood varieties form buds on existing branches late in the summer. These buds will remain dormant in the fall and winter. When the temperature rises to acceptable levels, these buds will actively grow in spring and bloom in the following year’s summer.
This classification is necessary to help gardeners recognize their plants’ pruning needs. A general rule is to cut down old wood bloomers in late summer before new buds come out for next year’s blooming season.
On the other hand, cut down new wood bloomers in late winter or spring when all threat of frost is gone. It will help promote the growth of new leaves and flower buds.
As mentioned, hydrangeas are mainly deciduous shrubs that look lifeless in winter after they shed all their leaves in the fall, making you may feel the need to cut them down. Some recommended not to cut some varieties in the fall as you may risk cutting off the buds that would bloom the following summer.
It is also not good to cut them down in winter as the wounds may make your plants more vulnerable to winter injury. Hydrangeas remain dormant in the winter and typically don’t have enough energy to heal the wounds.
As a result, winter-damaged branches are unlikely to recover and will be better off cut down late in the winter or early spring to encourage the growth of fresh, healthier branches. However, consequently, you may have fewer blooms.
When done correctly at the right time, your hydrangeas can grow back quickly and healthily after you cut them down.
Distinguishing Between Living and Dead Branches
How well your hydrangeas grow back can also depend on whether or not you can distinguish between living and dead branches. The whole plant may look lifeless in winter, making it challenging to tell them apart. That’s another important reason you should wait until spring to prune your hydrangeas.
You can also schedule your pruning differently depending on which type of branches you are planning to cut down.
You can cut down dead branches anytime – as long as you are sure they are dead. Perhaps, you can put markers on them during the growing season and cut them down whenever you’re ready.
On the other hand, it’s best to be extra careful when cutting down living branches. Remember the proper timing for cutting based on the hydrangea species you have.
Also, a freezing winter may damage living branches; you are better off cutting them down in spring. Otherwise, the plant wastes energy trying to heal them instead of growing new leaves or flower buds in spring.
Purpose for Cutting
There may be plenty of reasons why gardeners prune their plants. But for hydrangeas, you may limit your pruning to a few reasons, such as:
- Deadheading. Spent blooms can be unsightly and may eventually create litter as the petals fall to the ground. Unless you plan on collecting the seeds, you might as well cut down the spent blooms to allow your plant to focus its resources on growth instead of seed production.
- Revitalization. Old wood with several blooming seasons will reduce its ability to produce abundant blooms. When the plant has too many dead branches, it may interfere with the foliage and flowers. Pruning can help rejuvenate an old plant. It can encourage the development of healthier and sturdier branches.
- Shaping. Occasional pruning is necessary to maintain a hydrangea shrub’s shape. It will improve its appearance during the blooming season.
- Propagation. Sometimes, gardeners cut down their hydrangeas for propagation. This process is best done in late spring when the branches are actively growing. Branches cut in spring are highly likely to spend their energy growing roots and shoots, making them ideal for propagation.
Proper Way of Cutting
Pruning your hydrangeas is essentially similar to how you prune your other plants. There are a few things you need to remember:
- Always use sterile tools. Healthwise, prevention is always better than cure, and it also applies to our plants. Using contaminated tools on plants will make them vulnerable to diseases. Remember that you are creating a wound on the plant by cutting it. This opening is an ideal penetration site for harmful microorganisms that may kill your plant.
- Cut your plant at the right angle and distance from buds. The ideal measurement for deadheading for hydrangeas is a 45° angle ¼ inch (0.64 cm) above a bud. Cutting too close to the buds or too steeply will make the plant more susceptible to winter injury because it will take a while to heal. Cutting too flatly or too far from the buds, on the other hand, will result in stumps.
How Quickly Can Hydrangeas Grow Back After Being Cut Down?
Perhaps you consider the abovementioned factors when cutting down your hydrangeas but are still worried about your plants. In particular, you may be concerned about when your hydrangeas can grow back.
Hydrangeas grow back fairly quickly after being cut down, during spring when it becomes active again after winter. These plants rapidly grow back to replace the branches that you have pruned. However, the foliage and blooms’ appearance may differ from the previous year.
For new wood varieties, the number and appearance of blooms depend on how well you prune your hydrangeas. These varieties tend to grow back relatively quickly to prepare for the blooming season in summer.
Moreover, the number of new shoots that grow back depends on how badly injured your plants are during winter. That’s why it’s best to wait until spring before pruning your new wood hydrangea varieties.
They typically spend the entire spring growing healthy branches, foliage, and flower buds. By early summer, the growth will slow down as the plants focus most of their energy on helping the flower buds bloom.
On the other hand, old wood varieties may not grow as many blooms if you cut down many premature buds in the late summer or early fall. Depending on how cold the winter is, some buds may fail to survive until spring.
Remember to limit spring pruning of old wood hydrangea varieties to removing only dead sticks or winter-damaged branches. Otherwise, you will notice fewer blooms in summer because buds don’t bloom on newly grown stems.
Depending on the species, hydrangeas may slow down or cease growth entirely in the fall as they focus on seeding. That’s where deadheading proves helpful. Removing spent blooms will help the plant spend its remaining energy on root and shoot development before entering winter dormancy.
Hydrangeas typically grow back quickly during the growing season in spring after you cut them down. That’s why annual pruning is necessary if you want to maintain the size and shape of your shrubs.
However, interestingly, hydrangeas are tolerant to a bit of neglect once fully established as long as they have plenty of space to grow.
Note that the incorrect timing of pruning can significantly affect the number of blooms you can see in the summer. On the bright side, you can learn from your mistakes and do it correctly next time to get more abundant flowers next year.