How to prune hydrangeas: follow our advice for healthy plants and stunning blooms

Learn how to prune hydrangeas for better-performing plants – from mophead and lacecap varieties to climbing hydrangeas and more

how to prune hydrangeas: blue and purple mopheads
(Image credit: David Klabisch/500px/Getty Images)

Learning how to prune hydrangeas is a relatively simple task, but will reward you with healthier plants with lots more blooms.

Distinguished by their large, clustered flowerheads, these shrubs are a great contender for the list if you've been perusing our guide to garden borders. Plus, aside from their stunning show in summer through to autumn, many types will offer architectural structure over winter, too.

What's more, they have a wonderfully easy-care nature. Alexandra from The Middlesized Garden says that they can grow in quite difficult positions, in almost any kind of soil, and are fairly trouble-free when it comes to pests. They're also one of the best shade loving plants.

But, although they're generally low-maintenance, a bit of pruning know-how will give them a boost. Not only will it help to reinvigorate the plants, enabling them to produce more impressive summer displays, but it's also useful for keeping shapes and sizes in order.

But as it turns out, different varieties need a slightly different approach. And if that's got you feeling a little apprehensive, don't worry – we're here to help. You can find all the advice you need for the most popular types below, so just keep scrolling. You'll know exactly how to prune hydrangeas and keep them in tip-top condition in no time.

How to prune mophead hydrangeas

how to prune hydrangeas: mopheads

Mophead hydrangeas are the most popular choice for gardens and come in hues of pink, blue, or white

(Image credit: azndc/Getty Images)
  1. It's best to leave spent mophead flowers over winter rather than deadheading, especially if your region gets very cold. This is because they provide a level of protection against frost for any tender new buds. As a bonus, they'll also offer an attractive, textural feature to your garden when not much else is growing – a lovely addition to our winter garden ideas.
  2. When spring comes around, remove the old flowerheads, making your cut just above the first healthy pair of buds below it, says the RHS.
  3. As Alexandra from The Middlesized Garden says, don't cut these stems back too far, else you'll cut off the flower buds and miss out on summer blooms.
  4. Lee Burkhill, garden designer of Garden Ninja also recommends assessing if your plant needs a thin. For instance, if your shrub has lots of overlapping, congested branches, then you can take a few branches back, always to a healthy set of buds. This will give the plant more air and light, which will in turn improve its health.

Mophead hydrangeas are known for their large globes of showy blooms and are a popular choice for gardens of all styles. Depending on your soil type, their flowers are either pink or blue (alkaline results in pink, whilst acidic equals blue-purple blooms), however you can find white varieties too, such as 'Little White'.

How to prune lacecap hydrangeas

how to prune hydrangeas: lacecaps

Lacecap hydrangeas are distinguished by their tiny clusters of central flowers

(Image credit: cgshoots/Getty Images)

Lacecap hydrangeas can be recognised by their distinct clusters of miniature, central flowers, surrounded by a border of larger-petalled blooms. 

They can be pruned in the same way as mopheads, as both are cultivars of Hydrangea macrophylla. However, lacecaps are slightly hardier. So, the RHS says that you can deadhead by cutting back to the second pair of leaves beneath spent flowers before they go to seed (straight after flowering). This will help to preserve the plant's energy.

How to prune Hydrangea paniculata and arborescens

how to prune hydrangeas: pink

(Image credit: Nadya So/Getty Images)
  1. As the RHS says, if you want to maintain a permanent-sized framework, simply cut back last year’s stems down to a pair of healthy buds.
  2. However, to encourage strong, upright branches topped with larger clusters of blooms, hard prune right back to the lowest pair of healthy buds. This will create a low framework – usually no more than 25cm (10in) high. If more height is required, you can cut them down to about 60cm (2ft) tall.

These varieties might sound a little less familiar than the ones above. However, they've had a recent surge in popularity – especially when its comes to Hydrangea paniculata with its cone-like heads of blooms. Hydrangea arborescens are also known as 'smooth hydrangea' or sometimes 'wild hydrangea' and includes the well-loved 'Annabelle' with its ginormous white globes of flowers. They're a stunning choice for both modern garden ideas and cottage garden ideas alike.

When it comes to pruning, they are both treated the same, albeit differently from other varieties. The RHS says that the most essential pruning to be done in spring is to remove any dead wood, however, if you give them a harder prune every year, they will produce more flowers.

How to prune climbing hydrangeas

how to prune hydrangeas: climbing hydrangea

Climbing hydrangeas are vigorous plants once established

(Image credit: bkkm/Getty Images)
  1. These plants produce flowers on last year's shoots. So, cut any overly long shoots back immediately after the plant has flowered in the summer, suggests the RHS.
  2. Aim to leave the tops of the plant, where generally the most blooms are, as un-pruned as possible.
  3. Extensive pruning may reduce flowering for less-established plants. Instead, if you need to reduce the size of your shrub, do so gradually over a  few years. 

Climbing hydrangeas are a lovely variety to train around one of our pergola ideas or over a wall. In spring to summer, they display clusters of white blooms made up of both tiny and larger flowers, which look stunning against the dark green foliage. 

Once established, they make vigorous growers, and are just as happy in shade as they are in the sun (although avoid growing in very hot, dry conditions).

When should I prune hydrangeas?

how to prune hydrangeas: dried flowers

The best time to prune your hydrangea depends on its type

(Image credit: Hannah Yelverton/Getty Images)

Pruning hydrangeas tends to be done in late winter to early spring. Depending on your region, this is generally late February to early March. Lee Burkhill of Garden Ninja says that a good way to tell if your hydrangeas are ready for pruning is by looking for new, green buds and dried seed heads.

However, as mentioned above, climbing hydrangeas need to be pruned after flowering, in late summer. As also mentioned, you can deadhead lacecap varieties at this time too.

More top tips for pruning hydrangeas

how to prune hydrangeas: white mopheads

Hydrangeas make a gorgeous display in summer

(Image credit: lingqi xie/Getty Images)
  1. Always make sure your best secateurs are both clean and sharp before you start pruning, to prevent damaging the plant.
  2. As with all pruning, cut at an angle.
  3. Try not to worry too much! As Lee Burkhill from Garden Ninja says, you can generally afford to be bold, as it's actually quite difficult to kill these plants through pruning. Just make sure to leave a good number of healthy buds and you should still have lovely blooms all summer. He has more advice on pruning hydrangeas in his online guide.
  4. Need more tips for getting your garden in order? Head over to our guide to pruning shrubs.