Hydrangea

Hydrangeas can be pruned but it’s important to know what variety the plant is for the correct pruning technique.

DEAR AMOR: I have these “ever flowering” hydrangeas in my front garden. I do not know the variety as they were here when I bought my house 2 years ago. They bloom early summer (late May-June ish) and keep their blooms forever. They’re green and eventually turn brown and if left alone they’ll keep their brown blooms all winter even through all the west Michigan snow and west wind that pummels the front of our house.

First year, I painstakingly dead headed them before winter. Second year life got in the way and I did nothing until spring when I dead headed them. What am I supposed to do? Part of me hates looking at the brown flowers all winter long and I kind of would like to take my hedge trimmers to them and just buzz them down about halfway and tame them. Obviously, I don’t want to damage them so they don’t bloom next year. Not knowing the variety, I wasn’t sure what to Google to find out the right way to care for them. – Jessie

DEAR JESSIE: Years ago, I had three or four different varieties of prolific blooming hydrangea bushes. I had made some observations on those plants myself. Their blooms were stunningly beautiful, in colors and shapes. Their green leaves superbly hold a backdrop for the bright colors of enormous pink and blue bunches of flowers. One variety grows very long arching stems that it looks like a huge fountain of water with white flowers covering the entire plant.

During fall or winter, I saw that some varieties which has spent flowerheads were on twigs that were totally dead. Those dead twigs serve no further good for the plant and needs to be removed to give way for its new growth comes spring. These new growths will later bloom after July.

Those twigs that have no flower head on top have some suspended growth on their tips and their twigs were green. I had observed that those last year, old wood twigs resume bud growth come spring and will be first to flower before July. Sound like yours?

There are many hydrangea cultivars and many species diversities that are native to Asian countries and the Americas. They grow as a shrub, a tree and a vine. There are evergreens and deciduous ones. Philippines have no winter weather, so hydrangeas there are evergreens, meaning the plants keep their leaves from year to year.

So, before we go about chopping or clipping, here is a good advice from University of Maryland extension: “If you feel uncertain about which variety you have, a safe rule for all types of hydrangeas is that no pruning is better than the wrong type of pruning.”

That said, UM extension listed the five most common hydrangea varieties cultivated in the US and their pruning guide.

1. Bigleaf hydrangea, H. macrophylla

It’s best to wait until new growth emerges in the early spring to be sure that you are only removing dead or weakened parts, and not removing live stems with flower buds. In very old and declining hydrangeas, hard renewal pruning may be needed. Cut back all of the branches to the ground. This will eliminate the blossoms for that year but the next year should be quite productive.

2. Smooth hydrangea, H. arborescens

This species blooms with white flowers on new wood of the current season. Simply cut it back hard in early spring. Flowering is actually enhanced by cutting back all stems to about 12 inches from the soil line. Well-known cultivars include ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Grandiflora.

3. Pee Gee hydrangea, H. paniculata

This is one of the largest hydrangeas. It can reach 25 feet high. Like the smooth hydrangea, it also flowers on the current season’s wood. Pruning in the spring will actually enhance flowering. Cultivars of merit include ‘Barbara,’ ‘Bridal Veil,’ ‘Brussels Lace,’ ‘Chantilly Lace,’ ‘Grandiflora,’ and ‘Limelight.’

4. Oakleaf hydrangea, H. quercifolia

The oakleaf hydrangea is a beautiful native of the southeastern United States. Its flowers are produced on old wood from last year’s growth. If needed, prune after flowering to maintain a desired size and shape. Winter-killed or other dead wood can be removed at any time.

5. Climbing hydrangea, H. anomala subsp. petiolaris

This trailing-vine species is a vigorous grower that is attractive and easy to maintain. The only pruning needed is to remove unwanted stray stems to control its growth. This may need to be repeated several times in the season as the vine quickly produces new stems. To avoid reducing bloom, prune them after blooming.

Amor Chamness of Howe is an intern in the Purdue Extension Master Gardener program. She answers questions about gardening each week in “Dear Amor.” Send your gardening questions to her at dearamor@yahoo.com.

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