"Should I Clip Off The Old Hydrangea Flowers?"

"Should I Clip Off The Old Hydrangea Flowers?"

This is a question we hear frequently in the garden center. It usually is followed up with “Should I prune my hydrangeas down in the fall?” Here’s the story on both of those queries:

1. You don’t have to clip off the old flowers unless you don’t like how they look. If you object to their appearance as they turn brown, by all means clip them off. Some people cut them while they’re still colorful and use them for bouquets indoors. Others snip them off and toss them in the compost, while some gardeners and homeowners prefer to let them drop naturally over the winter. One of our landscaper friends, Karen, from Old Sod Landscaping calls these fallen hydrangea flowers “Cape Cod tumble weeds.”

2. In general it’s better to wait until spring to prune hydrangeas and if you’re growing the blue or pink Hydrangea macrophylla (mopheads or lacecaps) you should never cut them back! You can download a handout on how to prune your blue and pink hydrangeas here.  Shrubs with the white flowers that age pink in the fall (varieties of Hydrangea paniculata) can be cut back harder since they bloom on new growth. Remember, however, that hard pruning always stimulates growth and these new stems will be more tender and weak…so a H. paniculata that has been pruned hard is likely to bend over the next year with the weight of the flowers. Whenever possible, pruning should be done to improve appearance, not control size.

The flowers on this Pee Gee hydrangea are lovely in October so there’s no need to remove them unless you want to cut a bouquet for indoors. In areas where early, heavy snow is possible people sometimes clip off the flowers so that they don’t pull the plant to the ground early in the winter. But in our area such early snowfalls aren’t common so we can enjoy these fading blooms well into December.
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  1. Joel B on October 29, 2015 at 6:39 am

    I have Endless Summers ( Latin name unknown) that I have cut back to the second bud down each spring. They have been beautiful with many new shoots also in spring. Am I correct? Some stems do not have further growth.

    • CLFornari on October 29, 2015 at 9:27 am

      Joel – every bud that makes it through the winter on these hydrangeas can become a stem with a flower at the end, so in general the fewer buds you cut off the more flowers you have. Any cane with no buds is gone, however, and can be cut to the ground. Cutting down to above the second pairs of buds doesn’t remove many flowers but those top buds that you’re removing would bloom too and there is nothing magic about the second set. In general with these hydragneas you can’t go wrong by removing all deadwood and then stopping.

  2. William munro on October 29, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Should I cut the limbs of the H down below the buds that look like next years blooms?

    • CLFornari on October 29, 2015 at 9:29 am

      With pink or blue flowering hydragneas you can’t go wrong by removing any canes or tops of canes that have NO buds, doing this in May. Leave any of the green buds you see as these will make stems with flowers at the end of them. White flowering hydragangeas are pruned differently as most of them bloom on new wood.

  3. Linda LaCroix on October 29, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Country Gardens has the best website of ANY I visit! I love the personal tone of the articles, the opportunity to look up older topics, and the information that you share. Country Gardens is my garden center of choice since we moved here permanently last year. Thank you for helping us make our new home look like it has been here longer. Our new plants have done incredibly well right from the start, and your great sales (just bought a beautiful Ginko tree for half price) are greatly appreciated. Bravo to C.G.!

    • CLFornari on November 10, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      How nice of you to post this rave on our blog! We very much believe in “community” and strive to create that in as many ways as possible. Know that we appreciate our customers tremendously.

  4. Dianne Bitner on October 29, 2015 at 10:21 am

    This is a pruning question regarding grape vines. I had a small grape vine that took over a fence section. My husband and I took down the fence in 2014 (early spring)and installed a 12 by 12 foot pergola. We draped the vines, we had removed from the fence, like a bridal veil over the side of the pergola where the fence had been. This year the vines made it all the way across the pergola and produced a bumper crop of concord grapes (with seeds). I had to prune through out Sept. on to keep curtains from forming down the sides. Friends came and picked many buckets of grapes for jelly and wine making. The birds are having a field day with the remaining grapes.

    My inclination is to prune drastically back to the old fence side. Should I remove all the old vines woven through the pergola top? Should I take it back to the vertical base or just to the old fence side of the pergola? Next week looks to be a warm one and I would like to do the pruning.

    Thanks for your help.


    • CLFornari on October 29, 2015 at 9:03 pm

      I’m sorry, but without seeing what you’re talking about it’s hard to know how to guide you. This sounds like a wild grape vine, and frankly no matter how much you cut it should have a crop in “a good grape year.” This year was a good one for these grapes – probably because it was so sunny and dry.

  5. Lynn Singer on October 29, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    What about Roddy’s? Do I brush off or cut off the flowers that have died? Also, I must cut my roddy’s down (they are in front of my windows). iS IT OKAY to prune them about one third?

    • CLFornari on November 10, 2015 at 4:11 pm

      You do not have to brush or cut off Rhododendron flowers unless you want them off. They fall off on their own pretty quicky – there’s only about a three week period when they look ugly. If you cut the plants in front of your windows down by a third, do it in the spring. However, they will look butchered for two years or more, and may or may not grow back attractively – and of course by the time they look good again they will also be too large. So the better approach might be to remove them and start over with plants that won’t grow over the windows in the future. Rhodys transplant pretty well if you have a place where they can grow elsewhere in your yard.

  6. CFD on June 9, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    Should I cut the limbs of the H down below the buds that look like next years blooms?

    • CLFornari on June 9, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      CFD – if you’re talking about the blue/pink mophead or lacecap hydrangeas, the only cutting down you should do is dead wood. If a cane is bare from late-spring on you can cut if off. But never cut these canes back in the fall unless you know that the stem has had now growth on it all summer.

  7. -Lori on August 6, 2022 at 9:41 am

    I have deep purple flowers – would I treat these the same as blue & pink? I never hear anything about deep purple..
    Thank you!

    • CLFornari on August 8, 2022 at 11:23 am

      We simplify things by talking about blue and pink, but you’re right…these Hydrangeas can also have purple flowers. Here on Cape Cod, with our naturally acidic soils, many Hydrangeas that are deep pink in other areas are purple in our gardens. Yes, you would treat them the same way as blue and pink.

  8. Freda o Yannetti on September 30, 2022 at 10:26 pm

    My hydrangeas are a delight in New York – I do nothing to them, Wondering if they would do well in South Carolina?

    • CLFornari on October 1, 2022 at 7:43 pm

      It depends on what type of Hydrangeas you have and where in SC you are living.

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