Hydrangea bring to mind front porches, chair swings, and fireflies. A slower time, before central air, when we stayed outside as long as we could because the air outside was cooler than inside.
I don’t see as many hydrangea here in the Midwest as I do in the East. They are partial to rich soil and plenty of water (“hydra,” after all!). We often have long spells of drought around mid July. This year has been different so far, with ample rain. The hydrangea are loving it.
However, my little “rescue” hydrangea is not blooming. I transplanted it last year into the fenced garden because it was continually eaten by my deer friends. I thought that the fence would solve the problem, but no luck. It is a mophead hydrangea.
Mopheads are the big full bushes your grandmother grew. They could be pink, or blue, or white. Occasionally, a clever gardener could coax a bush to bloom half pink and half blue.
A related variety is the lacecap hydrangea. It’s flowers are more like saucers with a flower band around the rim.
The important thing to know about mopheads and lacecaps is that they bloom on old wood. What does that mean? It means that those sad-looking, dead looking brown stems that remain through the winter will “spring” to life next year. Those stems hold the buds for next year’s flowers. So, If you go and cut down a substantial amount of stem, you are going to lose your flowers!
New stems will grow, perhaps with tons of beautiful leaves, but you will get no flowers. The mystery of my non-blooming hydrangea is solved.
So, can you and should you prune hydrangea?
You can cut off the faded blooms, just below the flower head. This is called dead-heading. You don’t need to do this, but you can. Dead-heading is different from pruning, which is removing a part or all of a stem or branch. The rule for pruning is, never prune your mopheads or lacecaps after July 31st.
Other varieties of hydrangea, such as the tree-like Pee Gee, have different pruning needs. Pee Gees can be pruned in late fall, winter, or even spring, because their buds form on new growth.
A good rule of thumb is to prune any of these varieties soon after they have finished blooming. This gives enough time for the plant to form next year’s buds.
Even better, if you don’t have to prune them, then don’t. Let them grow into the big, lush plants that they want to be! How can you argue with one less thing to do in the yard?
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