With the right cut, especially at the right time, the hydrangea lays the foundation for beautiful and healthy flowering in the next year. There are several types of hydrangea that have different requirements when it comes to cutting times. With a little luck, the right time to cut the hydrangea will bloom in the same year or it can be saved from damage from frost.

Cut back depending on the variety

The pruning of hydrangeas has almost become a question of faith in recent years. A look at the varieties is enough to know when the right cutting time is. Basically, panicle and snowball hydrangeas are the only two varieties in which you not only remove the faded umbels in the autumn of the same year in which they bloom, but also cut them back completely. The shoots are even cut down to one pair of eyes, combined with removal of the faded umbels. This is the point where the plant forms new grounds for next year’s shoots. In autumn at the latest, before the frost announces itself, it is time to prune these varieties.

Before hobby gardeners cut their hydrangeas, they should know exactly the variety, because the following species cannot tolerate pruning in the same year:

These hydrangea species suffer considerable damage if they are pruned in autumn because they form their buds on the old shoot. By pruning in autumn, the flowers may be removed for the next year. These species are only cut in early and frost-free spring when it is clear where the buds are forming.

Tip: If you are not sure which hydrangea species grow in your garden, you should wait until next spring to cut them. This is also the latest possible time for snowball and panicle hydrangeas, but it is possible that the flowering of these varieties is a little weaker.

Only cut withered umbels

When pruning immediately after flowering, only the individual umbel is cut out. A pruning of the withered umbels is not to be equated with a pruning that is supposed to encourage new bud systems. Sharp garden or rose shears are used for the cut. The cut is made immediately under the umbel and above the next pair of leaves.

Note: If you want to dry hydrangea flowers for arrangements, you shouldn’t wait until they have faded. The ideal time to cut dry flowers is when they are in full bloom. So that the flowers can be processed well later, the cut should be made significantly lower, even if fewer flowers are to be expected in the next year.

Breaking out gentler

Compared to many other plants, it is better to break out the flowers of the hydrangea than to cut them off. The tissue heals faster and the perennials can regenerate better. When breaking out, proceed as follows:

  • Hold the branch with your thumb and forefinger over the leaf axis and under the flower
  • Break away over the thumbnail
  • Break again in the opposite direction over the index fingernail

If the shoot does not come off completely when moving back and forth, the remaining tissue is cut with sharp rose scissors. Under no circumstances should it be squeezed or turned around or even the part that is to be severed should be pulled down, as the branch can be damaged all the way down by attached fibers.

Promote second flowering period

Some varieties are so floriferous that thinning out the perennials can encourage a second flowering period. Especially very early varieties can flower a second time in late summer. For this purpose, the flowers are again cut off or broken out immediately after they have faded at the latest. The more consistent gardeners proceed here, the greater the likelihood that they will stimulate the perennials to continue flowering.

Do not cut if there is a risk of frost

If you cut the hydrangea in autumn, especially if you encourage a second flowering period, you have to make sure that no severe frost has been announced for at least one to two weeks. The pruning should be done at the beginning of October at the latest, as it usually remains frost-free until the middle of the month. In regions where the first frost is announced earlier, you should not cut the hydrangea flowers until the next year. In this way, the risk of frost damage through open interfaces can be reduced.

Tip: The faded umbels of the hydrangeas are a visually attractive sight in winter, especially when they are delicately covered with hoarfrost. In a near-natural garden, they also offer many insects a valuable shelter over the winter.

Even if opinions differ about pruning after flowering, if you know your varieties, you can cut at the right time. Above all, breaking out promotes healthy development. Care is usually easier because you can remove dead inflorescences in passing.

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