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How to Prune a Hydrangea Tree

SimpleDecoratingTips.com gardening time to prune your peegee hydrangea

Last year I posted about pruning and have had a lot of interest, so since it’s getting to be that time again…

I’m not an expert gardener, I, like how my dad used to describe himself, am a ‘jack of all trades, and a king of none’… I know a lot, well… a little about a lot of things. 😉 But here are some things I know about the hydrangea tree we inherited when we moved into this 100 year old house

The only variety of hydrangeas that can be made into tree form are Paniculata hydrangeas, or for short PeeGee. PeeGee hydrangeas are in the Paniculata family, so to speak. I don’t know enough to tell one type of Paniculata from the other, (or how to actually pronounce ‘Paniculata’) but I do know that the flower shape on them is more of a cone shape, unlike other varieties of hydrangea which are mophead or ball shape.

We for sure have a Paniculata hydrangea. 1. It is a tree shape and 2. the flowers are very cone shaped.

Here’s a close up of the flower from last summer:

SimpleDecoratingTips.com PeeGee flower cone shaped

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

When we first bought this house, a couple years ago, the landscaping had been so abused, that we weren’t even sure if this hydrangea tree would be worth saving.

SimpleDecoratingTips.com PeeGee looks rough

The previous ‘lawn care’ people did a horrible job… it was obvious how every single tree was hit with lawnmower and weed wacker over and over again! This hydrangea tree was no exception. Everything that was close to the edge, where the lawnmower could get to it, was so beat-up, it was eventually killed by the abuse, leaving only the back branch still alive.

But we pruned it up early last spring, according to our new found knowledge for PeeGee hydrangeas and it did beautifully last summer. Here is a comparison:

SimpleDecoratingTips.com before and after pruning difference

So how to prune, that is the question…

Here are the basic pruning tips that I have found always apply to every pruning job I’ve ever done:

SimpleDecoratingTips.com basic pruning tips

Once you apply these basic rules, depending on the particular type of tree or bush you’re pruning, there may be a few fine tune rules to apply… such as with apple trees, cutting off the upward branches or suckers, or like with these hydrangeas, make the actual cut on the branch just after the first bud, (I’ll explain that better a little further down)

Then the biggest question is when to prune.

For instance, lilacs need to be pruned as soon as they are done flowering, because next year’s blooms will be formed on the branches that are growing this year.

But with PeeGee or Paniculata hydrangeas, there is a lot of freedom for when to prune. The reason is because the flowers form in the summer right before they bloom. I think the best time to prune them is in the early spring though, because you really want to be able to see the buds to know where to snip. And once the hydrangea starts growing in the spring/summer the energy won’t be wasted on branches that you will be cutting off. In other words, if you haven’t already… it’s time think about pruning your PeeGee hydrangea!

I’ll give you a quick run down of pruning our PeeGee hydrangea.

This is what it looked like this spring, after a long winter. Keep in mind that we already did the major shaping last spring…

SimpleDecoratingTips.com before pruning

With a bin to collect the dead flowers and unwanted branches, a ladder and a clean, sharp pair of pruners, and a pair of loppers, we set to work. My husband on the ladder with the pruners, me on the ground with a cut branch, pointing to him which and where to cut,  (I wonder what the neighbors think sometimes?)  But really, teamwork like that is good for this job, because when you’re super close, it’s hard to get a good perspective.

It can seem like a daunting task…

with branches everywhere…

but I find it best to just start cleaning it up, applying the basic pruning tips…

Here is an affiliate link for  some great pruners for the small branches.

And Loppers for the larger branches. You really need both to do the job well.

HometoCottage.com branches everywhere
  1. Is it crossing over? Cut it out.
  2. Is it a small weak branch? Cut it off.
  3. How do I want the shape of the tree to be? Cut it accordingly.
  4. and place your cuts above the bud bumps where you want new growth to sprout from.

When you’re pruning the old branches off of a PeeGee, snip it above the little bump, that is the ‘bud’ on the branch, and this is where the new growth and new branch will sprout out. If you left the entire branch without pruning it shorter, the entire branch would sprout branches on all the bud bumps… which is too many, and would result in them all being weak, with small flowers.

SimpleDecoratingTips.com buds on branches

And before you know it, you’re getting to a point of ‘cleaning’ the branches out that it is making sense and looking a bit less like a bad hair day and more like…  well, I’d love to say a lovely tree formed shrub, but it will look a bit barren…

But, wait for it…

SimpleDecoratingTips.com buds now growing leaves

have no fear… It will come back and be lovely! See? The new growth is sprouting right where the little bud bumps were that we carefully pruned above! That new growth is what will grow into a sweeping 2 or 3 foot branch with a huge flower head at the end of it.

There is a lot of grace in pruning a PeeGee hydrangea… They really want to live, and by pruning it, the energy they have to live will be even more concentrated on what you left them to put it into.

So be encouraged to get pruning, because now you know how to prune a Hydrangea tree! It’s not so hard after all, especially if you remember the basic pruning tips…

SimpleDecoratingTips.com basic pruning tips

Here is an affiliate link for  some great pruners for the small branches.

And Loppers for the larger branches. You really need both to do the job well.

Did you know I now offer e-decorating? I can help you with your decorating needs via email, without having to step foot in your home. If you’re interested in more information, visit my e-decorating site: Frame and Frills. I’d love to help you with your project!

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Comments

  1. Cindy says

    HI, I have a PeeGee Hydrangea (in 4-5 ft tall). This spring, it stopped blooming suddenly after growing some tiny green leaves (about 1 cm). The tiny leaves turned brown and there is no more green on the tree. I am not sure if the tree is dead or not. Will it still be alive?

    I have moved to this house 3 years ago. The tree was blooming normal in the past few years. In early spring, I have already pruned it a bit. Should I prune all the weak branches now, or should I wait for the next spring please?

    • Liz says

      That’s weird! I’m no expert on the subject, but I have learned to be patient… Sometimes thing still have life in their roots and do come back. I’d wait until next summer before doing anything too drastic.

  2. Cynthia Watson says

    HELLO! I just bought a very old home and will move in around February. There is a lovely Hydrangea tree in the corner of the backyard. I have been searching the web for how and when to prune it. It’s late November now and the flowers have turned brown. Your directions were the most complete! Just making sure…all brown flowers should be cut off down to the bud, and crossing twigs and weak ones are all pruned off. Right? Thanks again!

    • Liz says

      Hi Cynthia! I’m so very glad my post helped you out. Yes, you have it right on the pruning. Will you be renovating your recently acquired old house? It’s a lot of work, but so worth it in the end.

  3. Gerald says

    I have a large PeeGee Hydrangea tree that is 10-12 ft tall. It is now mid Oct in Buffalo NY. Should I prune now? The flowers are mostly brown. One side of the tree has several dead branches and know new growth. The other side has a lot of flowers and full growth. Do I need to cut back and prune a lot to reshape the tree and do i do it now.

    • Liz says

      Gerald, Yes, you can prune it in late fall if you wish. We leave the brown flowers on through the winter because I think they’re pretty and pruned in early spring before it started to grow. Also, if there is a dead branch it is easier to determine that now while there are live leaves on it… in the spring everything looks dead but isn’t necessarily so. As far as re-shaping, it is recommended that any drastic reshaping on shrubs in general is done over 3 years. 1/3 each year, thus still allowing the majority of it to grow and gather energy etc.

  4. Oh My Heartsie Girl says

    Hi Liz, well your care in pruning has surely paid off, your tree is beautiful!! I dont think I have ever smelled them do they have a nice fragrance?

    Thanks for stopping by the #OMHGWW this week to share your blog!!

    Hope you have a great week!
    Karren

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