Think of pruning this billowy bloom as giving it an annual physical: It's essential to maintaining the good health of your hydrangeas.
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A popular flowering shrub, hydrangeas are easily recognizable for their lush blooms and hardy leaves. These perennials do best in well-drained soil in USDA zones 5 to 9 and grow from 3 to 6 feet tall. Most species need pruning to maintain their shape and produce flowers every year, but even if yours doesn't need it, you may want to prune for aesthetic reasons.

Before you get out the shears and start snipping, identify your shrub; different species have different pruning schedules. Prune at the wrong time, and you could be inadvertently cutting into next season's flowers.

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Credit: ANDREA JONES

With help from the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), we explain how to properly prune the most common types of hydrangeas.

twist and shout hydrangea
Credit: F. D. Richards / Flickr

The Big Leaf (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Two popular varieties, Mophead and Lacecap, come in blue, pink, and purple, with thick, shiny leaves. Mophead produces large, ball-shaped flower clusters, while Lacecap's clusters are flat and delicate. They bloom on old wood (stems that have been on the bush since the summer before) and should be pruned in the summer when the flowers have started to fade but before August hits. A bush can be trimmed by cutting back stems close to a node. If a plant is overgrown, prune back about one-third of the older stems almost to the ground.

Oakleaf hydrangea
Credit: Getty Images

Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia)

This species has leaves that look like they belong on red oak trees and flowers that open white and then turn pink. The hydrangea, which grows on old wood, doesn't need much pruning. If you want to control its shape or size, clip it in the summer before August when flowers' once-vibrant colors begin to fade.

Close-up image of the summer flowering Hydrangea Arborescens 'Incrediball, or smooth Hydrangea, white flowers
Credit: Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

Smooth (Hydrangea aborescens)

One variety, Annabella, has big flowers that are actually made up of many small individual blooms. They start out green but turn white a few weeks later. This species' leaves are thinner than Mophead's and Lacecap's. Since it blooms on new wood (stems that have grown during the current season), prune in early spring before any flower buds have appeared.

White and Pink Panicle Hydrangea Close Up
Credit: Greenseas / Getty Images

Peegee and Limelight (Hydrangea paniculata)

This white species, which blooms on new wood, is most often cone-shaped and sharply pointed. It comes in many varieties, from small shrubs to small trees. Its leaves are rough and thin. Prune in early spring before it starts flowering.

pink Beautiful Hydrangea Serrata
Credit: Juan Jimenez / EyeEm / Getty Images

Tree of Heaven and Mountain (Hydrangea serrata)

Tree of Heaven has a similar look to Mophead, but it is a smaller shrub with narrower, pointed leaves. The flower, which blooms on new wood and can be pruned at any time after the new growth has started, is affected by a soil's pH: It produces lilac to pink flowers in alkaline soil and blue blossoms in acidic soil.

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