How and When to Deadhead Hydrangeas for Stronger Flowers That Bloom All Summer Long

Removing spent flowers will ensure your hydrangeas produce healthier, more bountiful blooms later on.

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Hydrangeas are one of the most anticipated perennials of the year. Their immense flower heads, which bloom in shades of white, pink, or blue, add noteworthy curb appeal to any landscape. But there's one key aspect of ensuring hydrangeas return bigger and better every year: deadheading. The practice of removing spent flowers from a plant, deadheading encourages stronger, more bountiful blooms later on. So long as you know how to deadhead hydrangeas correctly and at the right time, you'll have showy blooms for years to come. 

bright pink hydrangeas in the summer

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Why You Should Deadhead Hydrangeas

Deadheading your hydrangeas isn't a care step you want to skip. "Deadheading allows the energy produced by the plant to go into the leaves, stems, and roots (rather than forming seeds) for future growth," says Melinda Myers, a professional gardener. Some hydrangeas can topple over if they have heavy blooms; deadheading them will encourage the growth of stronger stems.

In addition to bolstering future blooms and strengthening stems, deadheading your hydrangeas has aesthetic benefits, too. "Removing faded flowers creates a neat and tidy appearance, which many gardeners prefer over the look of leaving dried flowers on the plant," says Meyers. 

When to Deadhead Hydrangeas 

The best time to prune your hydrangeas depends on the species, so be sure to check instructions specific to the variety you're growing. "Bigleaf hydrangeas, such as endless summer, should be deadheaded when the first set of flowers sprout from last year's growth in the spring," says Meyers. This eliminates the faded flowers before the next flush appears. "If you want a longer stem, you can make a deeper cut as long as it is done before July or August when the plant begins forming buds for next year's flowers," she says.

For smooth hydrangeas, remove the spent flowers as soon as they fade to green to ensure a second flush of smaller blooms in the fall.

Consequences of Deadheading at the Wrong Time 

Deadheading in the wrong season can lead to a lack of blooms, as new buds may be chopped off. "Pruning as fall temperatures drop can also encourage new growth at a time when an upcoming frost can damage the tender new foliage," says Jim Putnam, founder of HortTube and Southern Living Plant Collection expert. "Deadheading in the middle of summer could risk stressing your hydrangea due to the heat and drought that affect some regions, so climate and seasonality are important to keep in mind."

How to Deadhead Hydrangeas 

How you deadhead your hydrangeas is also species dependent.

How to Deadhead Bigleaf and Oakleaf Hydrangeas 

Oakleaf and bigleaf hydrangeas will bloom on old wood and do not require any pruning except to control bloom height or to tidy up the plant. Locate spent blooms and then follow them down to the first set of full-sized leaves beneath the flower head—make your cut right above the leaves. "Be careful not to remove large portions of the stems of bigleaf types," says Meyers. "By early August, they've usually set their buds for next year."

How to Deadhead Panicle and Smooth Hydrangeas

A popular type of hydrangea, the panicle variety blooms on new wood and benefits from a more dramatic cut than the bigleaf and oakleaf varieties. Putnam says to take your pruning shears and cut the shrub all the way to the ground to encourage a fuller shape the following growing season.

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