How to Prune a Hydrangea Tree

2 Materials
2 Hours

Hi, I'm Liz from Simple Decorating Tips, a DIY and decorating blog.

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 a 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:

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.

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:

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:

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…

With a bin to collect the dead flowers and unwanted branches, a ladder and a clean, sharp , 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…

  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. 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.

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…

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…

To read more gardening projects, both inside and outside gardening... as well as tons of renovation projects, be sure to stop by my site

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  2 questions
  • Teresa Unger Rogers Teresa Unger Rogers on Dec 12, 2018

    I'm wondering if these beautiful trees could survive the really cold winters of Winnipeg Manitoba.

  • Jamie Garver Jamie Garver on Sep 03, 2019

    Im not sure how to send you a photo. But I have a big beautiful Hydrangea tree, but there are dead, dry curled branches with leaves I am noticing. I have cut out the dead, but am wondering if you have seen this, and what is causing it?

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2 of 17 comments
  • Von Von on Dec 03, 2018

    Just what I have been waiting on. Thank you so much.

  • Maxine Maxine on Jul 15, 2023

    I have a large hydrangea tree. Last year my garden helper did the trimming.

    It is absolutely lovely. Contrary to bigger and better I do like some smaller

    blooms to use in arrangements and small containers.