11 Tips For Deadheading Hydrangeas Correctly

If you are trying to deadhead your hydrangeas for better blooms this season, you aren't alone! Deadheading is the art of removing spent blooms so that new ones can come and take their place. In this article, gardening expert and hydrangea enthusiast Jill Drago walks through her top tips for properly deadheading this season.

Deadheading Hydrangeas

To deadhead, or not to deadhead… that is the question? Or is it?  You are here so you must be ready to deadhead your hydrangeas. Let’s dig into that a little bit deeper, because these amazing shrubs can be a bit temperamental when it comes to their care.

Deadheading is my favorite gardening task, is that weird? I love to walk through my flower garden, watching my hydrangeas grow. At the same time, I like to identify potential issues, get rid of any weeds, and tidy up. Some plants don’t look so bad if you skip deadheading. Some look pretty rough, and there is nothing more satisfying than deadheading away and getting that plant back into shape.

So, if you’ve decided to deadhead your hydrangeas for better blooms, you’ve come to the right place! Keep on reading for my favorite tips that will help ensure you deadhead your hydrangeas correctly for big, beautiful booms!

Know Your Plant

Blue Hydrangea
Different types of hydrangeas will need different pruning and deadheading techniques.

With pruning it is very important to know what kind of hydrangea you are working with if you want to maintain the flower buds for the next season. But when it comes to deadheading, it is most important to know if you have a reblooming variety or not.

Reblooming varieties bloom on both old wood and new wood. Deadheading these types of hydrangeas (Endless Summer is a popular variety) will ensure a really bountiful autumn bloom.

There are old wood blooming hydrangeas such as bigleaf hydrangea, oakleaf hydrangea, and mountain hydrangea. There are also new wood blooming hydrangeas which include panicle hydrangeas and the smooth hydrangea.

The old wood hydrangeas form their flower buds on wood grown in the past seasons and will really benefit from deadheading in the fall. If you deadhead too late, it may cause your hydrangea to forego blooming at all. New wood hydrangeas will form their flower buds on new growth. These plants can be deadheaded whenever you wish, even in the spring.

Understand Why You Deadhead

Cutting Hydrangeas
Deadheading your hydrangea will create more blooms and a healthier plant.

From the plants perspective their main objective in life is to reproduce and to do whatever it needs to do to make sure this happens. In the case of hydrangeas they are working on producing mature seeds.

When you deadhead any type of plant you are sending a message to the plant to focus its energy on creating new growth as opposed to keeping that flower blooming. In some cases this will push more blooms in the same season, in others it will cause the plant to start storing up nutrients so that the plant will be even stronger in the next flowering season.

On reblooming varieties of hydrangea deadheading will help to promote a more prolific second flowering, and even the flowering of next season. Deadheading, as well as pruning, will allow the stems to become stronger and will help the plant become more healthy. Both of these will lead to a stronger bloom.

Pick The Right Tools

tools for pruning hydrangeas
It’s important to use the right tools when deadheading your hydrangeas.

Many gardeners have their favorite pair of shears, I know I do. I personally love bypass pruners. They are handy on perennial shrubs as well as fragile annuals, which means I only have to carry around one tool while I deadhead my garden. They also make very nice clean cuts. Whatever you are comfortable using will work here.

Some important things to consider no matter what tool you choose are:

Clean Your Shears

You can simply wipe down the blades of your shears with a rag if you know they haven’t come into contact with any diseased plants. If you are unsure you can wipe down your shears with rubbing alcohol and allow them to air dry before you deadhead.

Sharpen Your Shears

You can sharpen your shears by using a sharpening stone just as you would sharpen your kitchen knives. In some cases it may be easier to purchase new shears each year, there are a lot of affordable options available.

Wear Safety Glasses

Don’t forget your safety glasses or sunglasses… just to be safe. It’s possible that debris will come shooting off the plant when you are deadheading, so you want to protect your eyes.

Wear Garden Gloves

This might seem like common knowledge, but many gardeners do not wear gloves. Wearing gloves while deadheading is important, because you’ll be clipping next to the old wood, with a chance to stick yourself if you aren’t careful.

Keep a Bucket Nearby

I find it very handy to keep a bucket nearby when I am doing any garden work, but especially while working with hydrangeas. When the flowers dry out they tend to roll away with the smallest gust of wind!

Choose Your Timing

Spent Hydrangea on Bush
Examine your hydrangea bush to see which blooms need to be trimmed back before you make any cuts.

You will know when you need to deadhead your hydrangeas simply by examining the flowers. They will begin to fade, and the once lush petals will begin to dry out. If you are deadheading correctly you will not need to worry about damaging your flower buds for your second bloom or for next season.

Don’t wait too long, and be sure to deadhead as the flowers pass. Make a pass through your garden once or twice a week with your pruning shears in hand and you will be in good shape.

Make a Proper Cut

cutting back hydrangea
Deadheading your bloom needs to be done correctly in order to promote healthy new growth.

Once you have located the flowers that are ready to be deadheaded, run your fingers down the stem of the hydrangea until you reach the first set of big leaves. You will want to make your cut just above this set of leaves. If you cut too low and you could potentially damage those leaves, if you cut too high you will leave a stump that will turn woody and become unattractive.

Look For Old Wood

cutting off old wood from hydrangeas
Removing “deadwood” will allow the bush to thrive later in the season.

While you are examining your plant, take a look at the stalks (or stems). Occasionally you will find one that is woody all the way down to the ground. Don’t worry, your plant is not dying even though this type of stem is called “deadwood”.

Deadwood can occur for many reasons, weather or just age.You can typically snap these types of branches easily by hand. These should be removed all of the way to the ground. This isn’t deadheading, however it will clear out unnecessary growth of the plant, and make it easier to care for overall.

When You Shouldn’t Deadhead

Dead Hydrangea Bush
It may be beneficial to leave some of the spent blooms to protect new flowering buds.

If you haven’t gotten around to deadheading by the mid-fall it is best to leave those spent blooms on your plant. Not only will they provide winter interest to your yard, but it will protect any formed flower buds.

On reblooming varieties, or new wood bloomers, you can go ahead and snip those dried flowers off in the spring and you will still get an excellent bloom from your plant.

When To Stop

Hydrangea Bush
You won’t harm the plant by deadheading all of the blooms.

When it comes to removing blooms and strictly deadheading them, you really don’t need to worry about taking too many of your flowers off. For instance, if half of the flowers on your hydrangea have passed, but the other half are still hanging on, you will not damage the plant by removing them all. You will only lose the beauty of the flowers. (See below for what to do with all of the flowers)

Use Cut Blooms in Arrangements

Hydrangea Flower arrangement
Hydrangeas make beautiful arrangements and give you more time to enjoy their beauty after pruning or deadheading.

Just because the blossoms on your hydrangeas are dry, doesn’t mean they are any less beautiful. In fact many hydrangea flowers will hold onto a muted shade of their color when they dry. Don’t throw those beauties away, collect them and throw them in a vase with some water. Let the water evaporate out of the vase and save the flowers until you are sick of looking at them.

Deadheading vs. Pruning

Deadheading hydrangea
Make sure to know which type of hydrangea you have and what pruning technique they require.

What’s that old saying? Measure twice cut once? This is so true when it comes to deadheading hydrangeas. If you are truly deadheading you will want to be only cutting to the next set of leaves.

A gardener with an experienced eye for pruning hydrangeas may be able to identify certain parts of the plant that could use an extra trim… but it is not always safe to take that much growth off a plant if it’s the middle of the summer. Doing so could risk your leaf and flower buds that have yet to open.

Pruning hydrangeas can be a larger task depending on what type of hydrangea you have. Some hydrangeas like to be cut all the way to the ground in the fall, where some of them don’t need to be pruned because their growth is more on the compact side.

The act of pruning  entails removing some of all of a branch, and with it leaves and potentially leaf or flower buds depending on when you do the pruning.

Don’t Worry if You Forget

old hydrangea protecting new hydrangea growth
The spent blooms can help protect any new growth.

The benefit of deadheading is strictly visual. Actually, with big leaf hydrangea the older blooms can protect the new flower buds from any frost damage or wind burn. But, if you’re like me, and you don’t like watching the tumbleweeds of hydrangea blossoms roll around your garden all year- go ahead and deadhead them. Just know, if you forget- it’s no big deal!

Final Thoughts

Don’t be intimidated by deadheading your hydrangeas. It is a simple and enjoyable process. Deadheading your hydrangeas once a week will not only keep your garden looking fresh, but it will also get you out in the dirt. The more you deadhead, the more you will want to deadhead. You will be surprised how much of a difference such a simple gardening task can make.

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