I have had a hydrangea for over 30 years. It has never bloomed, and I now understand that it is because I cut it down every winter :) I believe it is a lace hydrangea. It is in the very front of my house, so I will consider leaving it up this year, but I will see how bad it looks. Meanwhile, there are many branches that are sprawling on the ground. What do I do about that? Also, will the dead leaves fall off? Any suggestions to make it look better? Can I shorten it?
Unlike other summer-blooming shrubs that form their flower buds in the spring, most hydrangeas form their flower buds after blooming the summer before. Therefore, if you prune in the fall or spring, you will cut off the flower buds for that summer.
The best approach is to plant--or move--a hydrangea to a spot where it does not need pruning to control size or appearance. You CAN prune your hydrangea anytime (i.e. it won't kill the plant), but you will sacrifice bloom. Shoots sprawling on the ground CAN be removed, but again you'll sacrifice bloom.
If we have a harsh winter, the ends of shoots may die and need to be pruned off.
Dead leaves will fall off. You seem to want a neat tidy appearance in that location year round, so we'd recommend that you simply move the plant.
I really appreciate your thorough and thoughtful response. Thank you!