Hydrangea help

Asked June 17, 2020, 6:18 PM EDT

Hi, I bought a property with 4-5 hydrangia bushes. When we moved in, they had beautiful blooms. Not knowing how to care for them, I did not do anything and most of the foliage never came back. This year, I added soil acidifier and granular fertilizer for acid loving plants, and the foliage is looking much better. My question is about pruning. I pruned off all of the dead stalks about 2 weeks ago, before which the plants looked terrible. In the fall season I left 1 of the plants alone, 1 I pruned all the way to the ground and the others I did something in the middle, pruning what I thought was dead. The foliage of the plant I pruned all the way down is the best of all of them right now, however I noticed on the plant I didn't prune at all, there are live branches coming off stalks that look dead. There are no blooms I can see on any of the plants. Which way should these be pruned? Unfortunately I do not have any pictures from the first year when they were blooming, but I have pictures from just after I took out all of the dead tissue

Baltimore County Maryland

1 Response

Hydrangeas are beautiful, aren't they?
There are several types, and yours looks like what is termed a Big Leaf Hydrangea (H.macrophylla).
First know: that early first year when you did nothing and they didn't come back was likely no fault of yours. In our area when we have an unusually cold winter, the plants can be killed back to the ground (roots ok) or less often completely lost.
Most of these types of hydrangea bloom on wood made the previous season, so if the live stems are killed, or the pruning is done at the wrong time, the buds/blooms are lost as well.
There are newer varieties that are supposed to bloom on both old and new wood so winter kill and incorrect timing of pruning is less of a problem.
For most Big Leaf though, wait until spring to see what stems are still alive. The ones that are brittle and dead, prune out (you can scrape the wood with a fingernail to see if it is brown (dead) or green(live) underneath).
This late, you can see in your first photo that most of them are dead and you can just prune them back.
Leave the ones however that have some leaves still showing on the stem. These are the older, live branches that you are most likely to get flowers on this year.
It is not uncommon to have a late frost nip some buds just coming out of dormancy in our area.

Clear as mud, right?? This page might help clarify things better than I just did:
https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/guide-pruning-hydrangeas

Good luck and let us know if we can help further.


Christine