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Pruning Oakleaf Hydrangea

When to trim Oakleaf Hydrangeas

By: Sandy Feather 2010
Penn State Extension

Q. When is the best time to prune my oakleaf hydrangea, and how should I go about it? It has gotten much bigger than I anticipated!

A. Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) bloom on wood that grew last season -- you may have heard it said that they "bloom on old wood." They are best pruned as soon as they finish flowering. They begin to produce next year's flower buds soon after they bloom; if you prune them after the buds have set, you will reduce or eliminate 2010's flowering. 


Oakleaf Hydrangea

Pruning Techniques for Hydrangeas

The best approach is to remove the thickest, oldest stems at ground level, rather than shearing them. That way, you will remove the flowers on those stems but not all of the flowers. You may be able to keep it in bounds that way.

Shearing tends to cause a thicket of twigs at the ends of the stems, which block sunlight from the interior of the plant and reduce air circulation through it. This can create favorable conditions for diseases to develop, and it is generally stressful for the shrub.

Oakleaf hydrangea in full bloom

Proper Selections of Plants

Pruning is not a substitute for proper plant selection. If you have to constantly prune a shrub (or tree) to keep it in bounds, you may have chosen the wrong plant for the site. It does a disservice to both of you -- It creates more work for you and the plant cannot grow to its genetic potential.

Expect most oakleaf hydrangea cultivars to grow 6 to 10 feet tall and wide, if not slightly larger. There are dwarf cultivars of oakleaf hydrangea that may suit your needs better, including 'Pee Wee,' 'Little Honey,' 'Shannon,' 'Sikes Dwarf' and 'Summit.' Most of these are 3 to 4 feet tall with a slightly wider spread.


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