Northern Michigan Garden Maintenance, Renovation & Design
6829 Herkner Road Traverse City, MI 49685
25 Mar 2014

To Prune or Not To Prune – Hydrangea Dilemias

As spring approaches, I find myself dreaming of beautiful Hydrangea flowers. I have 5 different varieties growing in my gardens. I am frequently asked how to care for Hydrangeas so that my customers can encourage and enjoy blossoms in their gardens too. Do you wonder when or how to prune your Hydrangeas?


The first step to beautiful flowers is to determine the variety of your hydrangea. If your plant produces big pink or blue flowers, it is a variety of Hydrangea macrophylla, commonly referred to as a mophead hydrangea. If your plant produces round and white flowers, it is a variety of Hydrangea arborescens. If your Hydrangea has large, open conical shaped flowers you own Hydrangea paniculata.

If you are caring for mophead varieties, the first thing you must do is choose a cultivar that is hardy to Zone 5, preferably Zone 4. The best time to prune for shape is immediately after bloom in the summer. Some varieties may set blooms on new season wood, but all mopheads set flower buds on the previous year’s growth. Here in Northern Michigan we often have dieback due to late frosts. In late May, prune back stems to the first live bud.

Hydrangea Live Bud
Hydrangea Live Bud

Early spring is also a good time to cut out dead stems all the way to the ground to encourage the plant to send up fresh growth.


Hydrangea arborescens cultivars such as Annabelle, Incrediball, and Invincible Spirit all flower on new season growth. The best approach to control floppiness is to cut the entire plant down to a height of 8-10 inches in late fall or very early spring.

Annabel - before
Fall Annabelle before cutdown
annabelle after
Fall Annabelle after cutdown

Hydrangea paniculata cultivars include Tardiva, Pink Diamond, Limelight and QuickFire. These beauties also flower on new season growth. They may be left tall if you prefer the height. To keep plants more compact and flowering fully, prune all wood back to a diameter equal to your pinky finger. You may be cutting the plant nearly to the ground, but spindly stems produce spindly flowers. This type of pruning is best done in late fall or very early spring. This will seem drastic but they will grow back!

Quick Fire
Quick Fire

As always make sure to give your hydrangeas a good feed in the spring. The genetics of the plant determine bloom color. With some cultivars, soil pH can change color. If you have questions regarding proper fertilization and pH modification of your beautiful hydrangeas, The Mossy Tree would be happy to assist with recommendation and application.

Fortunately, even if you make a mistake in pruning, the Hydrangea will live on but just not flower for a season. They are a very forgiving bunch! Beautiful flowers can be yours starting with soil preparation, identifying which type of Hydrangea you have to work with, and a little hard work.
Now if the snow would just melt….

15 Mar 2014

Preparing for Gardening 2014

Although this won’t get your hands dirty or even feel the warmth of the sun, now is the perfect time to start planning your gardening journey for 2014.

DSC_92251.  Keep notes on annual seed and plant purchases, past garden successes and failures, and even new things to try. If you have those, it’s a good time to review these before you start planning your seed and equipment orders.   Maps of past gardens will help you rotate plants and avoid overcrowding when planning spacing of plantings.

IMG_41902.  The winter months are a good time to start a garden journal or even just a file where you can store articles clipped out of newspapers and magazines, or lists of ideas you want to try in the garden. A good place to get a few new ideas is by taking a class or joining a garden club. Most gardeners love to talk about gardening and won’t mind sharing some of their tried and true methods and products with you.

IMG_27773.  Check the seeds you saved and stored from last year’s garden. Discard anything that is damp, diseased, moldy, or in otherwise bad condition. Look over what’s left, and determine what you need to order.

DSC_01354.  It’s wise to plan your seed order with other gardeners. This will allow you to save money while growing a wider variety of crops and flowers. In addition, some seed companies offer discounts or free seeds for early bird and/or large orders. Just don’t fall into the trap of ordering more than you can use. That’s where the notes you kept from past years will be useful.

DSC_34545.  Planning your landscape plants. Although you wouldn’t be able to plant them now, even if you could buy them, this “down time” in gardening is perfect for planning. Start thinking about what you need to fill in gaps in your landscape or what new plants you’d like to try.

snowshoes6.  Throw on your snowshoes and take a walk around your property to visualize where landscape improvements are needed or where you might put in a new flower bed.  Also consider adding things for winter interest (ie, trees for bird food, shelter; red twig dogwood for color; hellebores for early flowering; etc)

DSC_01747.   Above all, think about color, scents, textures, and shapes. Then scout out companies that carry what’s on your wish list.  If you have any questions about how to plan color scents, textures, and shapes, your friends at The Mossy Tree would love to help!