What does it mean to deadhead Hydrangea macrophylla?
Deadheading a flower means to remove the flower.
Deadheading varies from difficult to easy. When you need to deadhead hundreds of tiny marigold blossoms and are down on your hands and knees - that takes a lot of endurance! However, deadheading hydrangea flowers is easy and I find it relaxing as can be.
Well, it's relaxing if you know what you're doing. It is stressful if someone asks you to deadhead the hydrangeas and you have no clue what to do and are worried about pruning off potential flowers because you've heard the mantra "bigleaf hydrangea blooms on old wood." If you prune off too much of that old wood, no flowers for you in spring.
How to Deadhead Hydrangeas
Luckily, deadheading hydrangeas doesn't prune off old wood; another way to say it is it doesn't prune off the buds that developed last year and thus this year's flowers.
All you have to do is prune down to the first node below the flower head. A "node" is were a leaf or bud is located on the stem. Watch this very short video to see what we mean.
When to Deadhead Hydrangeas
Timing is not as important for Hydrangeas as it is for annuals, like marigolds or basil. For annuals, their purpose in life is going to seed and produce a new plant ASAP before dying. Deadheading arrests that process and prolongs the life of the plant so you can 1) enjoy the flowers (annuals - pansies, marigolds, petunias) or 2) enjoy the tasty leaves (herbs - basil, dill, cilantro) for a longer duration.
Hydrangeas flowers do go to seed, but going to seed doesn't literally kill the plant. Time to deadhead is a matter of aesthetics.
We deadhead in late winter/early spring. Here at the CEP garden, we love to see hydrangea flowers mature, age, and "antique" so we wait until our last possible moment to deadhead them. For us, we deadhead our hydrangeas in late winter or early spring, once the garden has slightly awakened and we can clearly see where the new growth is flushing along the stem. At this point, it's a matter of convenience because it's easier to deadhead them now than when there's a lot of dense leaves on the plant. It's just our time to do it.
Deadheading could be done right after flowering or in the fall. Timing is dependent upon when you want to clean up the garden. Some folks like the clear everything away in the fall and apply a layer of mulch to "put the garden to bed." In the fall, we clear out the dead yucky stuff, like mushy ginger or canna stalks, but like to leave a lot of dried flower heads and wild looking architectural stalks, like hydrangeas and black eyed Susans.
Never deadheading is an option. Of course, if you never deadhead your hydrangeas they will be okay. The flowers will eventually fall apart and drop off on their own. However, we think it's important in the Deep South to give a shrub some airflow to help mitigate diseases and we don't like to see decaying flowers alongside bright vibrant hydrangea flowers in full bloom. Never deadheading is never our first recommendation. I think you could tell that late winter/early spring is what we would recommend if asked a pointed question.
Deadheading Other Types of Hydrangeas
All common hydrangea shrubs are deadheaded this way, including Hydrangea macrophylla, Hydrangea serrata, Hydrangea paniculata, Hydrangea quercifolia, and Hydrangea aspera.
That pretty much covers the ins and outs of deadheading hydrangeas. Is there anything we didn't cover about deadheading that you're still curious about?
Did we miss anything? Please let us know in the comments section below.
Hillary & Mike