How To Prune Climbing Hydrangea

How-To's, Landscape Care · Written by Roger


climbing hydrangea flowerClimbing Hydrangea is a beautiful and useful climber, but it can get crazy on you if you let it.

It is deciduous, but considered a 4 season plant mainly because:

  • It has lush dark green leaves.
  • It flowers white in early summer.

As you can see it’s a great plant, but you need to be aware of its capabilities.

The first year or two it grows slow while it establishes. Then the pace picks up and it becomes quite vigorous.

As a climber I’ve yet to see its limit in height. Planted at the base of a large tree it will cling and climb until it reaches the top. I’m talking 60′ no problem.

The good news is you can control climbing hydrangea with proper pruning. But I say that with a warning.  If you use it in a limited space, like the one we’re about to talk about, you must be diligent with your pruning or it will easily take over the area.

It’s Doing Well – Too Well!

How do you respond to a customer that says that to you?

“I’m glad your climbing hydrangea is doing well, but sorry it’s covering your house.”

You can avoid those embarassing moments by knowing a plant’s capability right from the start.  Then you can advise your customer what to expect, how they can care for it or how others will care for it.

prune climbing hydrangeaIn the picture above climbing hydrangea is working well on this brick wall. But the plant wants to get bigger, as it does every year. It’s in its DNA.

Notice that the real dominant growth is towards the top. It wants to climb and get as tall as it can. I’ve used climbing hydrangea on homes where it is maintained just below the second story eaves. Not easy to do, but the look is beautiful.

How To Go About Controlling This Climber

The best time to prune climbing hydrangea is after it flowers.

The new flower buds are formed soon after flowering and remain on those stems for the following year. So you’d rather not cut those off if possible.

However, unless you operate with a “calendar of tasks” for your maintenance accounts, you will most likely prune the hydrangea when you’re there pruning everything else.

Site-specific care (doing tasks for a particular property when and if they are needed) is something I’m a strong proponent of.  Not many landscape maintenance companies follow a “site-specific” program.  Most are more “cookie-cutter”.  Clients are always asking me to recommend a company with higher level service like this, but there are simply too few to meet the demand.

So regardless of when you prune climbing hydrangea, cut back the long shoots and those growing outward from the wall to just above a bud or leaf point. Prune selectively using hand pruners.

Often I’ll follow an aggressively growing branch to its “point of origin” and make my cut there.  This is the point where the lateral branch connects to a larger stem.

pruning climbing hydrangeaThis climber produces “aerial roots” that attach themselves to whatever structure is nearby. When first planted you may have to help it attach to the structure by:

  • Installing the plant so it deliberately leans and touches the wall or structure.

These aerial roots will sometimes leave a mark and organic residue on the surface after they attach. On this home some of the branches attached to the white shutters. It took extra time and effort to scrub them clean.

a pruned climbing hydrangeaLike with all plants, when you know and understand their characteristics you can use them creatively and effectively. How have you used climbing hydrangea in your landscapes?  Did it perform as you expected or surprise you?  Let us know in the comments.

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    204 Responses to “How To Prune Climbing Hydrangea”

    1. Cornelia Says:

      Roger, this thread is really helpful and makes me feel confident that I can prune hard the 20+ year old climbing hydrangea I have inherited in our new, old house. It is climbing the trunk of a 80ft pin oak, the vines all the way up to the branching crown. It has also crept uncontrolled along a short wall beside the tree. It bloomed a little last summer but not as much as it was in the realtor’s photo of the tree in full bloom! I plan to hard prune it in the early spring and will let you know how it goes. Thank you!

    2. Roger Says:

      Yes, this thread has really filled out with information — so glad it’s helping.

      We all look forward to hearing how the climber responds to your pruning!

    3. Babs Says:

      My hydrangea already has a trunk about 3″ diameter. It looked so sweet growing over the white arbor between the house and garage when we moved in…Now it’s growing and taking the arbor apart a little more each year. Can I prune it WAY back and remove or replace the arbor? Can I dig it up and move it?

    4. Roger Says:

      This is what this climber does — it’s developing to its potential (mature size). Yes, pruning aggressively from day-one will help keep it in-check — and extend the usable period of time on the arbor. But the climber will eventually mature where it becomes “just too much plant”.

      A practical approach would be to simple remove the existing climber. If you wanted to save it and possibly transplant it, late winter and early spring would be the time to do that. Cut it way back to a manageable stem so you can handle it easier — and then transplant it. They move fairly well.

      If you replace the arbor and want to plant another climber, you might try something less woody and aggressive, such as Clematis, certain varieties of honeysuckle — and there are other climbers too. Perhaps visit your local garden center or nursery for what’s available. You can ask their advice — and then take their recommendations and do a little research yourself to see exactly what each climber’s characteristics are.

      Also, if you replace the arbor look into metal and composite versions that are stronger and will last much longer than wood (even cedar).

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