How To Prune Climbing Hydrangea

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

220 Comments

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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    220 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:

      Cornelia,
      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:

      Babs,
      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).

    5. Jim Says:

      Our climbing hydrangea has been doing well for years and pruned. However about 2 feet up main body it is soaking wet and dripping liquid just like water. A constant drip. Any ideas?

    6. Roger Says:

      Jim,
      Hard to say, particularly without being on-site to look the plant over.

      Nothing comes to mind right off. But I’d first be focused on the source or point where the liquid is coming from. Is it coming from the plant itself — perhaps a point where a wound or entry from a boring insect is?

    7. Jim Says:

      Thank you Roger.

      Unfortunately we have discovered it was recently pruned by my father, which has caused it. We were debating on removing so now it is decided.

    8. Jean Tansley Says:

      I have 2 x cimbing hydrangeas and they are out of hand. I believe they are around 5-6 years old. Can I hard prune it to above ground level or should I cut it back to an accept able height and prune back side shoots after it has flowered

    9. judy Says:

      Thanks so much for your advice…I bought one 2 yrs ago and it’s blooming now…I just hope that I can keep it contained…

      Thanks,
      Judy

    10. Roger Says:

      Jean,
      I’d have to see the plant(s) to give a more specific opinion, but I’d rather not see you prune to ground level.

      If the flowering is important to you this season you can’t prune too aggressively until after flowering. It sounds as though they should be brought under control ASAP. In most cases like this I’ll prioritize on controlling the plant size (and form) and prune. Your call, of course.

      I would try to leave and work around the main stem(s) of the plant — bringing back (pruning) wayward lateral growth closer to these main stems. Think of it as compacting the framework of the plant. And you can certainly reduce the height too by pruning down the main stems. The climbers should overtime push new growth from this compact framework.

    11. Roger Says:

      Judy,
      The fact that you’re aware of the plant’s growth potential is a plus right there. Now you can keep an eye on it and make sure it behaves! :-)

      In fact, after flowering this season you may want to do some pruning to shape the climber. This regular pruning not only keeps the plant in-check, but makes for a stronger plant in general.

    12. Rhys Says:

      hello
      We have a very large hydrangea which is 20 years old and climbing up the back of our house. Unfortunately in the last 6 months it has reached our guttering and is climbing onto the roof.
      it is a victorian red brick house. We had someone to come and take it off, but they said it was starting to pull off the bricks below the guttering, so he didn’t’t want to continue.

      Does it normally damage brick work – what should we do?

    13. Roger Says:

      Rhys,
      I’ve yet to see climbing hydrangea damage brick. It could be that the jointing on the brick was deteriorating, and not necessarily from the hydrangea. Most masons will not like the idea of anything climbing on their brickwork — and I understand that. It’s just that I have so many projects with the climber on mortar-jointed stonework and brickwork, and I can’t recall any problems.

      If you still have more of the climber to remove, it may be easier to cut the climbing stems (you want to remove) so that they die first. Overtime they’ll dry up and have less of a grip on the brick. With a scraper/putty knife you should be able to scrape the dead air-roots and stems off the brick. Possibly power-washing afterwards would also help and/or a stiff bristle brush.

      Also, it sounds like a mason will need to re-joint those bricks that are loose.

    14. Jean Says:

      Thanks for that advice Roger. I will leave it uunt after it has flowered

    15. Trish Says:

      My climbing hydrangea is growing beautifully and I’d love to “share” some shoots with my friends to grow. Is this possible? I tried snipping some last year for a friend and she couldn’t get it to grow. Any tips?

    16. Roger Says:

      Trish,
      I did some quick research and discovered that climbing hydrangea is not that easy to propagate. Cuttings would be taken in late spring, treated with rooting hormone and set in a rooting media and kept under specific conditions. Not easy.

      I might try taking a rambling branch that’s close to the ground and bury a portion (beneath the soil). Perhaps it will develop roots over time, at which point you could cut that branch off of the “mother plant” and have the newly rooted piece survive. No guarantees — think of it as an experiment. :-)

    17. Anne Nanni Says:

      I have a beautiful old vine that is very happy, but during this harsh winter, the show pulled a good deal of the vine off our brick wall. The main branch is about wrist size in diameter, and it seems like it would be difficult to reattach to the wall. Where would be an appropriate place to trim back the vine so it can reestablish itself on our wall.
      Thanks,
      Anne

    18. Roger Says:

      Anne,
      It’s hard to give specifics without seeing the climber. But by your description I’d prune it back close to the main stem — leaving short lateral branches. In effect, you’re cutting it back to a main framework and starting over.

      I’d try to direct the main stem towards the wall if possible. Here are some pictures of a similar situation we had on a job. Hopefully they’ll help.

      1) Climbing hydrangea pulled off of brick wall; built simple wood trellis/support.
      2) Tools and wire to help re-attach climber to trellis.
      3) Climber re-attached to trellis.

      Within 2 years the climber had re-attached to the brick. You can no longer see the wood trellis, but it could be removed if the homeowner wanted.

    19. Barbara Cucheran Says:

      My 20 year old climbing hydrangea was blown off the garage wall it has been growing on. I would like to save the plant as it is a beautiful focal point in my front garden. Can I prune off some of the heavy top branches now while it is in bud or should I wait? Do I have to build a frame like you did in the response to Anne? I am thinking brick clips with garden wire but I not sure it will have enough strength. I am in zone 4/5 in Ottawa Canada if that makes any difference in how I should proceed.

    20. Roger Says:

      Barbara,
      I would prune back the plant (now) to make it more compact and manageable.

      I used the simple trellis support because I did not want to drill into the brick or its joints to install anchors or other attachment hardware. The aerial roots soon reattached to the brick — and we were back in business. :-)

      As your climber starts to grow and reattach itself, try to keep it pruned closer to the wall. You want a stronger, more stout framework for the plant. You can let it get higher/bigger over time, but if not pruned regularly it tends to get longer stems and branches too quickly. This makes for a less strong framework and one likely to come off the wall again.

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