Brown red oakleaf hydrangea flowers and deep red leaves
(Image credit: HenryPhotos)

Pruning oakleaf hydrangeas is a minimal affair, and one reason among many that gardeners like this large, striking shrub. Hydrangea types vary in terms of how they bloom and that impacts pruning strategies. Learn how to prune oakleaf hydrangeas correctly so you don’t lose their gorgeous blooms the following year.

About Oakleaf Hydrangeas

How you prune a hydrangea depends on the type, so it’s important to understand what you have. Hydrangea quercifolia is a deciduous shrub native to the southeastern U.S. but hardy through zone 9.

The easiest way to distinguish this hydrangea from others is by its leaves, which have a shape similar to oak leaves. Oakleaf hydrangea is also much larger than other types, growing to 8 feet (2.4 m.) tall and wide and sometimes even bigger.

The flowers of oakleaf hydrangea grow on pointed panicles that emerge white in summer and turn to pink in the fall. Oakleaf hydrangea is prized for many reasons, including its size, the long-lasting blooms, fall foliage color, interesting winter bark, and because it is low maintenance.

When to Prune Oakleaf Hydrangeas

An important distinction between hydrangea types when it comes to pruning is where blooms form. Some hydrangeas bloom on new growth and others on old growth. For new growth hydrangeas, you can prune in late winter and early spring, but if you prune at this time for old-growth bloomers, you will snip away buds for next year’s flowers.

Oakleaf hydrangea blooms on old growth, so never prune it in late winter or early spring. Prune oakleaf hydrangea after they flower in June or July. Earlier is better to give the shrub time to produce buds for the following year. You can always trim away damaged or diseased branches any time of year.

How to Prune Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf hydrangea pruning should be minimal. It simply doesn’t require a lot of trimming back to thrive. When you prune it in summer, do so to shape it or maintain the size you want.

Most people grow oakleaf hydrangea because they like its big size, so go easy on the pruning. You don’t even need to do it every year. Furthermore, this hydrangea has interesting bark that peels back and provides visual interest for winter.

To prune for a desired shape, you can remove some canes all the way to the base of the plant. For lighter shaping, cut canes back to a point just above a pair of buds.

You might also want to trim off the flower panicles after they fade, although many gardeners prefer to keep them on for added visual interest in the winter garden. The panicles that fade to brown collect snow in winter, which looks nice. If you don’t get snow, you might want to trim them off in fall. Cut the panicles right where they attach to a stem.

Oakleaf hydrangea is a stunner in the garden. Use it for its large size as a screen or foundation planting. Or, add it as an interesting element in a woodland garden. This beauty will give you year-round visual interest in the garden, so take pruning lightly and don’t overdo it.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.