Is your hydrangea giving you a headache again because you’re not quite sure which care measures are the right ones? Of course, you don’t want to do anything wrong, but that seems quite difficult at first glance with all the different varieties. And especially winter is something many gardening beginners look forward to with dread: Have I prepared my plants well enough and are they also sufficiently protected? Pruning is part of the job for many plant species. But what about hydrangeas? We explain why you should not cut hydrangeas before winter and when is the right time to do it so you can safely overwinter your hydrangeas.
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Why you should not cut hydrangeas before winter
Have you ever noticed in your neighbors’ gardens that the withered flowers remain on the shrubs even in winter? In itself it looks quite pretty, but should not these have been cut off long ago. No, the reason is not that the owner did not have time or desire to remove them in the fall. In fact, these flower remnants also provide a wonderful buffer, or call it a barrier, that protects the shoots from frost damage in the winter. The risk of frostbitten hydrangeas or plant parts after winter is reduced.
So the dry inflorescences have not only a decorative effect, but also a protective one!
Are the shrubs frost-proof?
In itself, hydrangeas are frost-proof, as long as the location is right, they were cut at the right time and the weather does not surprise them unexpectedly. However, there are varieties that are not completely hardy and require additional frost protection, which you should find out about when buying. As mentioned above, hydrangeas can tolerate sub-zero temperatures if they are cut at the right time. You should not cut hydrangeas before winter.
However, this would be the lesser of two evils, as damage would likely be limited and the plant would still have plenty of time to recover in the spring after maintenance pruning. However, sudden, unexpected frost after the plant has sprouted is not a beneficial event. After all, the delicate new shoots and leaves will undoubtedly freeze in the process. Therefore, you should regularly monitor the weather forecast during the first period, and if necessary, put a protective fleece over the plant overnight.
Overwintering hydrangeas – when is the right time to cut?
For the reasons mentioned above, if you are pruning hydrangeas, the right time for most varieties is early spring. How radical the pruning may be then depends on the variety. Some like and need to be cut back radically, others can only tolerate light shaping and maintenance pruning. The age of the plant can also play a role here. Maintenance pruning also includes removing frostbitten areas.
Overwintering hydrangeas and caring for them properly in the event of frost damage
Your hydrangeas got frost and damaged them? You need not immediately fear for your plant. A few frostbite here and there is quite common and does not immediately harm the entire plant, as long as the root ball is not affected. Hydrangeas in pots, for example, cannot tolerate frost indefinitely and can freeze quickly without protection. Young plants also benefit from winter protection made of fleece and a layer of foliage over the root ball. The shoot tips of farmer’s hydrangeas, on the other hand, do not manage to lignify in time before winter, as this is a semi-shrub. So frostbitten shoot tips are not uncommon here.
So, if frostbite has occurred, the plant needs maintenance pruning in the spring (even varieties that do not actually need regular pruning). Here’s how to do it correctly:
How should you prune hydrangeas that have suffered frost?
Again, keep your hands off the pruning shears while it’s still winter. For one thing, cuts would be exposed to the winter cold. For another, cuts stimulate the plant to grow. So if warmer periods come in winter, which has not been uncommon in recent years, the shrub could sprout early and then frost damage is hard to avoid.
Then, in the spring, take a closer look at the shoots to identify frostbitten ones: in this case, the bark will be pale or dark, and the wood will be dry. If you are not sure about the visual inspection, you can also simply scratch the outside carefully and only lightly with a nail. If the shoot is still alive, not only can the bark be easily scraped off, but green plant tissue will also appear.