Limelight hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’) usually stays around six to eight feet tall, but it can put on two to three feet of growth per season and get as tall as fourteen feet. Left on their own, hydrangeas tend to grow as rangy, unkempt, multi-stemmed shrubs. But we can do better. We have pruning shears! We can turn this variety of hydrangea into a small tree. Here’s how to prune your limelight hydrangea into a tree.
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Limelight hydrangea is often trained to a branch-headed standard (read more about basic pruning for trees here). Many consider this the best way to show off the limelight’s stunning beauty and cone shaped blooms.
A branch-headed standard is a tree or shrub pruned and trained to have a rounded “mop” head of branches atop a clear stem. (This differs from a central-leader standard whose branches retain a more elongate and feather-like shape atop a clear stem.)
Since the panicle hydrangeas (including Limelight) bloom on new wood that develops in the current season, they can be pruned any time of the year without cutting off future flower buds. We like to prune in late winter when the shrub is still leafless so we have the best view of the branch structure.
Making the Cut
Select the strongest and straightest upright stem to be the central leader or “trunk” of your hydrangea, then remove any other wannabes. If you’re starting with a good sized plant, you may already have a suitable central leader. If not, you may need to use a stake to keep the anointed stem growing straight up. Tie it to the stake every few inches.
Since it has no competition, the chosen trunk-to-be will grow faster and stronger, and soon will be a genuine trunk. Constantly remove any other shoots that come up from the ground. Side branches that grow from the main stem can be shortened to a few leaves and left until the main stem reaches the desired height; these leaves will provide energy to the growing main stem. Eventually we will want this central leader to be clear of any side branches for around two to four feet – your decision. It may take a year or two.
Make your pruning cuts just above paired buds; these buds will become two new branches growing opposite each other. Cut back to strong paired buds that are directed sideways, rather than towards the center and outside. Make cuts at an angle, so the wound is not horizontal which could allow rain water to collect.
When the central leader is the desired height, cut the tip off to halt its growth. We want our limelight hydrangea to have a rounded crown atop a smooth, straight trunk – like a lollipop. Remove side branches on the lower two-thirds of the main stem as they appear.
At least once a year, shorten long branches growing on the upper third of the main stem by a third of their total length. Every time you make a cut, at least two more branches will develop below.
Other annual maintenance should include:
- Cutting off old flowerheads still remaining from the previous season, this will encourage new flowering
- Removing dead branches
- Cutting out branches that are crossing or interlocking
- Removing smaller internal and side shoots which tend to produce smaller flowerheads than do the larger, outward growing branches. (If you want more – but not larger – blooms, leave more of the thinner, internal stems.)
Pruning a limelight hydrangea into its form of the tree is not the easiest task. It can be done though! We here at Perfect Plants already went through the motions for you and have a Limelight Hydrangea Tree for sale for those who do not want to try out this gardening endeavor.
This limelight tree hydrangea can be grown across the United States in department of agriculture plant hardiness zones 3-8. Hydrangeas bloom on a single stem. Your yard will thank you after pruning this shrub into its tree form or just purchasing the already trained tree.
Don’t let naysayers call your work of art a ‘ball on a stick’! It is ART!
Also check out the Hydrangea Grow Guide.