The Last On The Limelight Hydrangeas

Given that close to 7000 gardeners have read my last post on hydrangeas in the past few days, I am encouraged to write again.  I went back out last night to rephotograph my hydrangeas with a specific purpose in mind. How do I site them in the landscape, and how do I take care of them? I have a significant disclaimer up front. How I grow hydrangeas is not the be all and end all. How I grow them works for me.  What will work for you involves a lot of independent thought, trial, and error. I would be the first to suggest that you trust your own experience over mine. That said, first up is a discussion about how to grow and manage these big shrubs. No matter where you plant them, hydrangeas reward a gardener who is willing to prune. I only prune in the spring, when the buds are beginning to swell. Limelight hydrangeas that have gotten leggy and ungainly will respond to a pruning to within 18″-24″ above grade. Just be advised that a hard pruning is a restorative pruning that may take 2 years to bring them back up to heavy blooming stage. A yearly pruning down to 18″-24″ results in fewer, and larger flowers.

Want more flowers rather than large flowers? Prune the topmost branches shorter than the bottom branches-so every branch is exposed to the light. Prune several times early in the season to promote branching. Come mid May, I stop pruning.This hydrangea on standard has a beautiful branchy structure as a result of multiple pruning sessions. Notice how the flowers are much smaller than my hydrangeas at home? Post an early spring pruning, a lighter pruning over the course of a few spring weeks results in an embarrassment of riches in smaller flowers.

In love with the giant flowers? Prune vigorously. Pruning deciduous shrubs is not just a matter of style, and it certainly is not a matter of control. Pruning promotes growth that maximizes the opportunity for good blooming. A Limelight left to its own devices will have lots of growth on the top that eventually results in leggy and leafless lower branches.

Big shrubs do and will grow big. Harder pruning may result in a finished size and height at the low end of their growth range. Severe pruning-as in pruning right down to the ground, forces growth from below ground, from what are called basal shoots. I never prune hydrangeas that hard. I like having some old wood to support all those new branches to come. Pruning is all about what the future. The Limelights bloom on new wood – the current year’s growth. If you grow hydrangeas that bloom on the previous year’s growth, prune right after they bloom. This enables them to grow and set flowers for the season to come before winter. Leave them be until after they bloom the following year. But no matter what cultivar you grow, adequate light and water will reward your effort to grow them.

Hydrangeas are big growing shrubs with course leaves and giant flowers. This means they are eminently able to hold down a spot in the garden all on their own. But how does a gardener beautifully integrate them into a garden and landscape?  I make sure they have lots of company-both taller and shorter. My landscape can accommodate them at their full height. I have a much larger and taller hedge of arborvitae planted behind them. That dark green foliage highlights the flowers in a dramatic way.

There are several more layers of plantings in front of them. A hedge of Hicks yews whose health had been declining for years was removed. A series of planter boxes were put in their place. This years planting of nicotiana and angelonia is as loose and airy as the hydrangeas are solid and stiff. Companions to hydrangeas that have a looser habit of growth compliment them. A middle layer of loosely pruned taxus densiformis is faced down with clipped boxwood shapes. 4 layers of companionship is none too few for a shrub that grows 6-8 feet tall.

Limelight hydrangeas integrated into a garden

Limelight hydrangea hedge faced down with boxwood

Limelight hydrangeas faced down with anemone “Honorine Jobert”

hedge of Limelights as a border to a large group of mixed evergreens

These hydrangeas are pruned to keep them at a 5.5-6 foot height.

Between the large evergreens and the hydrangeas is a mass of boltonia asteroides.

Limelights and boxwood

Limelights in a garden

new planting of annabelles and limelights together

Limelights blooming top to bottom

Limelights massed in containers

My client’s containers featuring Limelights on standard are robust and showy this early part of September. We will heel them in the ground at our landscape yard late in the fall, and plant them back in these pots come spring. I do have clients who have and do winter them over in their containers.  I am not that nervy with plants that do not belong to me, but I am not surprised to hear this. Hydrangeas ask for little, and are so satisfying to grow.


















  1. Love all the posts!
    What about a post devoted to shade loving hydrangeas for those of us who are sun deprived.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear P., the oakleaf hydrangeas are incredibly tolerant of shade. And there are plenty of cultivars available. As for the paniculata hybrids, they will tolerate some shade, but bloom less. This applies to my zone-I would think they would benefit from some afternoon shade in warmer zones. all the best, Deborah

  2. Wow! I’ve been afraid to prune my hydrangeas, but seeing these beauties is motivating me! Thanks for all the practical information- this is a great post for us newbies.

  3. Rosemary Joyce says:

    I shouldn’t have, but I did. Subscribe to your incredible blog, that is. How could I not, after slathering over your photographs and wonderfully informative discussion of Tree Hydrangeas?! (Are they called PeeGee or Limelight or Standards or ?)

    Now I must ask a knotty-for-me question about my Fringe Tree. (Is there a more appropriate place for those questions? Forgive me if this is poor blog etiquette, with which I am obviously unfamiliar.)
    A good friend asked me to order a tree for my yard as her memorial gift to my husband. Someone suggested a Fringe tree, and in my physical condition at the time, I simply ordered one without looking even at a photograph. I was more than disappointed when it came and simply looked like a full, leafy SHRUB. Yes, it has lovely delicate fringey flowers, but for less than a week. The rest of the time it looks quite nondescript. It is two years old now, flourishing, large, and standing in front of the grass prairie we planted some years ago, blocking that larger view.

    My neighbor had a rather unsightly old-fashioned Rose-of-Sharon in the yard of her new house. So she bravely limbed it up and trimmed it into an umbrella shape, where it now looks great! Is there a chance I could do something much like my neighbor did, and give it more character in the shape alone? (And be less of a block of the prairie.) Would I kill it, lord forbid?

    Thank you for your enormous contributions to thousands of happy, smarter gardeners!

    Rosemary Joyce

  4. Tom Baldinette says:

    Deborah. Would not have known of the loveliness of limelights if not for your posts over the years. And after last year enthusiastically pouncing on an unexpected find at my local garden center, am happy to say I am now the proud owner of one myself. Thank you for all your guidance and inspiration. Tom in NC.

  5. Arlene Miller says:

    I received my limelight hydrangea in April 2017. It bloomed so well by June/July and August but for some reason that i don’t understand it started dying and looked very dry as if it was not watered. Last week we had heavy rain from the storm Harvey; so it wasn’t dry but that’s how it appeared. During the storm it was leaning due to the heavy rain. As soon as the storm let up my husband straighten it back up in the large container. It was doing so well and in a blink of an eye it dryed up. Any suggestions or comments because I never seen or experience such drastic change with any of my plants/trees after a storm.

  6. Jane Trinidad-Hennes says:

    Great tips!! I have about 20 limelights and I appreciate on the best way to trim and how much to trim to get either smaller blooms or larger blooms.

  7. Thank you for sharing these wonderful pictures. We have had an unusually rainy summer and now are enjoying especially beautiful hydrangeas; I can’t imagine having the discipline to use only one or two varieties in my very small garden, but your pictures teach the wisdom of that approach for those who do.


  8. Hydrangeas are a favorite of mine…so much bang for the buck with their long blooming period. I have 3 standard Limelights which give no end of pleasure. They are approximately 5-6 years old and some of the branches are quite thick and produce large flowers. Thinner branches produce smaller flowers giving an uneven but still satisfying appearance. It is the large flowers that extend out in a catawampus way that is unsettling. I prune in the spring in an umbrella shape. Is that where my mistake is or should I make secondary cuts (which I have never done) to get a more rounded shape.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Sally, maybe you need to prune the thickest and longest branches shorter-or trim them twice. The umbrella shape means the long branches are shading the ones below them. Try for a shag haircut, as opposed to an umbrella. Does this help? best, Deborah

  9. How are the hydrangea protected from deer?

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Rich, I have never seen deer damage on hydrangeas. Even in yards that have problems with deer, they don’t go after the hydrangeas. I don’t know why this is. best, Deborah

  10. Thank you Deborah. Very helpful info and beautiful pics. I can’t wait to start planning our garden and landscape here, which will definitely consist of some hydrangeas. 🙂

  11. Your Lime Lights are spectacular. The display is really outstanding. I have a couple Pee Gee hydrangeas and they grow well for me. Almost un-attended. I might try some pruning to achieve an even better looking shrub. Thank you for sharing all your expertise. Very much appreciated. When is the best time to prune Pee Gee?

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Susan, PG’s bloom on new wood, so prune in early spring. If you are brave, prune again in late spring! best, Deborah

  12. I love your blog and lime light hydrangeas!!! Thanks so much for all this information you so generously give us. It’s so appreciated!! You’re the best

  13. Thank you so much Deborah for all of this information! I so appreciate it. You have helped me so much.

  14. The pictures alone would be inspiring, but the information you provide is so helpful! Thank you, Deborah! I’m so thankful that Limelights grow here in central Saskatchewan! Love them!

  15. Huge thank you.. have never found good information on when to prune Limelight. Such a satisfying plant. Your photos beautifully demonstrate less variety for huge impact, love that ! Wow to keeping it simple but gorgeous.

  16. Be still my heart.
    A symphony of hydrangeas!
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  17. Informative and inspiring!! Thank you for sharing so generously. I especially enjoyed seeing the various ways you integrated them into the garden and landscape.

  18. I have Hydrangeas which unfortunately have become spotted with leaf spot disease and my prolonged illness has prevented me from taking care of them properly. I look at your pictures and I am just madly in love and I might damage myself, but I am planning to do all I can to make them look something like yours. They are gorgeous! Thanks for posting these pics.

  19. cynthia woodyard says:

    Glorious posts on them! The do well in Portland, OR too, and many of the other H. paniculatas and quercifolias also. Thank you for your encouraging and faithful posts, Deborah!

  20. Marsha Miller says:

    Deborah, Thank you, again, for a post on hydrangeas. I have deer, which makes growing them a challenge, but I grow them anyway. They elicit such positive feelings each time I wander in the garden that I can never be without.

  21. Linda Johnson says:

    Wow! I have fallen in love with hydrangeas because of your posts. I only started growing them a few years ago so any information I get is wonderful. Thank you for taking the time and effort to post such helpful information.

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