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Earlier this year, I bought a hydrangea (from Ikea of all places!) and planted it out in the garden. It flowered nicely for a while, but the flowers have pretty much finished now and nearly all of the original leaves have withered.

New leaves are sprouting from the old leaf joints, but should I be removing the old flower heads above them?

The stems seem pretty sturdy, which makes me think I'd be doing it no favours if I took the tops off. For what it's worth, I'm in Northumberland in the UK.

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I don't know about UK, but here in the eastern US, my hydrangeas grow like weeds. I do nothing to them except thin them out every few years. Very hardy plant. I say just leave it be –  Fatmuemoo Jun 25 '11 at 19:52

2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Yes, in general, you should remove the dead flowers. However, there are exceptions.

Why you should remove:

Remember that a plant's "mission" is to reproduce before it dies, to ensure the survival of its species (producing flowers is the first step). If you let the flowers stay till they drop off on their own, the plant, satisfied that it has successfully produced a flower, might decide to stop producing them (end of the flowering season).

However, when you remove the dead flowers you're sort of "tricking" the plant into thinking that its previous mission has failed (i.e., it hasn't produced a flower to ensure its survival). This in turn encourages the plant to produce even more flowers, resulting in larger, more frequent blooms. This is also a commonly used technique to extend the flowering season of annuals and perennials.

When you should stop removing:

This article has a very good reason to stop removing dead flowers before the onset of winter.

With a plant such as a continuous blooming rose, you should stop cutting spent flowers in September, allowing them to wither and dry on the bush. This signals the plant that its mission is indeed complete, and that it should ready itself for the coming winter.

In other words, if you keep removing the flowers beyond late fall, sure you'll have more bloom, but your plant will not be prepared for the winter (i.e., stockpiling energy, reducing energy consumption, and shedding leaves) and might wither and die in the cold. This was something I didn't know, having not lived in a place with a winter season

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I know this has been answered and accepted, but I disagree strongly. If your Hydrangea is an H. macrophylla variety, deadheading isn't something you'd do, particularly not in your part of the world. The last thing you want to do is force any new growth in July, and the theory with the spent flowerheads is they're left on all winter to give added protection to any incipient buds present over winter. Just keep it watered as its newly planted, and next year, trim back dead flowerheads once spring arrives and green starts to appear on the stems, usually April. If its H. paniculata you've got, that's a different story. I am, by the way, in the UK too.

Having said all that, do remove any dead parts such as shrivelled leaves, especially if new growth is forming.

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